The Red West: five of the best Soviet “Osterns” to watch now

Our pick of the week, Kirill Sokolov’s Why Don’t You Just Die! is a screaming explosion of a film where emotions, and actions cartwheel across the screen. In this dangerous game of cat and mouse, a young man attempts revenge on a corrupt policeman and abusive father. Much like Quentin Tarantino, the influence and inspiration of the Wild West and the lawless desert plains are felt in Sokolov’s film in everything from the scoring to the costume design and camera work.

It may surprise some to know of the impact Westerns, have had on the cinema of the former Soviet bloc, namely in a peculiar tradition of Soviet-style reimagining os the classic American genre: “Red Westerns” take place and form in pseudo-American settings, while “Osterns” tend to be set on the Steppes or the ex-Republics located in Asia. Both enjoy a rich seam of specificity and humour due to this vital difference. To get you started on a gun swinging journey through this rich pocket of world cinema, we have compiled our favourite five.

Man from the Blvd des Capucines (1987), Alla Surikova, Mosfilm Studios

A Man from the Boulevard des Capucines (1987), Alla Surikova

This Red Western comedy is delightfully intelligent. Johnny First, a man armed with a film projector, comes to the lawless town of Santa Carolina to preach the purifying power of cinema. Suddenly, the people of the town, a hilarious spoof of a dead-end western town with saloons, guns and cowgirls, become fascinated by cinema. As strange as it sounds, and just as wonderful, this is simultaneously a loving homage to the Western genre, cinema itself and a caustic satire of social machination.


The Seventh Bullet (1972), Ali Khamraev

Khamraev, one of the most important voices of Central Asian cinema and represented by his classic films I Remember You and Triptych in the Klassiki library, takes on the Russian civil war from the perspective of a gun-slinging western. Based on the Basmachi uprising, a decentralized movement that protested Russian Imperial and Soviet rule; Khramraev’s film takes the energy and larger than life aesthetic to tell a tragic tale. One that is all too close to home.

The Seventh Bullet (1972), Ali Khamraev

White Sun of the Desert (1970), Vladimir Motyl

A daring genre-bending film that traverses action, comedy, drama, musical numbers as well as the wild expanse of the desert. Set by the Caspian Sea, in now Turkmenistan, the film follows Red Army soldier Fyodor through a fight between the Red Army and Basmachi guerillas and through an ancient underground passage. A consistent family favourite in Russia today, it is also routinely watched by cosmonauts before space launches as a good luck ritual! A charming film and piece of cultural history! Truly unmissable.


Strictly Business (1962), Leonid Gaidai

By the master of Soviet comedy himself, the film is based on three stories by famous American writer O. Henry. Starring the great Yuri Nikulin in one part, and Alexei Smirnov in another, the film’s stellar cast carries this Russian exploration of the Wild West. The film intones comedy, tragedy and fable in this daring representation of unknown lands.


The Wild East (1993), Rachid Nougmanov

Made after the initial heyday of Red Westerns and Osterns, at its peak as phenomena in the sixties and seventies, this film was created shortly after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Featuring a cavort across Kazakhstan, a group of circus runaways attempt to create their own community. Based loosely on John Sturges’ The Magnificent Seven, it is a wistful paean to the creation of fulfilling communities and heroism. Touted as the ‘last Soviet film’ from the region, it is exciting, unique and entirely worth watching.