December 4: “Shalyai-Valyai”, Chaif

A friend who also studied Russian has been staying with me so I was happy to rewatch the delightful Russian film from 2008, “Stilyagi” (somewhat misleadingly translated as “Hipsters”) with her. The movie is a musical that takes place in 1950s Moscow, but the songs are from Russian bands in 1980s and early 1990s and would be familiar to Russian viewers by groups like Mashina Vremeni (Time Machine), Kino, and others. Two of the best ones are by the Russian band Chaif, including the song that ends the movie, “Shalyai-Valyai”, which apparently translates as something like “without care” – not a phrase my well-thumbed Collins Gem Russian-English dictionary lists.

The movie is fast-paced, saturated with colour and filled with attractive young Russian actors. I enjoyed the songs enough that it made me think I should search through my cassettes to find the copies of Time Machine albums my Soviet pen pal sent me in the 1980s in exchange for the U2 ones I sent him. In the last scene, the hero turns a corner and is suddenly on Tverskaya Street in 21st century Moscow instead of Gorky Street in the 1950s. A crowd of diverse young people form around him: punks, drummers, laid back jeans-wearing hipsters and even (I’ll note given recent news from Russia) a lesbian couple or two. I don’t get all of the lyrics, but it’s all about saying goodbye to a dear friend too soon (which could be the Soviet Union) and there is an excellent line about “this divisive, evil, strange epoch” that jumps out at me every time I hear it.