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By Phil Hall | May 5, 2011

Vivian Ostrovsky’s 2003 production, which is only now receiving a DVD release, tries to accomplish twin goals but winds up achieving neither. The basis of the film centers on the annual visits that the Brazilian-based Ostrovksy family made to its Moscow-based relatives during the height of the Cold War.

The heavy-handed surveillance measures by the Soviet authorities required the relatives to socialize in public parks and forests, although they were still followed by a so-called “raincoat man.” Somehow or other, the Ostrovsky clan had no problems making 16mm home movies, and these innocuous reels detail the unlikely reunions they enjoyed.

If the film stayed anchored on the family story, it might have been captivating. However, “Nikita Kino” constantly shifts away from this family history to provide an overview of the U.S.S.R. of the 1960s and early 1970s through a kaleidoscope of propaganda newsreels and clips from (mostly unidentified) Soviet movies. A running narration sarcastically contradicts much of the imagery – views of a massive housing complex, for example, are peppered with observations that elevators had a shortage of buttons, while a comedy movie scene in a restaurant is framed with comments on the rudeness of Russian waiters.

Ultimately, Nikita Kino becomes something of a bore. The Ostrovsky family story only emerges in brief flashes, while the snarky overview of the dreary Soviet culture becomes tedious. And at 40 minutes, the film feels much, much longer.

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