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Where Soviet cars go to not quite die – driving adventures in northern Russia

The Lada is a stalwart symbol of Soviet Russia. It has also been considered one of the worst cars ever made. Its heyday, if it had one, was in the 1970s, but a substantial number of vehicles remain on the roads today, and hold a special place in the hearts and minds of many Russians. To tell the story of this much-ridiculed car, the filmmaker Dieter Deswarte, the cinematographer Annegret Sachse and the sound engineer Yulia Glukhova travelled the Russian north, from Murmansk to Siberia, to find where the cheap and easily repairable – if reliably unreliable – vehicles are still in action. Along the way, they got to know a colourful range of drivers who recount the complexities of Lada ownership, and, more important still, show the car on the road – or sometimes what it takes to get it on the road. Undercutting broad Western stereotypes of a certain Russian dourness, the filmmakers find humour, warmth and kindness in their driving adventures across the icy landscape.

Lada debuted in 2014 as part of the award-winning omnibus documentary Cinetrain: Russian Winter. An ambitious and inventive filmmaking initiative, the Cinetrain project sent 21 filmmakers from around the world to all corners of Russia to explore its culture through the spectrum of stereotypes – from mail-order brides to heavy drinking. The project was inspired by the work of the influential Soviet Russian filmmaker Aleksandr Medvedkin (1900-89) who, in 1934, built a mobile film studio inside a train before setting out to document life across the country.

24 June 2019

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