An over-the-top Russian musical about hipsters set in 1950s Moscow, where getting a non-pastel-colored tie is a mafia-mediated operation and a saxophone is considered a concealed weapon? Yes, please. Hipsters serves up allegorical realness as it follows a group of non-conformist youngsters who sartorially resist mind-numbing Soviet sameness. Rocking their flamboyant flowing skirts and mile-high pompadours, they walk the streets of Moscow and hang out at its underground clubs, bonding over Elvis, Miles Davis, and Charlie Parker. The fashion police, literally, comes by once in a while with scissors in hand to quickly cut off the hipsters outfits into rags, and the kowtowing to Western ideology attached to them.
Although Hipsters has its share of deliciously absurd break-into-dance numbers, candy-colored outfits, and outrageous hairdos, all perfect contrasts to claustrophobic Soviet pastels, it’s a prohibited love story that stitches the film together. Mels (Anton Shagin), whose name is an acronym for Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Stalin, is a shy 20-year-old “square” originally part of the fashion police who falls for one of the hipster girls and promptly switches sides. Here identity is a drag, clothing is costume, and fierceness is contagious, requiring much less of a surveillance apparatus in order to reproduce itself. Mels organically discovers the small great pleasures in life, like listening to a jazz record, crafting one’s appearance, and even engaging in the communism-defying act of moving one’s body rhythmically in a pattern. In one particularly exhilarating scene, a pudgy hipster teaches Mels how to dance, their limbs moving nonsensically, hysterically, in the otherwise lifeless Russian apartment where every piece of furniture seems to be the same exact color of every wall and every hanging hat and garment.
If clothing makes the human body visible, as Kaja Silverman once said, dancing reveals not just the body’s presence (there is a human there somewhere), but its state. Hipsters shows how there is nothing inherently constraining, frivolous, or objectifying about clothes, that “fashion” can be a crucial tool of re-signification, a fertile ground for symbolic wars to be fought. And if the film makes a concession in the way its love affair progresses toward melodrama, it never loses its fondness for the absurd, and the wicked. When Mels’s hipster girlfriend gets pregnant, the baby she delivers looks more like Dizzy Gillespie than himself. And when things get too dreary and serious, everyone on screen (hipster or square) break out in song and dance. In a scene set in a big lecture hall where Mels is having his day in court for trading his Soviet crew cut for a hipster pompadour, the entire audience as well as the female judge sing together, slamming their desks in unison, “All bound by the same chain. All tied with the same aim.” Everyone rocking their bodies back and forth like zombies. In times of Arab springs and Occupy this and that, Hipsters makes us question the occupation of the street when our very bodies remain insidiously un-occupied by ourselves.