New Year’s is an entirely different beast in Russia than in most other countries. For historical reasons, it’s basically Christmas and the rest of the holiday season rolled into one. The turn of the year is what Russians celebrate big time, and it’s also when they receive their gifts. That is why every December romantic, often fantastic films about the magic of New Year enter the movie theaters of the former Soviet Union. The New Year Calling Plan is a 2008 representative of the genre, a modern Russian equivalent of Back To The Future meets romance that practically hasn’t drawn any attention outside the country since it was released.
Alyona (Valeria Lanskaya), a talented violinist, is dumped by her bigheaded idiot boyfriend Oleg (Stanislav Belyaev). Andrei (Maksim Matveev) is a translator who has returned to Russia from a one-year stint in Austria just in time to celebrate New Year’s with his friends Vadim (Evgeny Slavsky), Cat (Roman Polyanski), and his ex Masha (Ekaterina Malikova). At midnight, he places a traditional New Year’s call to an unknown number with his new mobile phone – and reaches the devastated Alyona, who has gone home early after Oleg took off with her attractive colleague Vika (Lana Shcherbakova).
The two begin to talk to each other on a daily basis, to the point of exchanging pictures and agreeing on a date. Soon, tender bonds of love develop between them, until they realize that Andrei is, in fact, already in the year 2009, while Alyona is still stuck in early 2008 – and that she will die in a tragic traffic accident on the upcoming New Year’s Eve. With the help of her best friend Rita (Svetlana Sukhanova), as well as Olya (Miroslava Karpovich), Pashka (Boris Korchevnikov), Maks (Mark Bogatyrev), and Andrei’s gang, the violinist begins to spend the rest of the year preventing the disaster – not just for her own sake, but also for each of the forty victims to be involved.
Of course, a premise like the one of The New Year Calling Plan requires a certain suspension of disbelief, which is why the movie will likely displease the more analytic viewers. It’s, in a way, a more romantic version of films such as Back To The Future, albeit without all the fancy scientific and high-tech bells and whistles like the DeLorean, the plutonium, the flux capacitator, and the 1.21 jigowatts. We don’t get any of that in the Russian movie by director Evgeny Bedarev. The New Year Calling Plan ‘merely’ comes up the magic connection established between Andrei and Alyona by means of the phone he buys from a mysterious unknown woman (Tatyana Vasileva) literally at two minutes to minutes and the shadow of the prospective fatality looming large over the happy future couple.
The basic principle of The New Year Calling Plan is therefore fairly simple, even simplistic. In this case, however, that’s actually a very good thing. Evgeny Bedarev’s movie is a twenty-first century Russian fairy tale, and unlike so many other films, it doesn’t operate under the pretense to be anything else – with nothing but a common cell, not even a sophisticated smartphone yet, serving as its magic wand of sorts. The New Year Calling Plan doesn’t even deny which tradition it stands in when Alyona’s rather naïve friend Olya dresses as Little Red Riding Hood to prevent the accident from happening. Maksim Matveev, whom some Western audiences may know from bigger films such as Hipsters and August The Eighth, makes a likable Prince Charming, while Valeria Lanskaya is just as amiable as the cute violinist.
The period when the days get darker and the year draws to a close is often very emotional for everybody. Many people begin to make resolutions on how to change their lives; others become reflective. Movies such as The New Year Calling Plan naturally bank on these sentiments. During Christmas and the rest of the festive season, we tend to turn into emotional saps and wimps. We relish fantasizing about leading an entirely different existence, about starting over, and think about the ones we love or want to love. Evgeny Bedarev’s film proves that, at least in this regard, Russians are no different from the rest of us Westerners in Europe and America. Then again, maybe that’s exactly what the much-quoted and often summoned holiday spirit is supposed to be all about.