When it comes to learning Russian, it is beneficial (and also fun) to watch movies, and Soviet movies are a special kind – full of exciting plots, authentic phrases, and brilliant humor. It’s also a great way to delve into the Russian culture and boost your understanding of the language.
Many Russians of all generations occasionally may use a phrase or two from those well-known Soviet movies (perhaps unknowingly) in a conversation. And it can be difficult for you to understand the meaning of such phrases if you have never seen the movie (take this cool quiz to test yourself). And we might help you here: let’s impress your Russian friends with a few must-know quotes from Soviet movies that we are about to teach you here.
The Irony of Fate, or Enjoy Your Bath!
We will start off with the one and only movie traditionally broadcast every New Year’s Eve in Russia and almost all former Soviet republics – The Irony of Fate, or Enjoy Your Bath!
Every New Year’s Eve, Zhenya (a 30-something man who has a fiancée and lives with his mother) and his friends go to a banya. But this time, the tradition goes terribly wrong. Zhenya wakes up in an apartment just like his except for one minor detail: he lives in Moscow but now he is in Leningrad, and it’s Nadya’s apartment. Quite a twist, right?
I am sure that many Russians (especially older ones) have seen this movie too many times and can sing along to the famous songs and quote many lines. For example, this one:
Какая гадость эта ваша заливная рыба! – What a nasty thing, this fish aspic of yours!
Ippolit, Nadya’s fiancé, is not very happy with the situation (duh). He doesn’t believe that it’s just a silly yet funny coincidence. With a heavy heart, he tries to get his head around it but he can’t. Then once again, after one drink too many, Ippolit shows up at Nadya’s doorstep, sees Zhenya again even after he claims to immediately leave, and falls into a monologue about life… Lost in thought (but out loud), Ippolit interrupts his stream of consciousness by saying Какая гадость эта ваша заливная рыба! and he really means it.
You can use it ironically when showing a dislike for something – but be careful and don’t hurt a cook’s feelings!
Operation Y and Shurik's Other Adventures
This movie consists of three independent parts: Workmate, Déjà vu, and Operation Y. The plot follows the adventure of Shurik – a naive and nerdy Soviet student who often gets into ludicrous situations but always finds a way out.
The hooligan Fedya causes trouble on a bus by not giving up his seat to a pregnant woman. The movie’s protagonist, Shurik, tricks Fedya into helping the woman. Fedya attacks him in anger and is sentenced to community service – just as luck would have it, at the same construction site where Shurik works.
Ну, граждане… алкоголики, хулиганы, тунеядцы… Кто хочет сегодня поработать? – Well, you alcoholics, idlers, hooligans… Who wants to work today?
Огласите весь список, пожалуйста – Announce the entire list, please
Upon watching, you'll notice that these two phrases are from one scene: a militsiya officer brings all workers together to announce the day’s agenda which leads to lively interactions and discussions. As this site is infamous for its people, and how they can get there, it’s no surprise we hear about alcoholics, idlers, and hooligans. But the only thing missing in translation is the word citizens (граждане in Russian) which was a common way to address a non-too-familiar person in the SU.
With no doubt (or any Soviet connotation), you may say Ну, граждане… алкоголики, хулиганы, тунеядцы… Кто хочет сегодня поработать? or Огласите весь список, пожалуйста if you extremely respectfully (or jokingly) request for all the variants or full information.
Кто не работает, тот ест. Учись, студент! – Who doesn’t work – eats! Learn, student!
Fedya, being a true hooligan, is not so eager to work, but always to eat. So here, while having a nice meal just in front of Shurik he goes with the famous Who doesn’t work – eats! which is, in fact, a modified allusion to a New Testament aphorism – He who does not work, neither shall he eat. It’s a surprising fact, I must say, but not so much when you learn that it has something to do with socialism, as well. So, when you’re not feeling like working but would enjoy a bite – go ahead with this phrase to make it clear that you know a thing or two.
Надо, Федя, надо! – You must, Fedya, you must!
Following a bit of Tom-and-Jerry-style fighting and chasing each other throughout the construction site, Shurik subdues Fedya with this now-famous catchphrase. So, when something in your mind is necessary but another person doesn’t share your opinion, you may strike them with Надо, Федя, надо! (even if their name isn’t Fedya) – to show that there's no way you’re not doing it.
For sure, this is one of the most student-life-inspired movies you will ever see. It’s summertime and students are cramming for their exams. And our favorite character, Shurik, is no exception – but he has no notes. Riding on a bus, he happens to meet Lida, deeply absorbed in her reading, and proceeds to follow her.
Экзамен для меня всегда праздник, профессор! – An exam is always like a holiday for me, Professor!
Shurik gets himself into a little adventure when he follows Lida, but the exam still goes on. Here, we can enjoy the real burst of students’ creativity trying to get a good grade. Fully equipped, a student tries to make a good impression on a professor and says Экзамен для меня всегда праздник, профессор! Well, it might be if you’re trying to hide your mischiefs. Still, you can give it a try when you’re about to take an exam, for, as they say, All is fair in love and war. And it can actually be a holiday for you! Attitude, everything starts with the right attitude!
A warehouse manager hires three criminals nicknamed Fool (Балбес), Coward (Трус), and Pro (Бывалый) to stage a break-in and cover up his own thievery. But their elaborate plan goes wrong when instead of a nice elderly woman, the courageous Shurik is there to guard the warehouse.
Тяжело в учебе – легко в работе – Difficult studies make for easy work
Practice makes perfect, right? The same goes here when a character tries to learn how to use a chloroform-soaked handkerchief and fails. To excuse his bad attempt, he says Тяжело в учебе – легко в работе. This is actually a reference to a Russian saying: Тяжело в учении, легко в бою – which can be translated as the harder you train, the better you’ll fight or we can say the one I used in the beginning. Just another way to say that challenges make us stronger. But you can spice it up with a meaning that while it’s difficult to study at the university, you’ll be doing great at work (you never know).
Kidnapping, Caucasian Style
Our already dear friend Shurik is taking a trip to the Caucasus in search of local legends, stories, and traditions. There, he meets a young beautiful girl, Nina, who came to visit her uncle’s family. Shurik falls in love with Nina, but he is not the only one who is trying to win the girl’s heart. Fooled by the corrupt local governor, he helps him kidnap a beautiful young girl, but soon realizes what he's done.
Птичку жалко – I’m sorry for the bird
Toasts are an essential part of any culture, especially Eastern ones. And Shurik is on his mission to delve into a new culture, which is why he’s all ears when hearing a toast – and, of course, toasts are followed by a few drinks that can make you a bit sensitive. That’s when the waiter goes all passionate about the story of one tiny yet proud bird that aimed at the sun while others were ready to leave for the winter and was wrong – made Shurik fall into tears. So, Птичку жалко, in fact, has a plain meaning and is used to express regret for something lost, for example.
Будьте добры помедленнее, я записываю! – Talk slower, I’m writing it down.
Too many toasts can lead to one drink too many. Shurik loses track of where he is and thinks that the local authority’s official speech is yet another toast. He’s trying to write it down but fails. So he asks them to slow down – Будьте добры помедленнее, я записываю! Fortunately, they just thought that he was a journalist.
So, when do we use this line? This phrase is quite informal and ironic and you can use it when you haven’t caught the idea or missed it or with a little bit of irony and sarcasm when you hear someone listing things and the list goes on and on.
Студентка, комсомолка, спортсменка и просто красавица – A student, a Komsomol member, an athlete, and simply a beautiful girl.
This one is, of course, about Nina. This movie covers the period of time when the Komsomol (the former Communist Union of Youth in the Soviet Union) still existed and was highly respected. That’s why being a Komsomol member meant being a socially responsible person. However, nowadays it’s not that big of a deal and you can omit this part. It’s a nice yet slightly teasing way to praise one of your female friends. You’ll definitely let her know that you think she is a good catch – but don’t make her join a communist party.
Ivan Vasilievich Changes Profession
We’re going to our next film – Ivan Vasilievich Changes Profession or Ivan Vasilievich: Back to the Future. The plot of the movie unfolds around the engineer-inventor Sasha (Shurik) Timofeev, who has created a time machine and, due to an accidental sequence of events, swapped the Russian tsar Ivan the Terrible with Shurik’s neighbor Ivan Vasilyevich together with the recidivist thief George Miloslavsky.
Красота-то какая! Лепота! – How beautiful it is! How fine!
While admiring a beautiful view of modern Moscow, Tsar Ivan the Terrible (who lives in the 16th century, by the way) uses the archaic word Лепота – an obsolete synonym of the word Красота (meaning beauty).
If you are in awe of a gorgeous landscape or natural wonders, then don’t hesitate and say with the right intonation Красота-то какая! Лепота! – and don’t forget Лепота, it will definitely make your friends’ jaws drop.
И тебя вылечат, и тебя тоже вылечат, и меня вылечат! – You will get help! You will get help as well! And I will get help, too!
Ivan Vasilyevich’s wife ends up between two identical men who claim to be her real husband. She assumes they all went bananas, including herself, so she calls the psychiatric hospital for help. So, when someone suggests something insane or is just being too angry or loud, it can be a good line to show that they have gone a bit over the top.
The Diamond Arm
An ordinary Soviet citizen wins a two-week cruise around the Mediterranean Sea, breaks his arm, and accidentally gets in the way of an international criminal group that trades illegal jewelry.
Семен Семеныч! - Semyon Semyonych!
That’s actually the name of the main protagonists. I guess we can say that it’s now a self-descriptive name that can be used when someone is being evidently naive or stupid. Not such a brilliant idea to put a gun in a string bag, right? We think so, too. That’s why Семен Семеныч! (facepalm).
Поскользнулся, упал – закрытый перелом! Потерял сознание. Очнулся – гипс – Slipped, fell, lost consciousness – woke up in a cast.
Another great example of Семен Семеныч’s situation: have you ever slipped, fallen, lost consciousness, and woken up with a cast on your arm? Hmm, but he has. So if you have ever ended up in a weird situation without remembering how you got there, please feel free to say Поскользнулся, упал, очнулся – гипс! (short and neat).
Now you’re one step closer to speaking like a Russian and you can proudly say that you’re savvy in Soviet film and well-known and humorous catchphrases. But if you’d love to dig even deeper into Russian culture and language, check our Russian Monday and Speak like a Russian series.