“Every hipster is a potential criminal,” warns a student communist in Valery Todorovsky's musical period piece Hipsters. These “hipsters” are, in style and substance, the polar opposite of today's artfully disheveled gentrifiers: In a postwar Moscow where consuming Western products is considered a form of treason, their insouciant fetishization — and charming lost-in-translation misinterpretation — of American jazz culture are legitimate forms of political rebellion.
This punch-drunk, decadently designed slice of eye candy loosely traces a year in the life of sexually repressed, socially oppressed Mels (Anton Shagin), a baby-faced, gray-suited Young Communist League deputy who shifts allegiance when he falls in love with “real cool chick” Polly (Oksana Akinshina).
While a few of the film's musical numbers are framed around Mels' budding career as a jazzman and the gang's nightly rendezvous at underground club the Pompadour (where they live out the fantasy of, as one lyric tells it, “strolling down Broadway, leaving all those miserable squares behind”), many explode in full choreographed splendor out of ordinary spaces. The “Another Brick in the Wall”–reminiscent “Totalitarian Rock,” for instance, erupts in a classroom, and Mels' dad sings his personal war story in the shared hallway of their communal tenement. These settings help the songs split the difference between sexually charged fantasy and historically haunted reality in bold defiance of narrative convention.
The closing number, in which Mels and Polly finally get to stroll down a Broadway that only exists in their dreams, is both hilariously absurd and rousing, an unironic swoon at the notion of any subculture — regardless of the variables of fashion, music and sexual mores that separate kids across decades and continents — as a form of inclusive resistance. —Karina Longworth (Nuart)