“Cinema” is the title of one of the works that most strikes visitors to the very recent exhibition devoted to Russian Pop Art at the prestigious Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. It is an installation measuring the same as a good-sized room, with nine monochrome, life-size figures sitting in the dark in front of an (imaginary) screen. What is seen by the Shekhotsov’s spectators – made of the material that earned the Artist the nickname of “Porolon”, i.e. foam rubber – is not images from fiction but from real life passing in front of the empty pupils of their eyes in the form of the exhibition visitors. Like Porolon’s other works, the installation means to provide food for thought and to be provocative: unlike the “serious” themes and “noble” materials of official art in the past régime, today a lightweight and short-lived material such as foam rubber is used to “immortalise” everyday actions, especially leisure activities, from the “new” consumer life of the Russians, or of the class that can afford, for example, to buy a dvd player, buy imported luxury goods or go to the cinema. Cinemas, in particular those belonging to the latest generation and above all in Moscow, are, in fact, one of the places that, together with the shopping malls and “ethnic” restaurants, best represent the new lifestyle. The case of VIP cinemas, like the Romanov, which was discussed in issue no. 28/2004 of the “Giornale dello Spettacolo”, p. 16, is emblematic – conceived like exclusive boutiques, which offer the latest American blockbusters accompanied by Italian cappuccinos and French wine – or that of the brand new multiplexes paired with shopping malls bearing names that are familiar throughout the world, such as that of IKEA (see issue no. 30/2003 of the “Giornale”). That the film theatre should be a special place and, if possible, succeed in amazing the visitor is a very widespread idea, which also inspires the renovation of existing spaces. This is the case of the Baykal, a four-screen complex “reborn” in 2003 on the site of a “classical” cinema in a dormitory neighbourhood. Its transformation, brought about by the Architect Igor Markin, has made the Baykal into a model to be learnt from: specialised magazines quote it as an example to be followed. The idea was to make the cinema into the most vital and “social” place in the area, the highly populated Koptevo neighbourhood, which, incidentally, is not well connected to the centre of Moscow. An initial choice was to give the building a well recognisable style with strong visual impact: the Baykal appears as a luminous parallelepiped made of glass and steel, which allows the various activities going on to be observed from the outside. Another criterion was to add other attractions to that of the cinema. Thus, on the three floors above ground level and in the basement, as well as the four screens with names dedicated to the planets, there is also room for a restaurant, a cocktail bar and another four cafés, one of which is “for children” annexed to a play area where little ones can be left in the care of play assistants, while their parents watch the film. And there is no lack of play areas for adults, either, in the form of a billiard room and a four-lane bowling alley. Another underlying principle is the intention to offer services that project an image of high quality, technologically advanced: from the Internet Café with its 32 work stations to the big screens that show television programmes and advanced news of films in the bars. In addition there are the “fashion” details or those designed to surprise the public: the menus in the restaurants with an eye to Italian cuisine, to the extent of including “panna cotta”; the bars selling foreign beer at least 50% more expensive than Russian brands; the visitors finding a huge, column-shaped aquarium in the hall, with real sharks in it (which are periodically replaced when they grow too big for the tank). Thanks to this range of proposals and to the programming, which also comprises special events (from documentaries on motor-bike racing presented to fans after midnight, to the premières of blockbusters like Shrek, accompanied by events organised over several days), the Baykal opens at nine in the morning and may close in the middle of the night. “Having a good knowledge of your audience”, says Irina Bestuzheva, Director of the Baykal, “remains the essential element for success”. And it is to potential audiences that the advertising and promotional initiatives for local schools are directed, such as a series of free screenings for 1,500 children, accompanied by pizza and soft drinks. Typically for the Russian market, tickets vary widely in price according to the time of day and the category of spectator: they range from 40 roubles (a little over one euro) in the morning to 240 for evenings and weekends. They can be bought over the Internet, where it is also possible to book a table at the restaurant or a game of billiards and bowling. Everything seems to work quite well, to the extent that the Atlantis Cinema Group, a dvd distribution company, has decided to build a second complex with three screens. Since the site chosen is to the north of Moscow, it will be called North Pole.
If the Atlantis Cinema Group can be considered a new entry on the panorama of Russian cinema exhibition, the role of Paradise is far more firmly established. This company carries out a wide range of activities in the sphere of audio-visuals, from the management of a television channel for the Armenian community in the United States to the sale of dvds, from the distribution of films to exhibition. In this field the company headed by Gevorg Nersissian, which boasts 23 screens in Moscow, 2 in Kaluga and 4 in Erevan, the capital of Armenia, has grown to become the third most important on the Moscow marketplace, where it has been active since 1999, the year of the Rolan’s “re-birth”. Here the original classic, single-screen theatre in the city centre, belonging to the Moscow Municipality, was transformed into a two-screen art-house cinema. It is at the Rolan that films like Les Choristes, Dogville or L’Enfant are screened.
These are titles that are also on the programme in another two Paradise cinemas. In both cases the complexes are situated in central Moscow (Novokuznetskaya and Paveletskaya) and well served by public transport. “They attract an audience – says Armen Badalian, Head of Paradise’s exhibition sector – not exactly of cinephiles but of well-informed spectators, who keep up with the big international festivals”. Coming out of the theatres screening titles like Barfuss or Don’t Come Knocking are many mature couples, students, young women: a “quality miniplex” audience, according to Badalian’s definition. To diversify programming and offer high-quality technology and services is the philosophy of a group like Paradise, faced with competition by large “fashionable” multiplexes situated in outlying shopping malls. Two formulas have been adopted by Paradise for its “miniplexes” which came into being after the Rolan and are identified by the Five Star brand mark: when the buildings stand independently with plenty of room around them, the offer of films is combined with that of food, games for both children and adults, the sale of dvds. All this set in architecture that aims to surprise and amaze: children’s entertainment – at the Five Stars Paveletskaya – even includes a mini-train that runs round the cinema (see no. 30/2003 of the “Giornale”). More “sober” from an architectural point of view are the theatres opened in the shopping malls (the Arkadia and the Rio – six screens each) but with no concessions in terms of quality.
“A wide variety of films, top-quality sound and vision – adds Badalian –, programming that extends into the night at weekends and also on Thursdays, the day when new titles are released, in order to survive on a market like Moscow’s which – with around 250 new-generation screens – is close to saturation point”. However, Paradise is certainly not inclined to stop here and still has projects for future development, including the next five-screen complex in one of Moscow’s “satellite” towns.
On the question of whether digital screening comes into Paradise’s plans, Badalian seems to have clear ideas: “there will be an inevitable transition but it will take several years to get established throughout the world, and even longer in Russia. In any case, the essential point always remains the same: quality for the spectator”.

Elisabetta Brunella