The One about Yuri Zhelyabuzhsky’s “The Cigarette Girl of Mosselprom”


From filmmaker Yuri Zhelyabuzhsky,  the filmmaker/cinematographer known for his short “The Emperor’s New Clothes” and filmmaker/producer Fyodor Otstep comes a silent comedy from Russia showcasing  the complexities of love titled “The Cigarette Girl of Mosselprom” (Papirosnitsa ot Mosselproma).

The film which had aged quite a bit (and many have watched it in its darken, bad quality version), fortunately in 2007, the Cinematheque de Toulouse (in cooperation with the L’Immagine Ritrovata and the Foundation Groupama Gan pur le Cinema) did a restoration of the film featuring a master from its original 35mm elements.

I have to admit that “The Cigarette Girl of Mosselprom” was quite a surprise because many silent films that we have access to on DVD are typically politics or military-driven.  But the fact is that Soviet silent cinema existed in various forms of entertainment.

Not just politics and military but in the case of “The Cigarette Girl of Mosselprom”, you get a romantic comedy that no only showcases Moscow society at the Mosselprom Trade Center but how people on the street became background talent for the film.

The film captures the elements of a modern day romantic comedy as each of the three men have fallen for the cigarette girl but you also get a dose of comedy courtesy of actor Igor Ilyinsky, who plays the accounting assistant Nikodim Mityushin.  Lovestruck and deeply in love with the cigarette girl, one scene shows him trying to find her as she has been replaced in the location that she usually works.  When Nikodim tries to look for the brunette beauty, he is told to go across the street and when he goes to approach the brunette, we see a not-so-beautiful woman instead and Nikodim starts spinning, deliriously after he sees the woman.

Another scene features the cigarette girl who looks as if she will jump off a bridge.  While walking with his fiance (while still thinking of the cigarette girl), Nikodim finally finds his true love and when he sees her jump off the bridge, he tries to be a hero and rescue her, not knowing that what went over the bridge is a mannequin prop for the film that is being made (which stars the cigarette girl).

And these fun, comedic scenes with Nikodim do not end as you get quite a few of them throughout the film.

Meanwhile, you get the dramatic portion of the film as the cameraman and the cigarette girl are enjoying each other’s company during the making of the film but not so thrilled about it is the director who wants to do all he can to drive a wedge into their new relationship and the fact that the American investor Oliver MacBride also is smitten with the cigarette girl, the more incentive the filmmaker has to making MacBride happy in hopes it would lead to better opportunity for his film.

I absolute found “The Cigarette Girl” to be quite delightful and entertaining but there is one caveat that I found.  The film is rather long and during the silent era, editing was not exactly a strong point for filmmakers.  Many times throughout the film, I was thinking…this scene could have been eliminated in order for better pacing but this was a common problem during the silent era. But also many early Soviet films that I have seen (especially Eisenstein films) tend to run a bit long.

But for a romantic comedy, “The Cigarette Girl of Mosselprom” was hilarious and fun to watch from beginning to end and what a delightful film it turned out to be.   Fans of silent cinema, especially early Soviet cinema should definitely give this film a chance.