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Russian film director Eldar Ryazanov dies at 88

Russian film director Eldar Ryazanov dies at 88Eldar Ryazanov, a filmmaker who satirized and romanticized the life of ordinary Russians in his immensely popular comedies for almost six decades, has died. He was 88.

Russian film industry group Kinosoyuz said in a statement that Ryazanov died in hospital early Monday. Russian news agencies quoted his family members, saying that the film director died of heart failure.

Ryazanov was a household name in Russia, and his films are arguably the most recognizable titles in Soviet popular culture.

His films ridiculed Soviet bureaucracy and lifestyle, but the lightness of his satires helped him dodge Communist censorship. Only one of his works was banned by Soviet censors; the 1961 comedy "A Man From Nowhere" about a noble savage from an imaginary primitive tribe who visits the Soviet Union and is amused and shocked by its people and customs.

Once compared to U.S. director Billy Wilder for his artistic diversity and longevity, Ryazanov directed almost 30 films, most of which became box-office hits and spawned countless Russian catchphrases and popular jokes. Most of his films were centered on an improbable or purely fantastic event that turned the boredom of daily life into a vortex of comic escapades with an obligatory happy ending.

Since the early 1950s, Ryazanov also wrote scripts and briefly appeared in his films, usually playing unsympathetic strangers whose presence added another ironic dimension to the plot.

Years after the Soviet collapse, he acknowledged that the fear of the Soviet government dominated his life. "Every time I worked (on a film), I had to force a slave out of myself and overcome my fear of Soviet authorities," Ryazanov told the Narodnaya Gazeta daily in 2008.

His most popular film, the 1975 comedy "The Irony of Fate," mocked what Communist ideologues hailed as the pinnacle of a planned economy — the clusters of identical apartment buildings located on streets named after a handful of Politburo-approved heroes.

It follows a dead-drunk surgeon who gets on a plane on New Year's Eve to what was then Leningrad and makes his way into to an apartment whose address, door locks and even furniture are identical to his brand new residence in Moscow. The real owner is a fair-haired, blue-eyed schoolteacher engaged to a dull government official. She finds the hung-over intruder on her sofa and helps him realize he is 500 miles away from his home.

The film's broadcast on national television channels on New Year's Eve has become a staple for celebrations like champagne flutes and Russian salad on tables, while other films by Ryazanov are nearly as ubiquitous.

Ryazanov was born in 1927 in the city Samara in the Volga region into a family of a Soviet economist who was imprisoned during the Stalinist purges of the 1930s. He gained immediate popularity in 1953 — the year of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin's death — with his first feature film, "Carnival Night." His forays into period dramas — such as "The Cruel Romance," his 1984 film about a 19th-century Russian woman from an impoverished aristocratic family who is abused and killed by gentlemen callers — won him critical praise. His films after the Soviet collapse were far less successful and brought mixed reviews.

Ryazanov is survived by his wife Emma and daughter Olga. They didn't immediately release details for his funeral arrangements.
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