Park yourself at a dinner table of Russians, and inevitably, as the eating part winds down and the drinks are doing their thing, someone says “And the kompot?” And everyone else laughs uproariously and the kompot rarely, rarely ever appears. It’s a line from an old Soviet movie. And, since it’s a line from every Russian dinner ever, it’s funny whether or not you’ve seen the movie. As it turns out, it can only remain funny if you haven’t seen the movie.
I’ve been reading Russian memoirs of late (this one and this one), and I keep bumping into references to kompot, so I finally decided I had to see the original kompot “sketch” for myself, which YouTube kindly provided. It’s one of three vignettes in “Operatsiya Y and Shurik’s Other Adventures.” The movie was released by Mosfilm in 1965, and was part of a series featuring a hapless “hero” named Shurik – a student who bumbles along through life getting into various adventures and misadventures. Yes, there’s even a Wikipedia page. Shurik was a hit in Soviet theatres. The town of Krasnodar even erected a statue of Shurik, the main character, and Lida, his love interest in one of the films.
After years of kompot jokes, I had finally arrived at the source. I settled in with my computer, clicked play, and, entered the Soviet 60s, a brief glimpse of what passed as pop culture for my parents (and perhaps your parents too). You can watch the film below, but let me spoil it for you by telling you that what you’re about to watch is the Tom & Jerry of Soviet cinema (a fact confirmed by Wikipedia – thanks interwebs), heavily reliant on slapstick humour and misadventures.
It was cute, but rather disappointing. Is it an effect of time? Of different cultures and generations? Age? Whatever it was, it didn’t work for me. Kompot jokes, ruined forever.
The movie is really three vignettes, and the kompot joke comes from the first one, called “Workmate.” Shurik gets into a fight on the bus with someone named Fedya. As part of Fedya’s punishment, he is put on a work crew, and gets sent to a construction site which happens to be the one that Shurik works at. They Tom and Jerry it up, destroying the construction site in the process. But not before Fedya is mistaken for the boss and treated to a luxurious lunch – naturally, he doesn’t correct the mistake and tucks in greedily right in front of Shurik, with his brown bag, student lunch. After everything is served, he turns and asks “And the kompot?” Yes, laughter and hilarity ensues, trailing down through the decades and all the way to North America! He later empties the glass of kompot and refills it with vodka. More laughter!
The second film, where he meets Lida, is far better – it’s a cute flashback to the craziness of university exams, and I loved the brief glimpse of the Soviet exam system, which, coincidentally, I had also just read about a few days earlier. If you’re going to watch anything, I’d suggest you skip right on ahead past “Workmate” and on to “Deja Vu.”
And someone, please tell me that there is more to Soviet cinema than this.
As for the kompot, it is basically a fruit juice, but made with cooked fruits. Stay tuned for a recipe tomorrow.
Updated: Some initial discussion of the movie and the enduring untranslatability of culture, jokes and the past, from my Facebook page: