New Age and Esoteric References in (Post-)Soviet Films


While preparing the conference “New Age Cultures in Late and Post-Soviet Russia” in June 2022 with recommendations of films to watch, we realized that so far no one has examined a single Soviet or post-Soviet film (in Russian) for its connection to New Age and esotericism, and there is almost no research on this topic. So we started to collect this kind of references. We are pleased to share with you part of our filmography. It includes feature films, documentaries and TV series of various genres from the 1960s to the present day with indirect or explicit references and elements related to the occult, paranormal and esoteric (such as magic), as well as non-traditional religions/spirituality and new religious groups and movements. We would like to thank our colleagues Karen Nikiforov (KN) and Pavel Nosachev (PN) for valuable advice and the student assistant Anna Grechanaia for cataloguing the film titles in Zotero. Our filmography is an open project that will be expanded. We invite you to send your suggestions to naru@uni-mainz.de.

1960s

  • Я шагаю по Москве (Walking the Streets of Moscow) (1963, Dir. Georgii Daneliia; Mosfilm/USSR, 73 min). There is a mention of hypnosis (00:48:47–56) and an amusing scene of the (unsuccessful) telepathic influence of one of the film’s characters, Nikolai (N. Mikhalkov), on a random person in the Gorky Central Park of Culture and Leisure (00:49:03–00:50:21), which was perceived by the latter (R. Bykov) as an attempted robbery (00:58:36–39): “Nikolai: We were testing the effects of biocurrents! Passerby: One would be hypnotized to the point of insensibility and then stripped!” See also Konakov 2022, 286. The movie also mentions some folk superstitions: stepping on the foot of someone who accidentally stepped on your foot earlier to avoid a quarrel between friends 00:31:12–16; making a wish when an eyelash falls (01:12:01–9). (AT)
  • Карты не врут. Киножурнал Фитиль (Cards Do Not Lie. Film Magazine Fuse) (1964, Dir. Vladimir Rapoport; Киностудия имени М. Горького/USSR, satire, 4 min 49 sec). Another satirical sketch from the film magazine Fuse, which denounced “negative phenomena” and vices in Soviet society, features two characters: a female fortune-teller and a woman who comes to her suspicious of her husband’s infidelity. Although the setting corresponds to the latest fashions in Soviet everyday life and both women are presented by the authors as modern, what unites them is their fascination with a “relic of the past”, or “superstition” – in the sense of Soviet anti-religious ideology – namely the practice of telling fortunes with cards. A desperate woman pays 10 roubles for a vague verbal portrait of her husband’s lover, in which she wants to recognize a secretary. Observing that her client is relatively wealthy, the cunning and greedy fortune-teller offers to remedy the situation with a charm spell for 50 rubles. She claims to have used the so called “latest scientific methods” of her divinatory art – “I’m casting a spell on the bio-current semiconductors“ (00:01:50). As it turned out, the spell was quite successful, not with the help of “transcendental” forces, but because the latter acted as an informer (стукач – “snitch”) and immediately called the local party committee (партком) at the woman’s husband’s place of work to report his alleged relationship with the colleague. At the same time, the fortune-teller cynically added that adherence to the “moral code” was of paramount importance in the Soviet family and that it was her “civic duty” to point this out to the Soviet authorities. In some way, the situation described is reminiscent of the idea that in socialist times fortune-tellers, astrologers and soothsayers were employees of special services (compare, for example, the rumors about the Bulgarian Vanga). See also Nikiforov 2022. (KN, AT)
  • Семь шагов за горизонт (Seven Steps Beyond the Horizon) (1968, Dir. Feliks Sobolev; Kyivnauchfilm/USSR, documentary, 69 min). One of the first Soviet films to explore the limits of the human brain and creative and sensory abilities. The guests and participants of the experiments described in the film: mental calculator Igor’ Shelushkov; B. Drozhin, a man said to have telepathic and sensory abilities; bard and improviser Alexander Smogul; Grandmaster and World Chess Champion Mikhail Tal’, who is playing blind at the same time on ten boards; psychotherapist Vladimir Raikov, who uses hypnosis to “unleash” potential abilities in the participants of the experiment. See Konakov 2022, 191f. (AT)

1970s

  • Индийские йоги – кто они? (Indian Yogis – Who Are They?) (1970, Dir. Almar Serebrenikov; Kyivnauchfilm/USSR, documentary, 50 min (short version)). The film features: Vasilii Brodov, Indologist, Doctor of Philosophy, Professor at Moscow State University; Georgi Lozanov, doctor, head of the Centre of Suggestology in Sofia; Anatolii Zubkov, Indologist, certified yogi of the highest qualification; Alexei Kolomiichenko, a Lenin Prize laureate, corresponding member of the Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian SSR, professor; Konstantin Sokolov, candidate of Biological Sciences (Kyiv Research Institute of Medical Problems of Physical Culture); Karolis Dineika, a practising physician in the Druskininkai park of therapeutic physical training; Dargomir Mateev, a corresponding member of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences; Iurii Nikolaev, doctor of medical sciences, professor, head of the clinic of therapeutic fasting; Leonid Gissen, Candidate of Medical Sciences (All-Union Research Institute of Physical Culture); Iurii Antamonov, Candidate of Technical Sciences (Institute of Cybernetics, Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian SSR); Alexandr Romen, Doctor of Medical Sciences. It tells of the history of Indian yoga and its contemporary applications in scientific institutions and clinics in the Soviet Union (Kyiv, Alma-Ata), Bulgaria and India. The socialist scientists demonstrate the successes they believe can be achieved by using the millennia-old practices of Indian yogis to heal people and unlock their hidden potential. See also Kellner 2018, 65; Pakhomov 2020; Konakov 2022, 115ff. (BM, AT)
  • Солярис (Solaris) (1972, Dir. Andrei Tarkovskii; Mosfilm/USSR, sci-fi, min). Adaptation of Stanisław Lem‘s novel Solaris (1961) about an extraterrestrial intelligence on an alien planet and the attempts of an Earth crew to understand it. Тhe image of this extraterrestrial civilization refers to the concept of the noosphere, the film depicts “telepathic emanations less as rays and more like expanding circles of swirling biomatter and energy” (Lemon 2018, 10). (AT)
  • Эта веселая планета (This Merry Planet) (1973, Dirs. Iurii Saakov and Iurii Tsvetkov; Mosfilm/USSR, musical comedy/sci-fi, 94 min). The plot is about how aliens X, Y and Z come to Earth, attend a New Year’s Eve party at the Palace of Culture in a Soviet city and develop friendships/love affairs with Earthlings. (KN)
  • Зеркало (The Mirror) (1975, Dir. Andrei Tarkovskii; Mosfilm/USSR, drama, 107 min). The film’s prologue is a metaphorical scene, shot in the style of popular science documentaries about new alternative treatments or training methods in the Soviet Union, in which a stuttering teenager is helped to speak better in a session of hypnosis and psychotherapy. (AT)
  • Девочка и дельфин (A Girl and a Dolphin) (1979, Dir. Rozaliia Zel’ma, Script writer: Leonid Los’; Cameraman: Vladimir Milovanov; Composer: Eduard Artemiev: Artists: Tatiana Abalakina, Rosaliia Zel’ma, Song lyrics: A. Kondratyev; TV Studio Ekran/USSR, animated film, 10 min 9 sec). A story of friendship and mutual help between a dolphin and a girl: first the dolphin rescues a drowning girl and teaches her how to swim in the sea; after arriving at a dolphinarium, the girl frees him from his captivity and shows him the way to the sea. The film refers to the utopian notion of a rapprochement between man and nature and, despite its romantic mood, is directly linked to the discourses on the creation of a new type of human being in the 1970s and 1980s, especially the water birth groups of Igor’ Charkovskii. See Ozhiganova 2020. (AT)
  • Сталкер (Stalker) (1979, Dir. Andrei Tarkovskii; Mosfilm/USSR, sci-fi/art drama, 161 min). From a screenplay by Arkady and Boris Strugatskii, partly based on their novel Roadside Picnic (1972). The film tells of an expedition by a guide called Stalker and two of his clients through a dangerous, probably radioactive wasteland full of unexplained phenomena to the so-called Zona, where there is supposedly a space that can fulfil a person’s deepest desires. The film mixes elements of science fiction with philosophy and religion, and includes scenes inspired by contemporary parapsychology, ESP (Ninel Kulagina, Eduard Naumov) and discourses on the paranormal. See Tyrkin 2001; Lemon 2018, 21f. (AT)
  • Фантазии Фарятьева (Fariat’ev’s Fantasies) (1979, Dir. Il’ia Averbakh; Lenfilm/USSR, 1–2, tragicomedy, 154 min). The film, based on the 1974 play of the same name by actress and writer Alla Sokolova, contains elements of the paleocontact hypothesis (=the so-called “fantasies” of the protagonist Pavel Fariat’ev as such). Pavel captures the imagination of Aleksandra and even more of her sister Liuba, with his somewhat poetic suggestions that people suffer and find no place on planet Earth because they feel like strangers but are actually “aliens,” descendants of extraterrestrials from another world, painfully searching for a way to return. Paul tries to perform card tricks, but his mother’s comment suggests that the cards were also used for fortune-telling (“Do you want to guess?”). Some scenes refer to the Chinese calendar (= two characters talk about the “Year of the Dragon,” a dragon mascot by the window) widely used in the late Soviet Union. See also Konakov 2022, 142. (AT)

1980s

  • Душа (The Soul) (1981, Dir. Aleksandr Stefanovich; Mosfilm/USSR, musical film/drama, 93 min). In a life crisis and in danger of losing her voice, Moscow singer Victoria Svobodina (portrayed by famous Soviet singer of Moldovan descent Sofiia Rotaru) wants to participate in the international song festival Intermusica with a little-known Soviet youth rock band. An acupuncture treatment scene is included. (KN)
  • Жгучие тайны века (The Burning Secrets of the Century) (1981, Dir. Viktor Viktorov; documentary, 58 min 41 sec). It attempts to prove scientifically that the content of a person’s mental life depends on his psychological attitudes in the perception of unexplored phenomena. See Konakov 2022, 225. (AT)
  • Золотые рыбки (The Golden Fish) (1981, Dir. Aleksandr Maiorov, 29 min). Based on Kir Bulychev‘s story “Goldfish Went on Sale” (from the Great Guslar cycle). In the genre of Soviet magical realism, it tells of a provincial town, similar to the late Soviet Union, where a pet store sells goldfish that can fulfill any customer’s wish, and how the customers manage their wishes. (AT)
  • Магия черная и белая (Black and White Magic) (1983, Dir. Naum Birman; Lenfilm/USSR, children’s comedy, 76 min). The story of two elementary school friends who, with the help of their worried classmates, try their hand at various hobbies in an attempt to improve their poor grades (“finding an interest in life” is a recurring imperative of the film within the framework of Soviet doctrines of social education of the younger generation). One of these casual pursuits becomes stage magic, which they try to master and entertain their classmates with hand manipulations, tricks, and illusions. The starting point for their next hobby is a rather weighty book called in film Practical Magic. Black and White, a friend of theirs accidentally gives them to read. The book’s cover appears only briefly on the screen (the author’s name remains indecipherable to the viewer). A cursory glance inside reveals a series of drawings of a handball magic trick. Perhaps the story of the book in the movie is a reference to the three-volume occult work Traité élémentaire de magie pratique by Papus (the pseudonym of Gerard Encausse) (1893), translated and published by Aleksandr Troianovskii in St. Petersburg in 1912–1913, and circulated in the esoteric samizdat of the late Soviet period. In addition to illusionism, a performative art popular in the circus and on television in Soviet times, the film also features “magic” as an external paranormal force in its esoteric sense. Thus, one of the boys, worried that their friendship is threatened by the recent arrival in their class of a new girl with whom they both sympathize and who wants to become their friend too, says in his heart: “You’re more like a brother to me! And she’s a hypnotist, she’s a sorceress, she’s black magic! Do you understand?” (01:02:38–01:02:46) “Oh yeah? Well, wait, wait, wait! Black magic – that’s like when you only get D’s at school, or your bike gets stolen… Maybe it’s not black magic. But in my opinion, white magic is like going out – bang! – and finding a hundred rubles! It helps us, she helps (the girl), isn’t she white, Vintik, well? (01:02:48–01:03:04). See also Nikiforov 2022. (KN, AT)
  • Любовь и голуби (Love and Pigeons) (1984, Dir. Vladimir Men’shov; Mosfilm/USSR, comedy, 107 min). Forestry worker and family man Vasilii (Aleksandr Mikhailov) is injured at work and goes to the sea for treatment. The naive country boy meets Raisa Zakharovna, a femme fatale from a human resources department who, among other things, is a fan of all modern forms of esotericism and ufology, and who tries to share her knowledge with Vasilii. A new life begins for him, but Vasilii misses his old home in the country, his family and the pigeons. The film satirises the city dweller’s fascination with esotericism and the paranormal, its so called pseudo-progressiveness and “pseudo-intellectualism” (See Nikiforov 2022). (KN)
  • Пирамида (The Pyramid) (1985; Dir. Aleksandr Ivankin; Central Documentary Film Studio (CDFS)/USSR, documentary, 38 min). The documentary thematizes the hidden possibilities of human self-healing on the example of Valentin Ivanovich Dikul’, a circus performer of great physical strength who became famous in the Soviet media in the 1970s and 1980s for his rehabilitation method, which helped him get back on his feet after numerous injuries and disabilities. Together with his wife, he organised the distribution of printed recommendations for his method by post. See also Konakov 2022, 159. (AT)
  • Самая обаятельная и привлекательная (The Most Charming and Attractive) (1985, Dir. Geral’d Bezhanov; Mosfilm/USSR, lyric comedy, 80 min). The protagonist, Nadia Kliueva, is a modest, unassuming woman for whom her work as an engineer in the design office of a Soviet research institute and her social affairs crowd out her private life. After meeting her school friend Susanna, a glamorous, self-confident, and seemingly successful married woman who is a sociologist and psychologist and offers her the use of modern “scientific methods” of seduction through psychological coaching and аutogenic training. Nadia becomes sought after by her male colleagues at her research institute. In their eyes, the heroine is transformed into a “beautiful and successful woman.” Still, in the end, Nadia refuses to achieve happiness through manipulation and training. She returns to her normal life, consciously finding joy in the person of her old colleague and friend, who has always treated her with sincerity. See Nikiforov 2022. (KN, AT)
  • Мумиё – легенды и действительность (Mumiё. Legends and Reality) (1986, Dir. Vladimir Bainov; Свердловская студия кинохроники/USSR, 1–2, documetary, 16 min 21 sec). The film tells of the healing properties of mumiё, which is presented as an ancient, traditional remedy in Eastern countries that can be useful to modern people. In the late Soviet Union, there was a great enthusiasm for this “mountain balm”. Its healing effect was close to that of a placebo. In Soviet Central Asia (especially in Uzbekistan) its chemical composition was studied and experiments were carried out and reported by the following specialists: Professor of Medicine A. Shakirov, Doctor of Medical Sciences V. P. Okhotsky, Doctor of Medical Sciences, Director of the Central Institute of Stomatology V. S. Ivanov, Director of the Uzbek Institute of Stomatology. S. Ivanov, Director of the Uzbek Institute of Peripheral Medicine, Academician of the Academy of Sciences of the Uzbek SSR Ya. H. Turakulov, Candidate of Geographical Sciences Z. N. Khakimov, Candidate of Medical Sciences V. I. Kalygin, Candidate of Biological Sciences A. M. Beskrovnyi, Doctor of Medical Sciences V. K. Lepakhin. See also Konakov 2022, 159. (AT)
  • Мы веселы, счастливы, талантливы! (We Are Fun, Happy, Talented!) (1986, Dir. Aleksandr Surin; Mosfilm/USSR, drama, 93 min). Based on the play “A Funny Case” by Tat’iana Khlopniankina. Journalist Lialia (Marina Neelova), single mother must correct errors in her article about the “Prometheus” health club. She needs to produce a comprehensive report. Pavel Petrovich Kliuev, portrayed by Stanislav Liubshin, is an charming and charismatic trainer who developed a distinctive course program that aims to enhance overall well-being. Together with his assistant (Tatiana Dogileva), they use hypnosis and teach simple techniques for fasting, tolerating cold temperatures, following a plant-based diet, jogging, practicing Hatha yoga (among other gymnastic exercises). The courses also include autogenic training, which they believe can transform unhappy situations into happy ones. The film displays group meditations and weeping rituals. The trainer falls in love with the journalist but realizes that his way of doing things is not effective for everyone, including himself. Unfortunately Lialia does not share these feelings. After a 17-year search for Bigfoot (снежный человек) in the Pamir Mountains, her husband Petr (Alexander Mikhailov) comes back home briefly and regrets not being able to raise their common daughter. Lialia forgives him a long abscence, but she attempts to keep him from embarking on another expedition to Tajikistan to explore the further evidence for the Yeti. Meanwhile, Pavel Petrovich persists in his emotions and endeavors to prevent her from meeting Petr. (AT)
  • В поисках пришельцев (In Search of Aliens) (1987, Dir. Viktor Olender; Kyivnauchfilm//USSR, popular science, 84 min). Perhaps for the first time on the territory of the former USSR, the film explored some aspects of the UFO problem in parallel with the scientific search for extraterrestrial civilisations beyond Earth. (AT)
  • Трагедия в стиле рок (The Rock Tragedy) (1988, Dir. Savva Kulish; Mosfilm/USSR, drama, 167 min). An important part of the plot is played by a New Age group (“sect”) in which the protagonist becomes involved. The ideas of Hinduism and guruism turn out to be a cover for a drug-dealing gangster organization. The style of the film and the individual plots well convey the atmosphere of spiritual search and the fashion for alternative religiosity of the late 1980s. The music for the film was written by one of the most famous young composers of the time, Sergei Kurekhin, who later became associated with Aleksandr Dugin. (PN)
  • Девять лет с экстрасенсами (Nine Years With the Psychics) (1989, Dir. Viktor Olender; Kyivnauchfilm/USSR, documentary) Film 1 (65 min); Film 2 (68 min). A series of documentaries about experiments on people with special paranormal abilities. These experiments were conducted in Moscow at the Institute of Radio Engineering and Electronics under the direction of Iurii Guliaev, Corresponding Member of the Academy of Sciences, and at the St Petersburg Institute of Precision Mechanics and Optics under the direction of Prof Gennadii Dul’nev, Rector of the Institute. All experiments were carried out according to strict scientific methods. In this film were recorded and other unique phenomena: communication with the spirits of the dead, reading thoughts at a distance, conversation of modern people in ancient languages. The material was filmed in the early 1980s. Acting persons of the series: (1) Boris Ermolaev (has techniques of lifting objects without touching them, guesses cards), Albert Ignatenko (a man with phenomenal memory, telepath and hypnotist), Elena Agarkova, (telepath), Liudmila Korabelnikova (visionary), Vanga. (2) Emma Nesmeianovich (predicts earthquakes, spiritist), Vera Zrazhevskaia (automatic writing in the spirit of V. Vysotskii), Koncheva … [name and surname illegible] (healer, speaks in unknown languages), Uri Geller (telepath, sows seeds with the power of thought), Ninel’ Kulagina (moves objects at a distance, heals, her hands emit radiation of such strength that it leaves burns on hands, burns acetate thread, etc. several experiments are shown). See also Lemon 2013, 82f; Lemon 2018, 56f, 75f. (AT)

1990s

  • Войны черной и белой магии (The War of Black and White Magic) (1990, Dir. Viktor Olender; Kyivnauchfilm/USSR, documentary, 71 min). The film, which caused a sensation at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival, tells the story of the confrontation between black magic and white magic through a real-life example: something “other”, “black”, unknown becomes possessed in a young girl. People involved in magic in one way or another are called in to help – clairvoyants, magicians, sorcerers – and then all the records (interviews with clairvoyants and magicians, records of exorcisms, opinions and stories of the girl’s friends) are collected in a documentary project. (AT)
  • Духов день (Spirit Day) (1990, Dir. Sergei Sel’anov; Lenfilm/USSR, “Voice/Golos” with the participation of the USSR Goskino, drama, 117 min). The plot is based on the story of the main character with paranormal abilities, and in the end it turns out that the whole plot – near-death experiences. The main role is played by the famous musician Iurii Shevchuk. (PN)
  • Меморандум Левашовых (Levashovs’ Memorandum) (1990, Dir. Vadim Belozerov, Vzgliad v pole zreniia, documentary, interviews, 55 min 41 sec). About the couple of healers Nikolai and Mziia Levashovs. Cooperation of extrasensors and healers with doctors in Moscow. Diagnosing diseases and biofields in the joint Soviet-American venture Dialog. (AT)
  • Тайна древних магов (The Mystery of Ancient Magi) (1991, Dir. V. Ramenskii, documentary, 16 min 24 sec). The film is dedicated to history of numerical mysticism. Mathematician B. Stechkin’s reflects on the nature of sacred numbers, their origin, and their influence on significant historical events. (AT)
  • Тайны века/цикл серий (Secrets of the Century) (1992). A series of programs prepared in cooperation with Aleksandr Dugin and journalist Y. Vorob’evskii. The series introduced the system of right-wing conspiracies: the occult empire, the mysteries of the Templars and Freemasons, the myths about the murder of the last Russian tsar, etc. Evgenii Golovin took part in several programs as an expert. (PN)
  • Экстрасенс (The Psychic/Ekstrasens) (1992, Dir. Gennadii Glagolev, Film Studio “FB–33″/Ukraine, 119 min). A young karate practitioner suffers a brain injury and a shot to the heart during a street fight, is hospitalized and, thanks to an amulet, begins to travel to other parallel worlds. In these worlds different situations are replayed. (AT)
  • Тема. Телепередача, 1 часть (Theme. TV show. Part 1) (19.10.1993, Moderator: Vlad List’ev, 46 min 03 sec). The program is devoted to the discussion of life after death by people who have experienced clinical death as well as doctors of the surgical intensive care unit of the Sklifosovsky Research Institute (one of them is Alexander Dorfman). An unnamed ekstrasens demonstrates on his own body a short-term cardiac arrest. Among the guests of the studio are the entertainer hypnotist Valerii Avdeev, who conducts a session of mass regressive hypnosis with immersion into the past. Fragments of fiction films, propaganda- and conventional documentaries about mysticism, cryogenic technologies and exorcism in the USA ets. are shown. Discussions of ghosts and poltergeist cases. (AT)

2000s

  • Последователи (The Followers) (2002, Dir. Andis Mizišs; Russia, Latvia, drama, research, interview, 44 min). In a remote Siberian taiga, the followers of former policeman Sergei Toropov, who has proclaimed himself the new Christ – the so-called Vissarionites – await the end of the world and prepare themselves and their children for life in a new civilisation. (AT)
  • Перекресток (The Crossroads) (2006) (Dir. Ivan Golovnev; Russia, documentary, 22 min). The village of Okunevo is located in Western Siberia. It is a meeting place for people of different faiths. It is in this crossroads of religions that the main hero of the film lives, who defines himself as “the man of the crossroads,” in a spiritual sense too. (AT)

2010s

2020s

  • Секта Столбуна (Stolbun’s Sect) (2020, Dir. Evgenii Berg; Russia, documentary, 97 min). This Soviet ‘legal sect’, Viktor Stolbun‘s community, was the focus of intense media attention in the post-Soviet period. Famous Soviet artists and other celebrities gave their children to the community in the hope that through a special education and healing methods they would grow up to be super-talented, ‘new people of the future’. (AT)

Featured image 1: Девять лет с экстрасенсами (Nine Years With the Psychics) (1989, Dir. Viktor Olender; Kyivnauchfilm/USSR) Film 1, 00:14:51)

Featured image 2: Мы веселы, счастливы, талантливы! (We Are Fun, Happy, Talented!) (1986, Dir. Aleksandr Surin; Mosfilm/USSR) 00:17:23)


Cite this article as: Anna Tessmann, “New Age and Esoteric References in (Post-)Soviet Films,” in New Age in Russia, 10/08/2023, https://newageru.hypotheses.org/?p=7344.


OpenEdition suggests that you cite this post as follows:
Anna Tessmann (October 4, 2023). New Age and Esoteric References in (Post-)Soviet Films. New Age in Russia. Retrieved July 15, 2024 from https://doi.org/10.58079/sblx


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