Borisov The Great

By the age of 28 Yura Borisov has participated in almost 50 movies and TV series, including such blockbusters as Alexey Sidorov's World War II epic T-34 (2018) and Fedor Bondarchuk's sci-fi smash Invasion (2019). This year Yura has participated in so many successful projects and has gained the reputation of Russian festival cinema's main figure.

by Diana Ushkar


Yura was born in Reutov, in a common family, which was not connected to cinema at all. His mother had an engineering education and his father – a medical one, but, as it turned out, they worked as traders at the Cherkizovsky market in Moscow. His acting career started in his childhood, he attended drama school. Though at that time Yura wasn't so much into acting – "It was just a way to skip classes", he admits recalling those days.

After graduation from high school Yura entered Shepkinsky Theatre University where he convinced himself that he isn't keen on stage acting. Russian classical school full of inadmissibility of experiments and improvisation killed the love for theatre. That was the time when Yura dabbled in the cinema soil. It all actually started with the role in The Young Guard (2015). According to Borisov, Sergei Tulipin was the first character who had nothing in common with Yura himself, but had his own unique destiny, dreams and habits. From this point, the quantity of Yura's roles changed for quality.

His first significant role was in the movie Crystal Swan (2018). Nominated in Karlovy Vary (2018) and winner at Nike (2019), this indie-drama in the setting of the 1990s tells us a story about a young DJ girl from Minsk who's struggling to get a visa to move to Chicago. The movie brilliantly shows the differences between provincial post-soviet and the party western cultures – they collide, meet, combine in the life of one particular person and give the viewers an opportunity to look at this "You should stay in your homeland" issue from a new perspective.
In 2019 Bull was released. It is shot in the 1990s setting again, but here Yura plays a completely different character. Anton Bykov, (bull), a young leader of a criminal group who is forced by conditions to get money in any possible way. He's driven by the need to provide for his family. Many critics emphasize that the plot of the film is poorly written, it consists of many mix-ups, weak justification of what's happening, and cliches. Success of the movie is credited to its characters – among this blood and thunder they look authentic, vibrant and convincing, which is also the merit of actors. Stasya Miloslavkaya, Igor Savochkin and, of course, Yura Borisov were marvellous. Borisov managed to play not a heartless criminal, but a simple young boy who is forced to lead a life like this. In every scene we can see how much he struggles inside, let it be a big fight with guns and knives or an intimate dialogue with Tanya – who's tired of such life, not less than the bull himself. Tragic and catchy, the movie had huge success at festivals and got the Grand prize at Kinotavr Film Festival. Borisov was nominated for the best actor for Golden Eagle 2020. That was the point Borisov caught the eyes of directors and producers and after Bull was released, Yura started to receive more interesting and significant job offers.

One of the big projects he participated in is Silver Skates (2020). This is a romantic story which takes place in 1889 Christmas Saint-Petersburg. Matvey (son of a lamplighter, who became a pickpocket to afford an expensive treatment for his ill father) meets Alisa (a dignitary's daughter, who is terribly tired of social graces lessons and is keen on science) on Petersburg ice and the romantic line unfolds. However, it is not the main characters who attracted the viewers attention, but a charming criminal leader Alex played by Yura Borisov. Though Alex is the antagonist who creates obstacles so that Matvey and Alisa can't be happy together and does some other really bad things during the movie, people still love him a lot. Social media, especially Twitter, is flooded with admiration of Alex. Why do people find a bad guy attractive? The answer is because he's charismatic, more complicated and impressive than others on the screen – because Yura Borisov managed to play like that. Emotions, gesture, intonation – everything represented by Borisov in this movie breathes with charisma, power and danger. It was highly praised not only by the viewers, but also by critics. Silver Skates had many achievements, but the most significant one is that it was chosen to be the first Russian movie officially released on Netflix and had huge success among foreign viewers. International recognition is a big step for Russian cinematography and for Yura Borisov who started to receive invitations to foreign projects.
In Crystal Swan Yura Borisov plays Alik, a completely drugged raver in a funny hat. Borisov is known for his impressive preparation for each role, he always digs into the life and peculiarities of his characters, tries to understand them as he wants to look authentic on the screen. At this point he's even ready to sacrifice his health and beauty. For example, to prepare for the role of Alik, Yura did research on what drugs were in use in the 90s and tried amphetamine. He did it only once to understand what a person feels in this state and he admits it was a painful and terrifying experience. On set he used eye drops expanding pupils to look convincing. Borisov admits he doesn't want to play a drug addict ever again: "It is such a darkness, I don't even want to get in". Ayway, in the movie Yura did a great job, he managed to convey the image of such people as Alik so well that even Fedor Bondarchuk noted a special veracity of it saying he indeed has met such guys in such funny hats.
Netflix is not the only way for Yura to present himself in an international area, as he has already become a Film Festivals' star. I can hardly name any other Russian actors who had so many festival projects, especially successful ones. Yura's latest triumph was the 74th Festival de Cannes where he presented two pictures: Petrov's Flu (2021) (our article about this film), the hotly anticipated feature from fellow countryman Kirill Serebrennikov, and Compartment Number 6 (2021), Finnish director Juho Kuosmanen's Trans-Siberian Railway drama.

Petrov's Flu was recently released in Russian theatres and was highly praised by the viewers. People liked an extraordinary story about car mechanic Petrov who caught a flu on New Year's Eve and went on an adventure through the darkness of winter Ekaterinburg. Among peculiarities of the film we can name strangers that Petrov meets, the pieces of the city's literature underground life that go as a background to the main storyline and Yura Borisov who plays the role of Ded Moroz (Russian Santa Claus). This is not the traditional image of the kind magician who came to bring you the present. Here's the man who plays Ded Moroz on kiddy parties, tired and sarcastic and a little bit terrifying. Borisov did his best performing this role and showed another side of his talent. The film was nominated for the Palme d'Or and won the Vulcain prize.
This summer Yura also presented the film Gerda (2021) at the Locarno Film Festival, where he played Oleg, an artist who works as a gravedigger. The movie itself tells a story about the countryside girl Lera who lives with her lunatic mom and who has to work as a stripper wondering when her life would be better. Among the viewers at the festival was Gaspar Noe who liked the movie so much that he messaged the director Natalia Kudryashova directly and said many pleasing words. Gerdais definitely a promising project that would impress the lovers of underground cinema.

At the Venice Film Festival in September, Russia has presented two films, both with Yura Borisov in the cast – Captain Volkonogov Escaped (2021) by Natalia Mercuova and Mother I'm home (2021) by Vladimir Bitokov. Apart from a wide range of festival films, Yura also participates in numerous projects, including, for example, Netflix adaptation of Anna Karenina. That leads us to the conclusion that despite the fact that Yura has already gained success and popularity, he's still rising and ready to surprise us again and again.
Compartment Number 6 is Yura's first international project. Grand-prize winning film tells us about Lora, Finnish student, who one day decides to flee Moscow and take a train to Murmansk. At that moment starts her road adventure that she shares with a russian miner Lekha (Yura Borisov). This unexpected company helps them both to realise how lonely they are and how much they miss simple human love. According to Borisov, during his preparation for the role he drank a lot to bring his mind to the state of a simple russian fellow who has no idea where he's going. Apart from this, the actor decided to go on an adventure, but once he got on the train he realised everyone was looking only at their gadgets. "The train syndrom, when you tell a stranger something you've never told anyone about, has disappeared. Nowadays, the best friends of passengers are their phones," tells Borisov, concluding his experience. At this point, the movie's plot unfolds in the 1990s, before people drowned in the virtual world and when they needed each other during train trips. The connection that appeared between Lora and Lekha was built on their revelations and intimate dialogues. Yura's character turns out to be much more complicated than you can expect from the first glance – he has pure soul, he is open-minded and simple, so that he's ready to sacrifice his life for the first stranger. Critics would say it is a perfect representation of a Russian character, and though Yura himself doesn't believe in such things, he admits he knows fellows like Lekha and dedicates his work to them.
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