Russia has produced some of the greatest novels and cinema of all time. However, you might feel daunted if you're not familiar with the Russian language. Luckily, there are translators who have taken the time to make these works available to people who can't read or speak a word of Russian.
Below is a list of two great Russian works of literature, and one great modern Russian film. They have been translated and are enjoyable even for anyone interested in Russian culture.
Crime And Punishment
Russian novels are sometimes considered big, intimidating, and dense. Think of War and Peace or The Brothers Karamazov. These are heavy, long works of fiction. They are also difficult because they rely on a great deal of Russian history and society. It helps to understand Russian politics in order to appreciate War and Peace and even The Brothers Karamazov. However, if you're looking for a Russian novel that is a great work of art, and is also a fast paced read that doesn't require you know too much about Russian politics, society, or government, then look to Crime and Punishment. It's a thriller, but it has a deep philosophical theme. The main character is a murderer who argues about his right to commit a heinous crime. The author, Dostoyevsky, was one of the pioneers of existentialism in such works as Notes From The Underground. This line of philosophical inquiry can be seen in the murderer's defense of his actions.
If you'd rather jump into Russian literature via a short story, then choose "The Nose." It was written by Gogol and it is considered one of the most famous stories in the world. It's surreal in nature, telling the story of a clerk whose nose leaves his face and goes becomes a successful member of the Russian bureaucracy. The author used this surrealist story to comment on the obsession that many Russians had with working in the civil service and rising through the ranks at any cost. The man who loses his nose becomes enraged with jealously because his nose begins to do better than him in the professional world.
Leviathan is a recent Russian film that tells the story of one families attempt to keep their property from corrupt developers and local town officials who are willing to be bribed and ignore the law. It's set in a post-communist society where money is king and people are corrupt and running wild. The main character was based on the biblical figure of Job, according to the filmmakers. He looks for help from friends, his wife, and the local priest only to find himself betrayed at every turn. It is a dark film, but one that was highly awarded and is a interesting critique of modern Russian society. The DVD will have subtitles which provide an excellent translation or the dialogue. If you've never watched a subtitled movie, then don't worry, you will get used to reading the dialogue after a short while. It's much better than dubbed films because the original actors dramatic delivery is preserved.