Who knew that hiring a "Domestic Import" would trigger a pistol-packin' game of Russian roulette that would fill every chamber of the house with émigrés out of a production of "Dr. Zhivago?"
From Russia with … laughs?
It is now for Cherry Hill, N.J.'s Andrea Malamut. But it was no laughing matter way back when the ad executive faced a pregnant pause in her life and decided to hire a Ukrainian au pair who paired up with her family in the old country for the oldest Russian ruse in the book — distract with one hand while waving them in over the border with the other.
Vigilantes monitoring Vladivostok? Build a wall over the Kremlin? It already has one!
"I can look back on it now and laugh, but 12 years ago … " muses Malamut, the movie's producer/screenwriter whose first foray into the film business has her exporting "Domestic Import" to area theaters on a limited run before a wider splash next year.
A "Boris Gudonov" of the gulag? Good enough for Malamut, who gave birth to a daughter and a film that has everything but a Russian bear on a unicycle.
Well, one of the characters is a "deflector" from the Moscow Circus.
Know that circus scene where a crowd of clowns erupts out of a Volkswagen? How about a Volga in overdrive with oddballs from Odessa? "My mother would visit our house and ask, 'How can you let all this go on?' "
And on … and on. When Sofia the housekeeper kept the house as her own import agency, bringing over relatives and then hiding them in rooms, it soon became a question of who hired whom.
"She had her own agenda," says Malamut of the Ukrainian domestic who played her like a ukulele, stringing the whole Malamut family along.
At first, the film's Sophia (Alla Korot) appears as a real friendly doll, but evolves into a matreshka, with more Russians popping out with each layer revealed.
A minx from Minsk?
This is not your babushka's old matreshka.
Trot out the Trotskys: "She realized we were kind-hearted, well-adjusted people — and saw an opportunity."
Those were the days, my friend … when the housekeeper ate them out of house and home, put her own dating schedule ahead of the Malamuts' and filled the house with so many friends and family it would have bowled over the Bolshoi.
From such big doings comes this small independent picture of war and war that would have taken a toll even on Tolstoy.
If they built a bridge out of perestroika, Malamut's housekeeper and her minions were the first to run over it at 60 miles an hour. "The whole thing spiraled out of control; she went on a dating frenzy before her visa expired," recalls the filmmaker, who said das vedanya to her diva 10 years ago and hasn't seen her since.
What would her undomesticated domestic say if she saw it all on screen now? Nyet to you? No, says Malamut. "She was aware of my play," which had been staged earlier, "saw the script and even laughed about it. She said, 'so you were on to me all the time?' "
If all the Russians are stereotyped as rude, crude and lewd, the real-life Soviet playing Sophia is anything but. "She should be flattered that Alla is playing her," smiles Malamut of actress Korot, a stunner more akin to the contemporary Russian female role model than the Borscht beauties in the film who look like they were beaten by a blender on a bender.
Indeed, Korot — mensch not menshevik — is a 14-Karat Ukrainian who immigrated at the age of 6 with her parents to San Francisco where she learned Rice-a-Roni was just a rolled blintchick by another name.
And there is one major difference between Korot and the clan of comedic comrades on screen; Korot's Jewish while they are anything but. But a comedy from Kiev, albeit mostly shot in Philadelphia and surrounding areas, as well as Culver City, Calif.? Is it putting Putin in a new comedic light?
"It's entertainment. If you're looking for reality, you're in the wrong place," says the actress who has found her place in the business, starring in Jack Nicholson's upcoming film, "Fractures," and in soaps and episodics.
This episode in her life is a welcome one. How far a stretch?
Enough to have stretch marks: "I played my mother and her friends."
Did Mama mind? "She's a movie star in her own right," dishes the daughter lovingly of her fashion plate of a mom.
And if Korot has gone Hollywood, she has also gone Hebrew.
"I started my American studies by also learning Hebrew," says the star of the importance of Stars of David in her own life since coming over in the mid-'70s.
"It has been a path to self-discovery," a road revealing her soul and acknowledging that she is "proud to be Jewish."
And Malamut is proud that the movie is out there on screen. Not that it was easy; indeed, it proved quite a Russian nutcracker on its own, with a schedule that had her doing the kazachok. "I would get up every morning and write from 4 to 6," she says.
But then, her family always knew she had the write stuff. And if Malamut's going to make a popcorn movie, who better to bring the butter than her own brood?
Let the filmmaker from Cherry Hill set the scene: Lights! Cameras! Mama!: "I want to take my mother to see it," she says of Leona Cohen, 86, of Voorhees, N.J. "I want to buy her popcorn and sit next to her, and then to hear the laughter in the audience."
After all is said and filmed, is Andrea Malamut — with Russian Jewish roots herself — the Russian Paul Revere, her film a blaring warning that the Russians are coming, the Russians are coming?
Look at the screens this weekend; they're already here!