When the former Soviet Union opened its borders in 1991, dozens of match-making agencies started exploring the new market of Russian brides. Michael and Svetlana is a documentary about a man who subscribed to such a service. He chose a young woman living in a small village in central Russia. Her name is Svetlana. She does not speak English, has never traveled outside of Russia and she has a six-year-old daughter. Their relationship begins via the mail. Michael has Svetlana’s letters translated into English, while she, four thousand miles away, has his translated into Russian. The film is narrated by Slava, the translator of some of these letters and a person our camera follows during this fascinating transatlantic love affair journey.
In her initial letter, Svetlana expresses her fondness for ‘high heels’ while Michael understands it as a love of ‘high hills’. Before they meet, she tells of her dreams of big city life in America. Once she arrives in upstate New York she is confronted with the reality of Michael’s small-town home. It is not clear what they have in common, and yet, after eight months of letters, they decide to get married. Michael travels to Russia to meet his bride. She is a smashing 30-year-old, blue-eyed blonde. He is 40, has a steady job, and owns his own home. And that’s all they really know about each other.
The film opens in a town in central New York, where Michael lives with his fourteen-year-old son, Sean. Since the end of his first marriage Michael has had several friendships with women that ended when Michael’s communication with Svetlana began . He tells us that he will be leaving for his first trip to Russia in a few weeks and is looking forward to meeting Svetlana. For the trip, he has bought two large dictionaries and a “teach-yourself-Russian” tape.