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Russian director seeks to submit his controversial movie Matilda for Academy Award

Matilda due to hit cinema screens in autumn
Russian film director Alexei Uchitel Sergei Bobylev/TASS
Russian film director Alexei Uchitel
© Sergei Bobylev/TASS

MOSCOW, August 9. /TASS/. Russian film director Alexei Uchitel said on Wednesday that he would like to submit into the Oscars race his controversial film Matilda about Russian Tsar Nicholas II.

The Russian Oscar committee chaired by renowned film director Vladimir Menshov is to select before October 1 the Russian film to be submitted for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

"We would like to participate in the ‘Oscar race," Uchitel told TASS, adding that this is exactly why the film slated for release in October, is currently shown in ‘limited release’. Only the films released before October 1 can be submitted for the Foreign-Language Award.

"We have already organized prereleases in Moscow and St. Petersburg, while in September the film will be shown in (the far eastern city of) Vladivostok," Uchitel explained. "First of all, this practice is useful before a wide release as it gives a chance to learn people’s opinion. Besides, the limited release will make it possible to observe all formalities, qualifying for submission from Russia," the film director added.

He said this year will see strong contenders among Russian submissions for the best foreign-language feature Academy Award. Uchitel also mentioned that two of his films had already been submitted into Oscars race - the film Dnevnik Ego Zheny (His Wife’s Diary) about famous Russian writer Ivan Bunin and Krai (The Edge) starring Vladimir Mashkov.

The new film is to premiere at the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg on October 6, 2017. For the world-renowned theater it will be its first film premiere. The film stars German actor Lars Eidinger as Russia’s last Emperor Nikolai II and Polish actress Michalina Olszanska as prima ballerina Matilda Kschessinska. Lithuanian actress Ingeborga Dapkunaite plays Nicholas’s mother Maria Fedorovna. Among other renowned actors playing in the film are Yevgeny Mironov, Sergey Garmash, Daniila Kozlovsky and others.

Matilda, due to hit cinema screens in autumn, has already stirred up controversy among Russian ultra Orthodox Christians since it focuses on the relationship between Czar Nicholas II and the famous ballerina Mathilde Kschessinska. Its critics say that the movie tarnishes the reputation of the last Russian czar.

In winter, the Christian State - Holy Russia organization sent nearly a thousand letters to cinema owners urging them to ban the screening of Matilda. Duma Deputy Natalia Polonskaya has been pushing to ban the film, because of how it depicts the monarch, who has been made a saint by the Russian Orthodox Church. Several inspections related to the preparation of the film were launched based on Polonskaya's complaint.

Film director Alexei Uchitel, in turn, filed requests with the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office asking to shield the movie crew and distributors from further threats and other unlawful actions by radically-minded individuals, as well as to probe the Christian state - Holy Russia organization for extremism following threats to the film crew and potential viewers.

Russian President Vladimir Putin outlined his position on the controversy surrounding the film Matilda, and urged for a dialogue about it within the bounds of decency and law, during his annual televised question and answer session in June.

The question about a "discouraging backdrop" in Russian culture was asked by actor and director Sergei Bezrukov, who among the examples used the situation around Uchitel's Matilda.

President Putin noted that Russia is "a big, complicated country, with many people with different opinions, different points of view, and assessments." He also reminded that there were previously other films made about the monarchy that "touched upon the family, Rasputin."

Moreover, according to the President, these films were "much more stringent" than the one by Uchitel, whom Putin called a patriot. "I know him personally, I respect him as a person who is patriotic, as far as I know his views, and a person who makes talented things," he said.