MOSCOW, Oct 25, (AFP): Seven people were arrested Tuesday at a protest at the Moscow premiere of “Matilda”, a controversial biopic of the last tsar that has drawn threats from religious extremists, police said.
Alexei Uchitel’s film has outraged hardline Orthodox believers, who view Tsar Nicholas II as a saint and object to the depiction of his affair with a ballerina.
The film’s trailer triggered a wave of attacks in the country, including Molotov cocktails thrown at the filmmakers’ offices in Saint Petersburg.
In Moscow, two cars were set alight outside the offices of Uchitel’s lawyer last month.
Police said the arrests at the premiere were for disturbing public order. All of those held were Orthodox activists, some singing religious songs and one holding a banner describing the film as “slander”, TASS news agency reported.
Around a dozen other demonstrators, some holding pictures of the tsar, were not arrested.
Earlier in the day Alexei Ryazantsev of the Karo Premiere distribution company said at screenings there would be “increased security measures, but so far just for the first weekend of release”.
Distributors were still receiving messages about possible disruptions at screenings but they were being handled by police, he told reporters.
Uchitel said he had not expected such controversy and would not wish it on anyone.
“It’s been very hard psychologically,” he said. “As you know there have been threats… but the authorities have reacted and these people have been arrested”.
In the Urals city of Yekaterinburg — where the royal family was killed by firing squad — a man drove a van filled with gas canisters into a movie theatre and set it on fire in apparent protest against the historical drama.
Last month, Russia’s two biggest cinema chains Cinema Park and Formula Kino said they would drop the film from their lineup after threats, but later reversed their decision.
The attacks on the period drama have shaken Russia’s liberal artistic community, which has long felt itself under pressure during President Vladimir Putin’s conservative rule.
Putin has in recent years played up traditional values in a bid to win backing from everyday Russians and the powerful Orthodox Church.
But critics say the Kremlin’s focus on Christian values has empowered religious hardliners and that they may not be able to control the outcome.
Nicholas II and his family were denounced in the Soviet period but are now viewed as holy martyrs by the Russian Orthodox Church.
The visually luscious, erotically charged “Matilda” focuses on the emperor’s relationship with ballerina Mathilde Kschessinska before his marriage and ascent to the throne.
German actor Lars Eidinger — who is known for playing in steamy art house films — stars as the last tsar. Eidinger declined to travel to Russia for the film’s premieres, citing security concerns.
Moscow ads describe “Matilda” as “the most anticipated film of the year” but the movie has received a mixed response, with journalist Marina Akhmedova writing: “Watching the fuss around the film has been much more interesting than watching the film itself”.
MEXICO CITY: With US-Mexican relations at their lowest point in recent memory, Disney Pixar is set to release “Coco,” a cinematic celebration of Mexico that its director said Tuesday is an antidote to the “negativity” of the current political climate.
Set in Mexico against the backdrop of the country’s traditional Day of the Dead festival, “Coco” tells the story of a boy who inadvertently ends up in the land of the dead, taking him on a vivid tour of Mexican history and culture.
Director Lee Unkrich, who won an Oscar for best animated film for “Toy Story 3,” said that while the project did not start out being political, events conspired to make its setting particularly relevant.
“Certainly when we began making this movie six years ago, it was a very different political climate than we find ourselves in now,” he told a press conference in Mexico City, where the film is being screened at a gala event Tuesday night.
“That being said, we are all very proud of the film. And I think it’s a good thing that it’s coming out now, because there’s been a lot of negativity in the world.”
The movie is the first from Pixar dedicated entirely to a foreign culture — a risky bet for the animation studio and parent company Disney at a time when US President Donald Trump’s “America first” populism holds sway.
Mexican-American co-director Adrian Molina said he was confident the movie would connect with audiences everywhere.
“That familiar connection to a Pixar film, that’s deeper than I’ve ever been able to go, and I think create a story that’s unique for the studio, that’s unique for the world,” he said.
“Strictly from my personal standpoint, I’m very thankful for it because it helped me to grow, to reconnect with my roots, and to create something that I am very proud of, very proud to share with my family in the United States and Mexico and beyond.”
“Coco” features the voice of Mexican heartthrob Gael Garcia Bernal in both the English and Spanish versions. It premiered Friday at the Morelia International Film Festival in Mexico, to warm reviews.
It opens in Mexico on Oct 27, the United States on Nov 22 and worldwide on November 23.