Con­tro­ver­sial film about Rus­sian czar cleared for re­lease


A his­tor­i­cal film about the last Rus­sian czar’s af­fair with a bal­le­rina has been cleared for re­lease, the Cul­ture Min­istry said Thurs­day, a de­ci­sion that fol­lows months of dis­putes and an­gry calls for its ban.

“Matilda,’’ which de­scribes Ni­cholas II’s re­la­tion­ship with Matilda Ksh­esin­skaya, has drawn vir­u­lent crit­i­cism from some Ortho­dox be­liev­ers and hard-line na­tion­al­ists, who see it as blas­phemy against the em­peror, glo­ri­fied as a saint by the Rus­sian Ortho­dox Church.

The con­tro­versy around the film, un­par­al­leled in Rus­sia’s post-Soviet his­tory, has re­flected the church’s ris­ing in­flu­ence and the in­creas­ing as­sertive­ness of rad­i­cal re­li­gious ac­tivists.

Rus­sian law­maker Natalya Pok­lon­skaya, who pre­vi­ously had served as the chief re­gional pros­e­cu­tor in Crimea fol­low­ing its 2014 an­nex­a­tion by Moscow, spear­headed the cam­paign for ban­ning the film.

A de­vout Ortho­dox be­liever, Pok­lon­skaya even asked the Pros­e­cu­tor Gen­eral’s of­fice to carry out an in­quiry into “Matilda,’’ which is set to be re­leased on the cen­ten­nial of the 1917 Bol­she­vik revo­lu­tion.

The lav­ish pro­duc­tion, filmed in his­toric im­pe­rial palaces and fea­tur­ing sump­tu­ous cos­tumes, loosely fol­lows the story of Ni­cholas II’s in­fat­u­a­tion with Ksh­esin­skaya that be­gan when he was heir-ap­par­ent and ended at his mar­riage in 1894.

The czar and his fam­ily were ex­e­cuted by a Bol­she­vik fir­ing squad in July 1918. The Rus­sian Ortho­dox Church made them saints in 2000.

Di­rec­tor Alexei Uchi­tel has rejected the ac­cu­sa­tions and prom­i­nent Rus­sian film­mak­ers have come to his de­fence. The film’s crit­ics and its de­fend­ers both have ap­pealed to the Krem­lin, but it has re­frained from pub­licly en­ter­ing the fray.

On Thurs­day, the Rus­sian Cul­ture Min­istry fi­nally an­nounced that the film has re­ceived of­fi­cial clear­ance for view­ers over 16.

Vyash­eslav Tel­nov, the head of the min­istry’s film depart­ment, said it checked “Matilda’’ and found it in full com­pli­ance with le­gal norms.

“No state or­gan or non-gov­ern­ment or­ga­ni­za­tion can ban pro­duc­tion or re­lease of a fea­ture film for po­lit­i­cal or ide­o­log­i­cal mo­tives,’’ Tel­nov said.

Rus­sia’s grow­ing con­ser­va­tive streak has wor­ried many in the coun­try’s artis­tic com­mu­nity.

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