'To see Stalin': Lat­est WWII film aims to stir up Rus­sians

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

Agroup of Soviet me­chan­ic­ss­log through a muddy for­est on a mis­sion that would even­tu­ally help change the course of World War II: reach­ing dic­ta­tor Joseph Stalin. Among them is an en­gi­neer who wants to con­vince the Krem­lin leader that a new tank he has de­signed can trans­form the Soviet Union's out­dated forces a year ahead of the in­va­sion by Nazi Ger­many. Based on a lit­tle-known chap­ter of Soviet his­tory from 1940 -- this is the sce­nario for a new film be­ing shot out­side Moscow with state fund­ing.

The movie-cur­rently with the work­ing ti­tle "To See Stalin"-is the lat­est in a string of gov­ern­ment-backed pro­duc­tions about in­spir­ing tales from World War II aimed at bol­ster­ing pa­tri­otic fer­vour that the Krem­lin can then tap. But crit­ics ar­gue that they tend to white­wash the crimes of the Soviet lead­er­ship while down­play­ing the tragedies of the war-and also play fast and loose with the truth. "The idea came from the cul­ture min­istry, which has been ac­tively push­ing to retell the sto­ries of the he­roes from our coun­try's past," 32-year-old direc­tor Kim Druzhinin told AFP as he over­saw the shoot.

'Stalin is the cul­mi­na­tion'

Druzhinin's lat­est project cen­ters on the epic tale of Mikhail Koshkin, who in the spring of 1940 drove his pro­to­type tank more than 2,000 kilo­me­ters (1,250 miles) across the Soviet Union to pitch the de­sign to Stalin. The jour­ney would even­tu­ally cost Koshkin his life, as he died from pneu­mo­nia con­tracted along the route. But his leg­endary T-34 tank went into mass pro­duc­tion and even­tu­ally helped Moscow push back Nazi forces af­ter their dev­as­tat­ing in­va­sion of the USSR in 1941. "It is tragic story about a de­signer who got his tank into pro­duc­tion at the cost of his own life," said Druzhinin.

The film-which the direc­tor says he wants to shoot "in the style of a Soviet ad­ven­ture movie"-has raised some eye­brows over what is ex­pected to be a pos­i­tive por­trayal of supremo Stalin in a fleet­ing ap­pear­ance at the end of the film. Un­der the con­ser­va­tive rule of Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin Rus­sian au­thor­i­ties have sought to down­play the hor­rors of Stalin's rule dur­ing which mil­lions were ex­e­cuted or sent to la­bor camps. In­stead, of­fi­cials high­light his role in win­ning the war against Ger­many, main­tain­ing the con­flict that claimed an es­ti­mated 22 mil­lion Soviet lives more than 70 years ago as a sacro­sanct ral­ly­ing point for so­ci­ety to­day. "Stalin is the cul­mi­na­tion of the film, the des­ti­na­tion, the re­ward you must re­ceive like at the end of a fairy­tale," Druzhinin said.

Pro­pa­ganda myth

The film re­ceived the bulk of its fi­nanc­ing -- 60 mil­lion rubles ($1 mil­lion, 860,000 eu­ros) -- from the Rus­sian cul­ture min­istry. Those in­volved in the pro­duc­tion have no doubt over its aim. "When I read the script and saw that it was or­dered by the cul­ture min­istry I im­me­di­ately un­der­stood that it was aimed at stir­ring up pa­tri­o­tism," said ac­tor Dmitry Pod­no­zov, who plays one of Koshkin's crew.

The au­thor­i­ties have "fear of young peo­ple tak­ing to the streets to protest", Pod­no­zov said, so are look­ing to gen­er­ate na­tion­al­ist pride to curb any anti-Krem­lin sen­ti­ment. For direc­tor Druzhinin this is not a first foray into mak­ing con­tro­ver­sial state-spon­sored films on sticky his­tor­i­cal sub­jects. Last year his WWII action movie called "Pan­filov's 28" came out about the leg­endary re­sis­tance of a group of Soviet sol­diers who sac­ri­ficed their lives de­stroy­ing 18 Ger­man tanks ad­vanc­ing on Moscow in 1941. De­spite a poor re­sponse from the crit­ics, the film drew sup­port from the high­est lev­els of the Krem­lin-with Putin sit­ting down to watch it along­side Pres­i­dent Nur­sul­tan Nazarbayev of Kaza­khstan. But, while the tale of hero­ism had served to in­spire gen­er­a­tions of Soviet and Rus­sian cit­i­zens, there was one ma­jor catch. It ap­pears not to have been true. Doc­u­ments de­clas­si­fied by Rus­sia's state ar­chive in 2015 showed that the famed in­ci­dent was in fact in­vented by a Soviet jour­nal­ist be­fore be­com­ing part of the Soviet war pro­pa­ganda.

The rev­e­la­tions sparked a scan­dal and pitched the head of the ar­chive Sergei Miro­nenko into a con­flict with cul­ture min­is­ter Vladimir Medin­sky. Miro­nenko later left his post. And when Druzhinin's ver­sion of the story hit the big screen, Medin­sky lashed out against those who ques­tioned its worth. "My most pro­found con­vic­tion is that even if this story was in­vented from the be­gin­ning, even if Pam­filov's troops did not ex­ist, even if noth­ing hap­pened-this is a sa­cred leg­end that can­not be touched," Medin­sky told Rus­sian news wire In­ter­fax. "Peo­ple who do this are of course scum."

An ac­tor tak­ing pic­tures in the break dur­ing the shoot­ing of a scene of the movie - cur­rently with the work­ing ti­tle "To See Stalin" - in a for­est near Voskresensk.

Rus­sian direc­tor Kim Druzhinin (right) speak­ing with ac­tors dur­ing the shoot­ing of a scene of his movie - cur­rently with the work­ing ti­tle "To See Stalin" - in a for­est near Voskresensk, out­side Moscow.

— AFP pho­tos

A film crew shoot­ing a scene of the movie - cur­rently with the work­ing ti­tle "To See Stalin" - in a for­est near Voskresensk, out­side Moscow.

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