Moscow divides over movie censorship
The banning of dark comedy the Death of Stalin by Russia’s ministry of culture has raised fears about growing censorship but also pointed to muddled thinking in government.
To withdraw the previously issued screening licence of Armando Iannucci’s satire, the first act of its kind in post-Soviet Russia, has pointed to a rehabilitation of the tyrant but also suspicions that the Ministry of Culture has blundered over a children’s film.
Filmmaker Vladimir Bortko, a signatory to the letter announcing the ban, said the Death of Stalin was a “tremendous abomination”, denigrating the Communist Party. Bortko said: “For some reason, they say it’s a comedy … There is so much hatred in this film. It will not be shown.”
Another signatory was the Oscar-winning director Nikita Mikhalkov, who is a friend of President Vladimir Putin. Mikhalkov said it was “unprofessional”, including its acting and camera work. “It’s not a film so much as a speculative operation unworthy of discussion,” the director said.
But observers believe there might be more going on behind the scenes.
The ministry recently backtracked on a decision to postpone the film Paddington 2, to prioritise a Russian film being released on the same day.
It was unlikely the ban was driven only by patriotic considerations and solidarity with Stalin, said St Petersburg Politics Foundation chief Mikhail Vinogradov. “Medinsky’s ministry wanted to save some face following the Paddington 2 debacle, and wanted to show it was still in the game. Stalin was the cover.”
The ministry tried to delay Paddington 2 from January 18 to February 1 but Russian film distributors were engaged and the ministry issued a new licence for January 20.
The Institute for Strategic Studies and Forecasts’s Nikita Danyuk was reported saying by state-controlled Pravda that the culture ministry was walking on thin ice.
“Minister for Culture Medinsky stated that the release of the new Paddington movie was supposed to be delayed to increase the box office of the Russian film about Soviet basketball players, Moving Up,” Danyuk reportedly said. “Do you think Russia should have some sort of protectionist policy in relation to our films?”
Producer Yevgeny Gindilis of the Russian Oscar committee also blamed the Peruvian bear. “The Paddington 2 debacle galvanised the ministry and other ultra-nationalist forces into a counter-reaction.”
Everyone hated the film about Stalin, he said, allowing the ministry to restore agreement after Paddington 2.
Both Paddington 2 and the Death of Stalin are promoted by the same company, VolgaFilm, which has made no comment.
And Moscow appears divided on the film.
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s government has distanced itself from the ban. The Vedomosti newspaper quoted an unnamed government source saying that the ministry’s ban “had undermined all confidence in the sector”. Medvedev had already ordered an inquiry into the Paddington 2 decision, the source said.
Journalist Anton Dolin said Moscow often sent out mixed messages. “All the time we sense the two towers of the Kremlin – competing forces, gnawing their way through each other. The world of culture often sees a multi-headed monster, and this may well be happening here,” the film critic said.
The cause of all the trouble? Paddington 2. Picture credit: Vimeo