A stiffly acted and ploddingly paced historical drama about the gallant heroics of a 16th-century princess in the region now known as Byelorussia, “Anastasia Slutskaya” may generate interest on the global fest circuit because of its unfortunately timely focus on clash between Christian and Muslim forces. Pic also might draw auds through limited nontheatrical exhibition in North American communities with sizable Russian populations.
Cinematographer-turned-helmer Yuri Yelkhov attempts a heartfelt tribute to the revered title character, who led vastly outnumbered subjects against invading Tatar hordes while outfitted in custom-made armor. Trouble is, even though pic reportedly is among most expensive ever green-lit in Republic of Belarus, “Anastasia Slutskaya” lacks epic scope and sweeping battles scenes. Actors and action often appear to be chafing against budgetary constraints, even in beautifully lensed scenes. Svetlana Zelenkovskaya offers a technically proficient but charisma-free performance as Anastasia, beautiful princess who evolves into a sword-swinging warrior while commanding defense of Slutsk. Heroine appreciates help from a neighboring community of free-living pagans, depicted here as tree-hugging hippies. In stark contrast, Muslim invaders are portrayed as leering sadists who laugh at Christian icons and lust for Christian women.