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Mikhalkov sets weighty slate

'Burnt' helmer dividing next project into two features

MOSCOW Russian helmer Nikita Mikhalkov marked his 60th birthday in style Oct. 21 complete with a private visit — albeit one broadcast on national television — from the country’s president, Vladimir Putin, to a family celebration gathering.

Mikhalkov’s working plans, which he outlined the day before his birthday, look equally impressive. The director is shooting a follow-up to “Burnt by the Sun,” his 1995 foreign-language Oscar winner, which has long been in the works.

The project will now be divided into two full-length features, provisionally titled “Impending Time” and “The Citadel.” They will follow the fate of Communist army commander Kotov (played by Mikhalkov in “Burnt”) after his arrest in 1936, which closed the earlier film. Pics are set during WWII, with Kotov released from a Stalinist prison camp to serve in a penal military battalion.

With two summer scenes already in the can, main shooting on the rest of the pics will continue from early next year. Extensive military battle action is set to include location work in Germany.

While waiting for that to resume, Mikhalkov is using the intervening time — and some of the project’s cast — for a local remake of Sidney Lumet’s “12 Angry Men,” skedded for a brief five-week shoot by year-end. Project should have plenty of contemporary relevance for Russia, given that the accused character — a Mexican in Lumet’s film — will be a Chechen.

All are produced through Mikhalkov’s Tri-Te outfit, which did well at the local B.O. this spring with its production of Filipp Yankovsky’s “The State Counselor” — again, with a major lead performance from Mikhalkov — adapted from a historical espionage novel by popular local scribe Boris Akunin.

Tri-Te has also secured rights to Akunin’s “Spy Novel,” though who will director and stars are not confirmed. Another of studio’s ongoing projects is a new version of Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” from older-generation helmer Sergei Solovyev.

Mikhalkov has recently proved more active in front of the camera than behind it. As well as “State Counselor,” roles this year have included a scene-stealer in Alexei Balabanov’s distinctly noir “Dead Man’s Bluff” and a lead as a Russian diplomat in Krzysztof Zanussi’s Venice competish entry “Persona Non Grata.” He’s next set to hit the screen in Balabanov’s upcoming project “It Doesn’t Hurt.”

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