A staunchly old-fashioned epic, conservative in every sense.

Touted by its own marketing as Russia’s most expensive production ever (budget is alleged to have been around $20 million), war-film-cum-love-story “The Admiral” reps a staunchly old-fashioned epic, conservative in every sense. A substantial change of direction for helmer Andrey Kravchuk, whose last was gritty kidpic “The Italian,” pic deploys visual effects and a cast of hundreds to rehabilitate the reputation of a hitherto vilified military leader who fought against the Bolsheviks during the Revolution. Given the current belligerent, nationalistic climate in Russia, it’s no surprise the pic’s been a boffo hit domestically, but export potential looks negligible.

Pic kicks off with an impressively choreographed, CGI-laden battle sequence at sea circa 1916 that establishes lead character, Rear Adm. Alexander Kolchak (played by megastar Konstantin Khabensky from “Nightwatch,” just OK here) as a fearsome tactician and all-round man of iron.

Married to Sofia (Anna Kovalchuk) and father of a child, Kolchak has just one weakness: an eye for the ladies, which long-suffering Sofia quietly tolerates.

However, it’s a whole new ballgame when Kolchak falls heavily for fellow officer Sergey Timirev’s (Vladislav Vetrov) beautiful wife Anna (Elizaveta Boyarskaya, reteaming with Khabensky after their monster hit “Irony of Fate 2″). Although Kolchak and Anna try to suppress their passion, and pesky historical events like the overthrow of the monarchy and the Russian Revolution contrive to separate them temporarily, they end up risking life, limb and reputation to be together, even in the middle of Siberia where Kolchak ends his career fighting against the Red Army.

Oddly enough, though, “Admiral’s” screenplay takes such pains to present Kolchak and Anna as fervent Christians (he even regularly leads his men in prayer while artillery rains down around them), that it’s never quite clear if they ever consummate their love.

It would seem the film is targeting itself squarely at Russia’s right-wing demographic, particularly those who want to rehabilitate Kolchak as a national hero after years of vilification by the Soviets. For the record, the pic has reaped mucho controversy in the press at home, where some historians have denounced its many factual inaccuracies and pointed out that the real Kolchak was a despot, proponent of torture and poor military strategist on land to boot.

Strictly as a film, however, “Admiral” is entertaining enough in a retro “Doctor Zhivago”/”War and Peace” sort of way, with its big setpieces, lavish costumes and string-laden orchestral score. For all intents and purposes, pic reps a virtual mirror image of those old patriotic Soviet-era movies wherein the Reds were the heroes and the White Army the baddies.

The Admiral

Russia

Production

A Channel One Film Direction presentation of a Dago Studio production. (International sales: Rezo, Paris.) Produced by Anatoly Maximov, Djanik Faiziev, Konstantin Ernst, Mikhail Churbanov, Dimitri Yurkov. Directed by Andrey Kravchuk. Screenplay, Vladimir Valutsky, Zoya Coudrie.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Igor Grinyakin, Alexei Rodionov; editor, Tom Rolf; music, Ruslan Muratov, Gleb Matveichuk; production designers, Maria Turskaya, Alexander Zagoski; sound (Dolby Digital), Vladimir Litrovnik; supervising sound editor, Kirill Bodrov. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (market), Feb. 8, 2009. Running time: 124 MIN.

With

Konstantin Khabensky, Elizaveta Boyarskaya, Vladislav Vetrov, Sergei Bezrukov, Richard Bohringer, Fyodor Bondarchuk, Anna Kovalchuk. (Russian, French dialogue)

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