Russia’s most expensive pic to bow

Mikhalkov war epic opens on 1,000 prints

LONDON — Russia’s most expensive movie ever, the $55 million sequel to Nikita Mikhalkov’s 1995 Oscar winning ‘Burnt by the Sun,” opens in Moscow and across the country Thursday.

An epic tale set during World War II — known in Russia as the Great Patriotic War — the film picks up the story of Colonel Sergei Kotov, played by Mikhaklov himself, who was condemned in the first film as an “enemy of the people” during Stalin’s purges of the 1930s.

With a cast that includes many of those who played in the original film, “The Exodus — The Fortress, Burnt by the Sun 2” has been filmed as two feature-length films and a 12-hour television miniseries.

The film — which had a gala premiere last Friday in front of an audience of more than 5,000 at the State Kremlin Palace in the heart of the ancient Russian government citadel — is due to open across Russia on 1,000 prints, including 128 digital copies.

Shot on location in Russia, Germany and the Czech Republic, the film is being released just before Russian marks the 65th anniversary of the end of the war on Victory Day — May 9.

Seen as an intensely patriotic project, the film brings the stories of the characters seen in the first film in 1936 up to date in the years 1941-43.

Mikhalkov decided to make a sequel after seeing Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan.”

“I was hurt by the story according to which the victory in WWII belonged to the Allies,” Mikhalkov told Russia Today, the Kremlin’s English-language international television service.

“That is unfair at heart, both in terms of the number of victims, and the adequacy of the contribution made.”

Audiences who saw the first film may be surprised to see characters they thought had been condemned to death in the purges of the 1930s resurrected for the new film.

Mikhalkov said that it often happened that people thought dead emerged years later from Stalin’s Gulag. The point is underlined in the film by showing Kotov as a member of a “punishment battalion” — units made up of former prisoners that were sent on the most dangerous, often suicidal missions.

Many in Russia are hoping that Mikhalkov will have a Cannes triumph with the film, which is in competition at the festival this year. The earlier film failed to take the Palme d’Or in 1994 but did pick up a grand jury prize.

Paris-based Wild Bunch is handling international sales and have already sold the picture to a raft of European, Asian, African and South American territories, including France, Benelux, Portugal, the Balkans, Romania, Poland, the Middle East, Taiwan and China.

Yulia Kulikova, a spokeswoman for Moscow’s Central Parternship, which is distributing the film, said: “It is always significant to see any Russian film in the program of one of the world’s major film festivals. The presence of a Russian film in such a competition strengthens all local films domestically and we at Central Partnership are proud to be distributing the biggest domestic film of 2010.”

Alexander Semenov, publisher of Russian Film Business Today, said initial reactions from Russian critics and viewers varied — with some lauding the film and others panning it.

“We expect it to do around $15 million-$20 million of business in Russia, but the distributors Central Partnership may well cut ticket prices to raise admissions, as they did when ‘Taras Bulba’ was on release,” Semenov told Variety.

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