Nikita Mikhalkov pic shortened 30 mins. by sales agents

Will Nikita Mikhalkov’s Cannes competition entry “Burnt by the Sun 2″ burn hotter now that it’s been cut shorter?

The Russian helmer’s pic was cut by 30 minutes at the insistence of its French international sales agents Wild Bunch after a three-hour version released last month in Russia earned a disappointing $7 million in its first three weeks on a 1,000-print release and garnered mixed reviews and criticism from veterans.

The vets asserted that the $55 million film — Russia’s most expensive ever — took liberties with history. They also objected to a topless scene featuring Mikhalkov’s actress daughter Nadya.

Vincent Maraval, head of international sales at Wild Bunch, hired an editor to cut the film before final approval was given by Mikhalkov.

The cuts — deemed necessary to increase sales potential for the wartime epic that continues the story Mikhalkov told in his Oscar-winning “Burnt by the Sun” in 1994 — were agreed to over two days of talks earlier this year.

Mikhalkov — known as a director with uncompromising views on the artistic integrity of his films — chose not to work with Wild Bunch during the editing in Paris but ultimately approved each trim and oversaw the final cut in Moscow, Maraval told Variety.

“We discussed it with Nikita after the screening and I told him what I thought needed to be cut for international. We then hired a technician to do the editing job.

“We did the suggested cuts in Paris but the final edit was done in Russia. Nikita supervised every single cut,” Maraval said. “There’s nothing new in this, we do this with many directors.”

Mikhalkov’s Three T Studio confirmed that the director had overseen the cuts made by Wild Bunch.

“Wild Bunch did the editing and then that was approved by Mikhalkov — of course, it’s his film,” a studio spokeswoman said.

The film, which in screens in competition Saturday, has sold to a slew of territories including including France, Spain, Benelux, Portugal, the Balkans, Romania, Poland, the Middle East, Taiwan and China.

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