MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia's latest blockbuster film hopes to woo big foreign audiences with an epic tale of doomed love set amid the chaos of the Russian Civil War; its politics conveniently chime with a Kremlin-sponsored mood of patriotism.
"Admiral," which has its world premiere on Monday evening, glorifies Alexander Kolchak, a former naval hero who led White Russian forces into battle against the Bolsheviks in Siberia and briefly became Supreme Governor of Russia before meeting an untimely end at the hands of a communist firing squad.
Despised in Soviet times as a Tsarist enemy of the people, Kolchak is back in fashion as the Kremlin tries to reconnect today's resurgent Russia with its glorious imperial past and bury the 74 years of communism which came in between.
"It's very important we talk about our history, our country, our officers," director Andrei Kravchuk said in an interview.
"If we understand that we had such a history, such people... we can fill ourselves with dignity, and the notion of motherland and patriotism, which can seem worn and tarnished, gains new, concrete, visible meaning."
The film's backers hope that the epic, which opens across Russia this Thursday in a record 1,250 prints, will secure the same success at home and abroad as an earlier hit by the same producers, the 2004 fantasy horror film "Night Watch."
Boasting a $20 million budget -- huge by Russian standards -- "Admiral" portrays Kolchak as a fearless naval commander, loving father, dashing lover and principled leader of the doomed White Russians as they make a final stand in the winter snow.
After a fond farewell to his lover -- his best friend's wife -- he faces the Bolshevik firing squad bravely in the winter night standing in front of a cathedral and refusing a blindfold. His executioners wrap his body in a white shroud and throw it into a river through a hole cut in the ice.
The film's promoters are pitching it as Russia's answer to the Hollywood blockbuster "Titanic," stressing the common theme of doomed love amid tragedy and also hoping to emulate some of the American film's huge box-office success.
Like "Titanic," "Admiral" "is a story of love amid extreme catastrophe but this time it's not a ship which is sinking, it's the entire country," co-producer Anatoly Maximov told Reuters.
As so often in today's Russia, there is a political subtext.
Mostly funded by state-run First Channel television, "Admiral" is the latest in a series of historical epics which resurrect pre-revolutionary Russian heroes who battle bravely against impossible odds, dogged by foreign villains.
Audiences have already been treated to "1612" showing Polish troops thrown back from Moscow and "Alexander: The Battle on the Neva" where the hero fights off marauding Swedes; a new look at Ivan the Terrible is promised.
Echoing the anti-foreigner theme, "Admiral" opens with Kolchak commanding an imperial Russian warship in the Baltic as it lures a German enemy vessel to destruction in a minefield. It closes with Kolchak betrayed to the Reds by a French general who was supposed to be his ally.
The film is not the first attempt at rehabilitating Kolchak. After the fall of the Soviet Union, at least two statues were erected to the admiral and an island named after him, though attempts to pardon him in court have not yet succeeded.
A "Civic Movement For The Legacy Of Admiral Kolchak" tried in August to gain him posthumous membership of the prestigious Academy of Science for his early career as a polar explorer, with backing from an influential ruling party deputy.
"A new historical truth is opening and through this film we are trying to give an emotional argument for this historical truth," said co-producer Maximov.
Historians are not so sure.
"Kolchak has been judged differently at different times in history," said historian Roy Medvedev. "...Most Russians know little of him so the film will have a big influence on them."
While stressing that the film was not created on the specific order of anyone in the government, Medvedev said it came amid a tendency to use cinema for political ends.
"Films play a major role in creating myths," he added, recalling Stalin's request for a film about mediaeval prince Alexander Nevsky and his battle against Teutonic knights so as to turn the Soviet people against Germany before World War Two.
Judging by the reaction of some of the audience at the press screening of the film on Saturday, "Admiral" will have the intended effect.
"I don't want to talk about patriotism or civic duty...but somehow (the film) coincides with the mood in the country," said Yevgenia, a young film-goer, as she left the cinema. "Such a powerful film ... makes you really feel a more Russian person."
Additional reporting by Anatoly Titkin and Grigory Alexanyan