Russia war epic spotlights row over Stalin's legacy

Fri Apr 23, 2010 9:41am EDT
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By Amie Ferris-Rotman

MOSCOW (Reuters Life!) - A World War Two epic by Oscar-winning Russian director Nikita Mikhalkov opened on Thursday, wading into an intra-government fight over some efforts to rehabilitate Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

With a budget of $55 million, "Burned by the Sun 2" is Russia's most expensive film ever and was made to form part of the elaborate World War Two celebrations Moscow is preparing for the 65th anniversary of May 9, known as Victory Day in Russia.

A sequel to Mikhalkov's 1994 film by the same name, which deeply impressed Western audiences and won the 1995 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, the action moves forward from 1936 to 1941-1943, and resurrects the original's main characters.

A deeply foreboding, pockmarked Stalin, surrounded by nervous secret police officers and framed in hazy sunlight, begins the three-hour film and is part of a nightmare fantasy of Colonel Kotov, played by Mikhalkov.

Horrified of upsetting Stalin, the NKVD secret police officers sweat over what to do about a menacing wasp hovering over the dictator's jam on toast. Kotov, filled with rage, suddenly smashes Stalin's face into a large cake bearing the Soviet leader's pipe-smoking profile in thick chocolate.

"For the veterans, he is a saint... for those and their relatives who were in gulags, he is evil, a tyrant," said Mikhalkov, sporting his trademark mustache and multiple rings.

"If you don't control this and balance the two sides out, an unimaginable metamorphosis could happen," he told Reuters in an interview.

A deeply patriotic nation with a sentimental World War Two attachment, Russian society is divided on how to remember Stalin. Some say his heroic victory outweighs his iron fist, which has led rights groups to warn that a dangerous rehabilitation is under way.   Continued...