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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

For Mikhalkov, Love Conquers All

On the Champs Elys?es in Paris, amid posters advertising an international array of new releases -- the American "Wolf," the French "Leon" and the French-Polish "Rouge" -- the image of a Russian officer embracing his wife and daughter is proof that Russian filmmaker Nikita Mikhalkov has arrived.


The wide French distribution of Mikhalkov's nostalgic period drama "Wearied by the Sun" -- also known in translation as "Burned by the Sun" -- demonstrates the charismatic actor/director's growing stature since the end of the evil empire.


This latest release, a Russian/French production in which Mikhalkov both acts and directs, netted the Jury Prize at the 1994 Cannes Festival. It is an honor few directors born and bred in the Soviet system can boast, and for an artist who remained loyal to Russia when others were leaving, the taste of international acclaim must be especially sweet.


Unlike his brother Andrei Mikhalkov-Konchalovsky, who quit Russia for a Hollywood career, Nikita remained a patriot. He managed to keep in tune with the ever-changing situation in Russia, sounding a conservative view while voicing his love of the land and the country and confirming his deep and abiding sense of place.


Born into a family with a history in the arts, Mikhalkov tries to analyze Russian society by investigating family ties. His bittersweet adaptations of Anton Chekhov's plays and short stories ("Unfinished Piece for a Mechanical Piano," 1977, and his 1987 "Dark Eyes") give a haunting portrayal of Russian nobility, melancholy portraits of intellectuals dreaming of a better life


His "Oblomov" (1980), an innovative version of the famous novel by Ivan Goncharov, delivers an in-depth analysis of the enduring Russian dichotomy between the patriarchal Slavophiles and the energetic Westerners.


Mikhalkov, 49, expressed his moral conservatism in a powerful story "Urga" (1991), titled for American distribution as "Close to Eden," about a young Mongolian shepherd who dares to leave the wilderness of the steppes for a trip to the big city and then returns to traditional life. In two old-fashioned morality tales -- "Family Ties" (1981) and "Without Witnesses" (1983) -- the director showed his conservative Slavophile leanings through the tension between die-hard traditional family values and the cynical freedom of modern relationships.


In his "home movie" called "Anna: 6 to 18" (1993), the director took a penetrating look at the painful course of recent Soviet history as seen through a girl's eyes. From the time his daughter Anna was 6, Mikhalkov would pose the same questions to her each year before the camera: "What do you want most? What do you hate? What do you fear?" Her responses moved from the first charming replies of a child to the more guarded answers of a teenager with a prepared set of official dogmas.


"Anna" drew criticism from liberal observers in the perestroika era, who said the film did not support political change toward democracy. The truth seems to be that Mikhalkov is apolitical, endorsing neither Stalinism nor democracy, but forwarding instead the philosophy that loving relationships are the most important thing in life, above and beyond any political system.


Mikhalkov's historical films, including the period peace "Slave of Love" (1976) and his latest work, "Wearied by the Sun," use family relationships as a device to offer insight into the Bolshevist past.