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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Mikhalkov Promotes New Film

Nikita Mikhalkov will be the big guy in the Kremlin this month.

But the renowned actor-director isn't yet following up on recent comments about a possible presidential bid. Instead, he'll be hosting the Feb. 20 world premiere of his long-awaited and much-touted film "Sibersky Tsiryulnik," or "The Barber of Siberia," at the Kremlin Palace.

The film, which is in English and Russian and stars Julia Ormond, Richard Harris and Russian movie star Oleg Menshikov, has a budget of about $45 million, a previously unfathomable amount for a Russian film. The story concerns an American woman (Ormond), who falls in love with a Russian officer (Menshikov) in the late 19th century. The "barber" in the title refers to an enormous machine invented to chop trees.

The director himself has a small role playing Tsar Alexander III.

Mikhalkov said his decision to portray the next-to-last tsar, who was remembered for little other than his strong nationalism, rather than someone more celebrated, such as Alexander II, who is credited with liberating the serfs, was a conscious one.

"I just think that Alexander III is one of those emperors who doesn't deserve to be forgotten," he said Monday, pointing out that Russia did not fight in any wars during his 13-year reign.

"If we come to understand that evolution of our society is much more important than yet another revolution, then we'll understand that when changing presidents, we should change the president and not change the structure. We are always standing on the edge of a change in structure."

For some, Mikhalkov's decision to play a tsar at all held evidence of his political ambitions.

"People said Nikita was trying the crown on for size," Igor Gnevashev, a photographer who worked on the movie's set, wrote in the latest issue of the Russian version of Premiere magazine.

Mikhalkov received a burst of publicity at the end of last month when he told London's Sunday Times that he couldn't rule out a presidential bid. The comment was greeted by a rash of speculation in the Russian press about Mikhalkov's viability as a candidate.

Speaking to a packed hall of journalists Monday, Mikhalkov refused to comment on his possible political ambitions.

"I said before and I'll repeat it now: I consider it immoral and unconstitutional to discuss ahead of time new candidacies while the serving president elected by the people is still alive," he said.

But while refusing to take the role of candidate, Mikhalkov, 53, who is chairman of the Union of Cinematographers and president of the Russian Cultural Fund, easily stepped into his habitual role as a moral commentator on Russian society.

Though he was coy about giving away much of the film's plot Monday, he presented it as a patriotic work.

"I'll say only one thing. The movie is not so much about how it was in our country at a certain time, but also about how it should be in our country in our future. I have in mind dignity, greatness, generosity and self-sufficiency," he said.

Indeed, "The Barber of Siberia" f whose tagline is "He's Russian. That explains a lot" f was deemed sufficiently "national" in content to receive $10 million from the government, most of which does not have to be repaid.

But the high-profile project is not only about patriotism and morality; it's also about profit. The film has been commercialized to an extent that would make even Hollywood blush. The Paris fashion house Hermes has designed a silk "Barber of Siberia" scarf, and has made two special 9 meter by 9 meter curtains, which will hang over the stage during the premiere. The Moscow perfume factory Novaya Zarya will present two special scents in honor of the movie, and the telecommunications firm Comstar, which designed the movie's web site (, is issuing "Barber of Siberia" phone cards.

Mikhalkov is drawn to historical themes. His 1994 Oscar-winning film "Burnt by the Sun" was about people on both sides of Stalin's repressions, and the director said he hopes to make a movie about World War II.