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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A 'Bear Kiss' Farewell for Bodrov Jr.

For MTSergei Bodrov Jr. and Rebecka Liljeberg in a scene from the movie "Bear Kiss," which opens in Moscow theaters on Thursday.
It was not the usual press screening for a new film at the Culture Ministry's cinematography service on Wednesday.

Just over two months after the country's best-loved young actor, Sergei Bodrov Jr., was killed in an avalanche in North Ossetia, his father, director Sergei Bodrov, arrived in Moscow to present his new film and his son's last completed work.

A slim, elegant man, Bodrov spoke softly and with difficulty about the film, "Bear Kiss," a love story between a young circus girl and her Russian bear who turns into a man, and about his son's role in the film.

"I understand very well that it is not only the film that has brought you here but what happened on Sept. 20 this year," said Bodrov, speaking quietly with his usual stutter. "My son worked like a son, a colleague, a comrade," he said. "I wouldn't have done it without him. He played excellently."

"Bear Kiss" follows Lola, a young circus girl who adopts a Russian bear cub, Misha. One day the bear, blessed by shamans in the Siberian forest, turns into a man (Sergei Bodrov Jr.) and the two become lovers. Rebecka Liljeberg, who played in the Swedish hit "Fucking Amal" stars as Lola.

Bodrov, who grew up in the Russian Far East and met a shaman as a child who claimed his father was a bear, had planned for years to make the film.

"It's about a bear and love," Bodrov said of the film. "Some people say it's a fairy tale, preaching, a myth. Everyone has to decide for themselves."

The film's theme pays a backhanded tribute to Yevgeny Shvartz's play "Obyknovennoye Chudo," or "Ordinary Wonder" -- also a famous Soviet movie -- in which a sorcerer turns a bear into a man.

Bodrov Jr., 30, had been the star of his generation, combining roles as the iconic young anti-hero in "Brat" and "Brat 2" with films in English such as "East-West," nominated for an Oscar in 2000.

He was filming "The Messenger," which he wrote, directed and starred in, on the day he was killed. That film, his father said Wednesday, will likely remain unfinished.

His career began with a role his father gave him, playing a young Russian soldier taken captive in "Prisoner of the Caucasus."

For MT

In "Bear Kiss," directed by Sergei Bodrov, Liljeberg plays a circus girl who adopts a bear cub. One day, the bear turns into a man.

The film, released in 1996 and up for an Oscar the next year, made him a star and led him to his most famous role as a disaffected Chechnya veteran in "Brat."

Talking about his son, Bodrov touched briefly on their relationship. Before the first news conference about their first film, "Prisoner of the Caucasus," Bodrov and his son had agreed to joke when asked about their working together. Bodrov would say that it had been easy to work with Bodrov Jr., while the son would say the opposite, that it was hard to work with his father.

As interview followed interview, Bodrov Jr. kept on ratcheting up his description of working with his father so that by the end he was saying "it was so tough that I'll never work with him again."

"When he did say something good about me, it was too late," his father said. "The myth had been formed."

Premiered at the Venice Film Festival, "Bear Kiss" has not been popular with the critics, and Moscow critics were not overly enthusiastic about the film either.

"It's not very strong," Leonid Pavlyuchik, film reviewer of Trud newspaper, said after the screening, adding that even though it isn't Bodrov Jr.'s best work, it still shows off his acting skill. "He's such an organic actor that he gets in the skin of the bear," he said.

The film, which opens in 20 movie houses in Moscow, will still undoubtedly attract a lot of Bodrov fans who want to see him in his last role.

"'Bear Kiss' will never be simply a film so it is meaningless to praise it or damn it. Three kilometers of Kodak film with a live Sergei -- that's what 'Bear Kiss' is now," wrote Alexei Medvedev in Vremya Novostei on Wednesday. "We watch it not for a need to judge the quality of the camerawork or the actors but to say goodbye."

The film opens without ceremony Thursday at Pyat Zvyozd movie house.

"It's just an ordinary screening," said Sergei Selyanov, the producer of "Bear Kiss" and of a number of Bodrov Jr.'s best-known films. Sergei Bodrov will say a few words before the screening at 8:20 p.m.

A fund has been set up for the relatives of members of the Bodrov film crew. Details can be found on the web site