Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

In the Spotlight: Nikita Mikhalkov

On Saturday, Nikita Mikhalkov showed his new film, “Burnt by the Sun 2” at the Kremlin Palace concert hall. The sequel to his Oscar-winning film from 1994 has been so long in the making (eight years, the director said) that it seemed more like a myth than a reality, a bit like those hotel construction sites in central Moscow.

Mikhalkov does not do things by halves. His new film is three hours long, and it is only the first part of the sequel — the second part will come out later this year. Before the premiere, he showed a “making of” documentary that lasted one-and-a-half hours, although only a handful of hardcore fans were watching.

Just getting into the premiere was an achievement: The queue stretched around Alexandrovsky Sad, since all 6,000 guests had to squeeze through the turnstiles at the Kremlin gate. Still, Mikhalkov could hardly have held his premiere at an ordinary cinema, one journalist joked: “That wouldn’t have been in the Tsar’s style.”

Amazingly, Mikhalkov initially planned to show the film on Red Square on Victory Day, a plan that would have misfired since one scene lingers on the bottom of a Nazi pilot, one reviewer pointed out.

The Kremlin Palace is a magnificent monument to Khrushchev-era bad taste, with escalators and potted plants galore. In the foyer, Liberal Democrat leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky held court in a military-style khaki suit. Television crews swarmed around the film’s star Oleg Menshikov, with his beautiful but pained-looking young wife, and ubiquitous film director and actor Fyodor Bondarchuk, who isn’t actually in the film.

Meanwhile, guests wandered up and down the escalators, like in a Dantean hell, in search of the bar — only to find that there wasn’t one, as Mikhalkov wanted his masterpiece to be appreciated stone-cold sober.

The film is a sequel to the first one in the sense that it features the same characters: general Kotov (played by Mikhalkov), his wife and daughter and a secret-police officer played by Menshikov. But those who remember glowing country-house scenes and that elegantly tragic ending — didn’t they all die? — will barely recognize the sequel.

Mikhalkov spent the largest budget in Russian film history on bridges, ships and airplanes, which he then blew up. We find that Kotov’s frightened-looking wife is now married to steely-eyed Menshikov and Kotov has been sent to the front from a prison camp, while their daughter Nadya is a bright-eyed team leader at a Young Pioneer camp. Unfortunately, there isn’t time for much more on their emotional states.

The only scene I liked had a bored and slightly loopy Smersh (Death to Spies) officer idly filling in a form with poet Pushkin’s details (“I shot Dantes because he was flirting with my wife”) as he mechanically questioned yet another prisoner.

The film features a scene where Mikhalkov slowly beats a Nazi to death with an entrenching tool, and some viewers felt the same, judging from the dazed, muted applause at the end.

The director gathered hundreds of his troops, sorry actors, on the stage, seemingly in anticipation of the crowds throwing flowers at their feet. Disappointed, they had to shuffle off anti-climactically.

The funniest review, by Kommersant’s Mikhail Trofimenkov for Fontanka.ru, was an orgy of hatred for what he called “death pornography.”

“First he shows one blown-off leg of a cadet, then his second leg, then a third leg. Mikhalkov seems out of control, like a hunter in search of ‘meat,’” Trofimenkov wrote.