Aleksey Uchitel, Russia
Sumptuousness, sovereigns, and sex, these are the perfect elements for an engaging period costume drama about Czar Nicholas II, the last czar of Russia. Nicholas (dashing German actor Lars Eidinger) as a twenty-two-year-old destined to become czar falls madly in love with the bewitching ballerina Mathilda (Michalina Olszanska) much to the dismay of the royal family. His rival Count Vorontsov (Danila Kozlovsky) is also enraptured and endures death-defying feats to make Mathilda his own. In the meantime Nicholas’ family is planning his wedding to the German Princess Alix von Hessen-Darmstadt (fittingly played by the German actress Luise Wolfram) while simultaneously plotting to keep Mathilda away from their son.
Director Aleksey Uchitel brilliantly captures the magic of the ballet performances at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg. He audaciously films the ballerinas, dancing or just posing for a photograph, with Renoir-like reverence. He portrays a panorama of privileged life in lavish locations: in luxurious palaces, aboard the royal train, and in the cathedral for the czar’s coronation. Some settings are authentic and some reconstructed. To the viewer it all looks the same, the splendor/decadence of 20th century imperial opulence. (Could Uchitel be subtly setting the stage for the upcoming Bolshevik Revolution?)
Before the film began, a presenter from the Filmfest Hamburg revealed that the German actor Lars Eidinger had painstakingly learned all his lines in Russian, subsequently to be dubbed by a native Russian speaker. It is also interesting to note that the film was shown at the film festival in Hamburg weeks before its premier in Russia. The delay was due to violent protests fueled by fanatical followers of the Russian Orthodox Church and fervent nationalist extremists who had demanded the film be banned.