(AFP) – Mar 8, 2008
TALLINN (AFP) — Music and the magic of celluloid may help warm icy ties between Estonia and Russia when a biopic on the late Estonian opera singer Georg Ots, idolised as a Soviet-era 'Sinatra', hits Russian cinemas this weekend.
"Russians over 50 know and love Georg Ots, an Estonian adored all over the Soviet Union. We all remember his beautiful voice," Svetlana Blinkova, a retired, 70-year-old Russian fashion magazine editor, told AFP.
"He was on the radio all the time," she recalls. "I have not been in cinemas for years, but I will definitely go to see the film."
The communist-era love story entitled "Georg" is set to the music of the baritone described as the Soviet Union's answer to American crooner Frank Sinatra.
The film came out in Estonia a few months ago. Its release in Russia to coincide with the wildly popular March 8 International Women's Day is no coincidence, notably at a time when opinion polls show many Russians see Estonia as an enemy.
The Baltic state has had at best tepid political relations with communist-era master Russia since the tiny 1.3 million-strong Estonia broke free from the crumbling Soviet Union in 1991, but they slumped to a low ebb last year.
Even Ots' fans like Blinkova, who lives in Moscow, "don't want to comment on politics," saying only: "People like me who have friends among Estonians like the country and the people."
At 2.1 million euros (three million dollars), the movie is the most expensive ever made in Estonia -- though financing came from both countries, as did the actors.
"It is jointly financed by the Estonia (42 percent) and Russia (41 percent) with the remaining 17 percent covered by a private Estonian film company and Finns," Marten Kross, one of the movie's producers, told AFP.
-- Ots was idolised as a Soviet-era 'Sinatra' --
Both he and director Peeter Simm hope the drama will be a box-office hit as well as a boost for Estonia´s standing among sceptical Russians.
"We hope the film about an Estonian who for decades was one of the most beloved opera singers in the Soviet Union will improve the image of Estonia in eyes of Russians," Simm told AFP. "But it's easier to break something than to fix it."
Ots is played by 39 year-old Estonian actor Marko Matvere, starring opposite Russian actress Anastasia Makeyeva, 26, who portrays the singer's second wife.
His story is both a reminder of his people's complex relationship with Soviet-era master, Russia, and a mini history lesson. It shows some of the hard choices Estonians had to make under Soviet rule. One of the film's most evil figures is a KGB officer, who threatens to persecute Ots' family if he does not obey orders.
Born in 1920, shortly after Estonia won independence as the tsarist empire fell apart, Ots served as a young man in the Estonian armed forces, and during World War II was forced to join the Soviet Red Army or face prison.
His career bloomed after Estonia was reoccupied by the Soviet Union at the end of the war. He became a household name both there and in Finland, where his CDs are still in the top 50 album sales. Suffering from cancer, Ots died in 1975 aged 55.
The film's Russian release comes after bilateral ties plunged to their lowest last year when Estonian authorities shifted a Soviet-era war memorial from central Tallinn to a military cemetery.
The move sparked riots by youth from Estonia's sizable Russian-speaking minority and, at the same time, Estonia was hit by cyber-attacks on state institutions and a slump in trade, which is mainly with Russia.
Estonian prosecutors alleged the incidents had been partly planned in Russia, where many saw the statue's relocation as an affront, but the Kremlin denied any involvement.
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