MOSCOW — Russian movie critics and filmmakers expressed bewilderment Tuesday after the country picked a critically panned film by veteran pro-Kremlin director Nikita Mikhalkov as its Oscar entry.
The head of Russia's Oscar committee, Vladimir Menshov -- himself an Oscar-winning director -- publicly spoke out against the decision by his own organisation to nominate Mikhalkov's unloved war epic "Citadel".
"The second film which came out this May had an absolute critical drubbing ... it was never shown anywhere internationally," Menshov told the Echo of Moscow radio on Tuesday.
"And most importantly, it was a catastrophe at the box office."
Mikhalkov himself is a member of the committee that picks Russia's entries for the US Academy Awards, or Oscars, while many other members have close ties to the bombastic director, who won an Oscar for "Burnt by the Sun" in 1994.
Capitalising on that film's success, Mikhalkov made two World War II-set sequels to "Burnt by the Sun", the second of which is "Citadel". As well as directing the trilogy, he also played the lead role.
"Citadel" was slammed as "completely unconvincing" by the Kommersant business daily.
The film made no more than $5 million at the box office, Menshov said, while the director has said the two-part sequel cost around $40 million, a vast budget for Russian cinema.
The first part of the sequel earned only $7 million.
"Russian cinema has never known a flop on this scale," Gazeta.ru news website reported.
The committee passed over arthouse filmmaker Alexander Sokurov's "Faust" -- crowned with the top prize at the Venice Film Festival -- as well as "Elena" by Andrei Zvyagintsev, which won a special jury prize at Cannes, Menshov noted.
Five of eight members backed it, said Menshov, who himself won the Oscar for his "Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears" in 1981.
The US Academy Awards committee then decides whether to nominate Russia's entry in the best foreign film category.
"Yet again the Russian Oscar committee has preferred cronyism to common sense," the Moskovskiye Novosti daily wrote scathingly.
"Our filmmakers are firmly convinced Americans cannot appreciate any film without shoot-outs."
"The committee today does not reflect the opinion of filmmakers," filmmaker Andrei Konchalovsky, Mikhalkov's brother, who is not on the Oscar committee, told Echo of Moscow.
"This is a shameful situation because a film that flopped at the box office and had awful press cannot represent our cinema to the world," film critic Valery Kichin told Moskovsky Komsomolets tabloid.
A hugely charismatic figure and a household name, Mikhalkov has directed and acted in a number of acclaimed films including "Oblomov" and "Unfinished Piece for Mechanical Piano."
He grew up rooted in the establishment, with his father, poet Sergei Mikhalkov, writing the lyrics for the Soviet and Russian national anthem.
He heads the Union of Cinematographers, a bastion of the film establishment, and held the premiere of his first "Burnt by the Sun" sequel in the Kremlin.
He has been shown on television drinking tea with Vladimir Putin and in 2008 signed an open letter asking him to stay on for an unconstitutional third term as president.
His film "12" was Russia's Oscar entry in 2008 and shortlisted for the award.
Russia feels humiliated by its lack of Oscar success in recent years, but its state-backed film establishment has failed to embrace arthouse talents feted in the West such as Sokurov and Zvyagintsev.
Copyright © 2013 AFP. All rights reserved. More »