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Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Sunday Cinema

The New York Times reports:

They meet in Leningrad, where President Vladimir V. Putin’s career took off in the early post-Soviet years: he is a dashing official, and she is a flight attendant. They move to Germany, where Mr. Putin was once a K.G.B. agent. They are deeply in love.
But life keeps throwing them curves. She is badly hurt in a car accident. There is a terrible fire in the couple’s home, threatening the lives of their two young girls. Fortunately, he is equal to every challenge, first nursing his wife back to health and then, when the fire strikes, dashing into the flames to pull the girls to safety.

Finally, after weathering so many of life’s travails, they head for Moscow, ready to shoulder the burdens that history has placed on his shoulders. With bodyguards lurking in the background, he says to her: “I don’t know myself if I want all this or not. I know it’s a pretty difficult fate. I know. But that’s how life is taking shape.”

Soon, she is seen ensconced in a luxurious hotel room, saying, “So this is the presidential suite?”

The title of the movie might well be “Love Story: The Putin Chronicles,” yet the producer is curiously adamant that it has nothing to do with Mr. Putin and his wife, Lyudmila. Sure, he was an intelligence agent in Germany and she was a flight attendant before they were married. Yes, Mr. Putin has spoken in the past about how he rescued his daughters from a fire. But no, this is not about Mr. Putin.

“For the first time we have the chance to take a look at the life of a politician, from another angle,” reads a promotional brochure for the film, “This Kiss Is Off the Record,” distributed at a news conference in Moscow on Tuesday. “He is first of all a person. What is he like in life, in his family? What is in his soul? Is there room left in his heart for love?”

Coincidentally, perhaps, the event was held in a reception room at the historic National Hotel, overlooking the Kremlin. Journalists also wondered if the film’s scheduled release, on Valentine’s Day, was aimed at the presidential elections on March 2, when the first deputy premier, Dmitri Medvedev, Mr. Putin’s handpicked heir, is expected to win by an overwhelming margin.

“No,” is all the film’s producer, Anatoly Voropayev, would say. In recent years, he held the appointive position of vice governor in two different regions, Tula and Stavropol.

Nevertheless, the trailers and promotional materials for “This Kiss Is Off the Record” (the title comes from a scene where the hero appears before the press, kisses his wife and then jokingly tells the journalists they are not allowed to report it) play up a side of Mr. Putin, 55, that is virtually absent from public view, and was apparently gleaned from autobiographical tidbits that he has occasionally disclosed. The portrayal of his daughters, who are never seen in public, may be the film’s most unusual aspect.

The filmmakers were coy about whether the film was actually about Mr. Putin. Mr. Voropayev called the portrayal a “collective image.”

Olga Zhulina, the director, said, “It would be strange to assign actors the task of playing a concrete person.”

Mr. Voropayev added: “Since Andrei Panin played the lead role and he is blond, he looks like one politician. If he was played by a brunet he would look like another, and people would start asking, ‘How did you guess?’ ” Mr. Medvedev is brunet.

Mr. Panin, a respected stage actor who became a star after playing a leading role in a television miniseries, “Brigada,” bears more than a passing resemblance to the Russian president, but he said he was hardly his twin in real life.

“That never happens,” he said of being mistaken for Mr. Putin. “I’m taller.”

Mr. Voropayev took the opportunity to deny wildly contradictory rumors that, depending on the source, either Mrs. Putin or Communist opponents of Mr. Putin had a hand in making the movie.

“People haven’t seen the film but are already actively saying that it’s a return of cult,” said Mr. Voropayev, referring to the cult of personality that surrounded Stalin, in particular. “This genre is not at all new to America. We decided that this genre is interesting to viewers, and we decided that our society has already matured to the stage of accurately evaluating this film.”

The Russian government, flush with cash from oil and commodities, has recently been sponsoring patriotic films, both historical epics and kitschy blockbuster-style films about heroic secret service agents.

Mr. Voropayev said the film was made for “well under $5 million” and was financed by private investors. The Kremlin had no comment on Tuesday.

The filmmakers told little else about the film, beyond its broadest outlines, saying the rest would be filled in at a screening on Monday at the Khudozhestvenny movie theater, a few blocks from the Kremlin.

“This Kiss Is Off the Record” will not be shown in theaters but distributed only as a DVD, a sure sign in the United States of a movie that is considered D.O.A.

Yevgeny Rogachevsky, speaking on Tuesday for M. Video, one of the main retailers that will carry the film, said the chain viewed it as an opportunity to promote family values.

But there is at least one bedroom scene. The trailer shows the two actors in bed. “I’m afraid for you,” he says. “I’m afraid without you,” she replies. He tenderly kisses her shoulder.

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