Continuing our saga of the new Culture War in Russia, with calls to ban the film, “Matilda“, by director Alexei Efimovich Uchitel. Release of the film to the broader public has been delayed a couple of times, but is scheduled for October. I haven’t seen it myself, obviously. The film purportedly tells the story of Tsar Nicholas II when he was a young man and had an affair with a famous ballerina named Matilda Kschessinska.
Born into a Polish family, Matilda (or Mathilde) is still considered, technically, to be a Russian ballet dancer. She was born in Russia and performed with the Imperial Ballet at the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg. There she came to the attention of the future Tsar, who was a noted balletomane, and apparently ogled her through his binoculars while seated in the royal box. In 1896, at the age of 24 Matilda attained the rank of Prima Ballerina, over the objections of Maestro Marius Petipa. Petipa favored the Italian ballerina Pierina Legnani and refused to cave to pressure to give Matilda better roles in his shows. Even the Tsar was scared of Petipa and didn’t push the issue.
Petipa believed that Matilda was a competent dancer, but also an “immoral swine” who had slept her way to the top. In Matilda’s defense, this girl became the first Russian dancer to master the famous “32 Fouettés” required to dance the role of the Black Swan in “Swan Lake”. Recall that Petipa had choreographed these turns to show off the virtuosity of his favorite, Legnani. And I sincerely hope that Uchitel’s movie focuses on the rivalry between those two fiery divas, because the ensuing catfight — well THAT is a must-see film!
I noted before that Uchitel is Jewish, and that fact also is a red-flag to the Russian Nationalists. They see Jews and “cosmopolitans” trying to undermine traditional Russian values not to mention the traditional alliance of the Russian Imperial state and the Orthodox Church. See, Tsar Nicholas II was canonized by the Church, and his fans, like Natalia Poklonskaya, claim that such canonization makes Nicholas immune from any criticism. One of my commenters, Ryan, pointed out that the so-called “canonization” did not actually turn Nicholas into Saint Nicholas. He is not a Saint with a halo around his head, in the sense that the Church believes he led a spotless life. In 2000 the Church dubbed him a “passion-bearer” (Russian страстотéрпец). This is a lesser order of canonization (and a distinction that is not made in the Roman Catholic Church). It only stipulates that the Tsar died as a Christian, not necessarily lived as a Christian. See, he lived a so-so life, shagged dancers, lost a war, and then got himself gunned down by a rogue platoon of Bolsheviks. Hence, as Ryan pointed out, the opponents of Uchitel’s film are being dishonest when they claim it is sacrilege to criticize the Tsar’s life-style choices made when he was a young man. Technically, it would only be sacrilege if the film gloated at the Tsar’s death and maybe had a dream-sex sequence in which he is shagging Matilda, in those last few seconds before he dies. I don’t know if the film does that or not because I haven’t seen it.
And speaking of the Bolsheviks, Matilda’s life had a second act. After the Russian Revolution, she fled to Paris where she married one of the Tsar’s cousins, converted to Catholicism, and led a long and happy life in exile. Meanwhile, a mere two days after her abrupt departure, revolutionary workers and soldiers seized Matilda’s palace in St. Petersburg — the big mansion was Tsar Nicky’s gift to Matilda, you could call it their love nest, I reckon — and used it as their HQ. Both Lenin and Stalin, as well as the entire Pravda editorial board, set up their working offices in Matilda’s mansion, which is now a historical museum.
Yesterday we started discussing the mini-catfight in Simferopol, Crimea, sparked by Natalia Poklonskaya, and which pitched Prosecutor vs Prosecutor vs Prosecutie. Keep in mind that Crimea is a bastion of the Russian Imperial heritage, if not necessarily of traditional values. Tomorrow I’ll finish that side-story and then go into an even more interesting aspect of the saga, namely the Chechen angle [cue sinister music]. The fact is, that when “traditional values” are at stake, then some interesting alliances can be observed.
[to be continued]