So what's the point of making a movie with no cultural significance?
According to Mikhalkov, it is significant. But in a way that may be difficult for Westerners to understand. In fact, he thought his film is so radically different from the original that it he didn't consider it a remake.
In a longwinded interview with Time Out Moscow chock full of references to Dostoevsky and talk about the mysterious Russian dukh, Mikhalkov said his film is about the unique relationship that Russian people have with the law.
"Russian people are incapable of following the law...because it bores them," he said. Russians are too cerebral, too advanced for that kind of robotic behavior. For Russians, rules are made to be broken, and that's a good thing. It's a sign of creativity and intelligence. But breaking the law demands responsibility and should be last resort, carried out on a need-only basis and only after much consideration. And that's what the movie is all about.
Throughout the interview, Mikhalkov made swipes at the simple, law-abiding nature of Western cultures. To him Twelve Angry Men, the very movie he was ripping off, is a perfect reflection of the West's naive, childlike idealism. He never quite came out and said it, but his implication was obvious: Western people, especially Americans, are stupid in comparison to Russians. That's why the West believes in law and order and Russia is rotten with corruption. The corruption-as-a-sign-of-intelligence theory is nothing new. In fact, it's quite common amongst Russians.
It's hard to argue with the fact that most Russians can't help themselves from stealing and cheating any chance they get. I'm Russian, I know. Even the Russian immigrant kids that I knew back in San Francisco were full of petty everyday schemes to fuck the system: buying a big screen TV for a Super Bowl party and returning it the next day, skimming money off the register, or ordering pizza with stolen credit cards--the list goes on and on. But to say that this tendency is a sign of intelligence is a stretch. In fact, petty corruption schemes do nothing more than waste mental processing time. They might make Russians a little more cunning, but they do nothing about their ignorance. Most of the Russians I knew back in California have the IQ of a lifetime Pizza Hut employee.
Mikhalkov may have no talent, but he isn't stupid. Aside from being a natural hit with Russian audiences and a serious box office moneymaker, 12 seems to be a part of a larger plan to convince Putin to stay for a third presidential term.
Just a few weeks ago, Mikhalkov congratulated Putin on his 55th birthday with a sappy 20-minute multimedia speech/presentation aired on prime TV. Even his groveling wasn't in the least bit entertaining. He was like a mangy old dog performing tricks for a master that doesn't really give a shit. Mikhalkov thanked Yeltsin for nominating Putin as president, he thanked Putin for getting rid of the oligarchs, for bringing stability and dignity to Russia, for winning the Chechen war, said that Putin was the greatest thing to have ever happened to Russia and stated that a third presidential term would benefit everyone. A few weeks later, Mikhalkov followed up by penning an open letter to President Putin with a few other artists. Speaking on behalf of all Russian artists, Mikhalkov pleaded to Putin to remain for a third presidential term.
It makes sense. In its own roundabout way, 12 seeks to justify Putin's third presidential term by saying that sometimes to do what's right, one has to break the law (in this case, the constitution).
It's doubtful that Putin is listening. But no one can say that Mikhalkov didn't try.
Update: Mikhalkov's master plan has finally begun to hatch. This month, the morons at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have nominated this film Best Foreign Film in the Oscar awards. Everyone knows the Oscars are a freakin' joke, but even they are too good for a no-talent fluffer like Mikhalkov. The sad thing is that, just like Russia winning its incompetent Sochi Olympic bid, he's probably going to win. And that will only mean one thing: we are going to have to deal with another two decades of Mikhalkov's Chinese-style knockoffs of greater films.