Nikita Mikhailkov's film festival is as sorry as he is.
Last week at the opening ceremony of the Moscow Film Festival, Mayor Luzhkov was at it again. He'd been asked to make the final speech and, instead of a brief "Thanks for coming and enjoy the movies," he launched into an unscripted 10 minute patriotic rant about the resurrection of Russian film. The speech was so boring that the foreign dignitaries should've been thankful that the organizers forgot to supply an interpreter. Around the crowd, Russian A-listers could be seen staring off into space or slouched over drooling on their Hermes scarves.
The real show was right behind Luzhkov, where the MC and self-proclaimed Godfather of Russian movies, Nikita Mikhailkov, danced awkwardly trying to get the oblivious mayor's attention. Seeing Mikhailkov powerless to stop Luzhkov from droning made me realize just who it is that he reminds me of: Zurab Tsereteli. Mikhailkov is nothing more than a lapdog for Luzhkov, whose relevance would evaporate the moment he lost his sponsor.
Moscow's farce of a film fest, which runs thru Saturday, is a testament to just what a hack Mikhailkov is. If he's really the savoir of Russian cinema, why can't he get any good movies for his festival? Russia already has one film fest for new Russian films (Kinotavr in Sochi), while quality art house flicks aim for Venice or Cannes. The result is that, even though Moscow makes a big deal of trying to be an international festival, it can't even get the best Russian movies.
What it gets is a bunch of second-rate movies from around the former Soviet empire and a few third-rate movies from the civilized world. The movies in the competition, and I've seen most of them, are worthless. For the most part, they're not even worth panning. Worse still, the festival can't even decide if it wants to focus on art house or commercial movies, so you've got movies like Putina (about a wedding in a fishing village) competing against Russian Triangle, which is an action-detective movie aspiring to be ne khuzhe than Hollywood.
The festival is a victory of form over substance, grouping together a bunch of movies that have no reasonable connection and making them compete against each other for the honor of being least bad. The main reason they have the festival in the first place is to say that Moscow had a festival.
A perfect example of the intellectual emptiness of this festival is that it also features a group of movies that Mikhailkov supposedly claims are his main influences. I'd be happy to spend eternity watching a loop of The Barber of Siberia if there's any truth to this list. It's so ridiculously pretentious I'd bet that a thug like Mikhailkov hasn't even seen all the movies on it. It reads like a Midwestern film professor's list of most influential movies, not like the comfort movies of a man who has spent the last 10 years trying and failing to make a movie worthy of Hollywood. There's even a video blog of Mikhailkov in which he has trouble even remembering some of the directors' names ( http://mikhalkov.mmkf.ru/) . Bergman, Kurosawa, Godard, Fellini and Tarkovsky all make the list ( http://www.moscowfilmfestival.ru/29/eng/moscow/program/6/) , which doesn't have a single color movie on it. Yeah, and I'm sure Brezhnev turned to his collected works of Lenin whenever he was having trouble ruling the USSR.
The most glaring absence from Mikhailkov's influences is Zavtra Byla Voina (Tomorrow there was a War), a perestroika-era masterpiece about the purges that Mikhailkov blatantly plagiarized in his Oscar-winning Burnt by the Sun. Not only did he steal the movie's theme song "Utomlyonnye Solntsem," which he used as the film's name and main theme, he lifted entire scenes straight out of the movie. One obvious example is the hot-air balloon lifting Stalin's portrait, a scene that appears in both movies.