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‘You can’t touch saints’: zealots threaten to torch cinemas

‘You can’t touch saints’: zealots threaten to torch cinemas

Orthodox Christians in Russia have began a campaign of intimidation against a movie it regards as ‘blasphemous’ – and one radical Christian group even sent hundreds of letters to cinemas, warning they would “burn” if they dared screen Matilda.

The film, according to the BBC, is based on the love story of Russia’s last tsar and ballerina Matilda Kshesinskaya, before Nicholas married and took to the throne. They met after her graduation performance from the Imperial Ballet School. The dancer herself wrote that the mutual attraction was instant.

But Nicholas II was canonised in 2000 by the Orthodox Church, so campaigners say that exposure of his personal life is an insult.

Natalia Poklonskaya, above, a fervent young MP leading the campaign to block the autumn release of the film, huffed:

You can’t touch saints. You can’t show them having sex because that offends the feelings of believers.

Her office is decorated with portraits and icons of the last tsar. There’s now a pile of complaint letters too, which the MP says grows every day.

This is not censorship, this is about the violation of people’s rights. Artistic freedom is not limitless, it cannot impede on the rights of others.

A group calling itself “Christian State, Holy Russia” told the BBC that its letter against Matilda was not a threat to attack cinemas, though it certainly reads that way. But a spokesman claimed that “society” was angry at a film he said “spat in the face” of believers.

The film’s director, Alexei Uchitel, above, points out that his film received state funding, which involved what he called “expert checks” of the script. He denies that Matilda is in any way insulting.

Yes, Nicholas II and his family are saints, but it doesn’t mean we can’t describe their lives before they were tragically killed.

He says he has chosen this topic because he is deeply interested in Nicholas II as a historical figure and argues that the life of the last of the Romanovs must be open to exploration by the arts.

If you put a label on someone and say you can’t touch him, that’s just absurd.

He points out that neither Natalia Poklonskaya nor any of his other critics have actually seen the film they claim to be insulted by. Only a short trailer is publicly available on YouTube. The picture above is a screenshot.

I think this is a precedent which needs to be stopped. If not, the prosecutors will soon only be dealing with complaints from MPs who say people have been insulted in films, books and art. Of course I think that’s wrong. Categorically!

The row surrounding Matilda is just the latest instance of Orthodox believers’ pressure on the arts, a growing trend which senior cultural figures warn is returning Russia to the days of state ideology and restrictions.

Late last year, Orthodox activists got a performance of the musical Jesus Christ Superstar shut down in Omsk. Before that, a Wagner opera in Novosibirsk was banned as offensive and the director sacked.

In September, men in military-type uniform blocked the entrance to an exhibition by an American photographer they decreed pornographic. Inside, a protester on a moral crusade sprayed urine over the walls, shouting that culture should be “Russian”.

That and similar attacks prompted one of Moscow’s best-known theatre directors to warn that Russia was living in:

Very difficult, dangerous and frightening times.

Konstantin Raikin argued that such groups hide behind talk of patriotism, motherland and morals. In a passionate speech in Moscow, he suggested that their lenient treatment by the authorities suggested someone was itching to turn back the clock to the days of official control of the arts, and censorship.

Hat tip: AgentCormac

12 responses to “‘You can’t touch saints’: zealots threaten to torch cinemas”

  1. With the exception of the films of Sergei Paradjanov (see his ‘Colour of Pomegranates’ and ‘Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors’) and those of Andrei Tarkovsky, Russian films tend for the most part to be filled with propaganda, and I tend to avoid them (apart from of Eisenstein’s films, of course, filled with Soviet propaganda though they necessarily were).

  2. CoastalMaineBird says:

    Have we learned NOTHING in the last 1500 years?

  3. remigius says:

    Miss Floribunda Rose, I would heartily recommend Sokurov’s Russian Ark. Shot in the Hermitage in a single 99 minute take covering 200 years of history. Brilliant.

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0318034/?ref_=nv_sr_1

  4. Trevor Blake says:

    My legal right to not have offended feelings – where do I collect my compensation check ? Or is that not how it works?

  5. The earliest surviving songs in the English language were composed by a saint: Saint Godric of Finchale (1069-1170), who for many years lived as a hermit. There are three of these songs: Sainte Nicolas, Crist & Sainte Marie, and Sainte Marie Viergene, all three of which were sung to Godric during a dream by his deceased sister. The best performances of these songs, in my opinion, are those by the Hilliard Ensemble on their album Sumer Is Icumen In.

    Saints have their uses. Just sayin’.

  6. AgentCormac says:

    ‘This is not censorship, this is about the violation of people’s rights.’

    Bollocks. Bollocks. And thrice, bollocks. This is all about censorship and all about religiots like Poklonskaya ensuring that every aspect of their beliefs is beyond question, beyond criticism and in this case beyond portrayal. Even in Putin’s Russia she has the right to believe in whatever she wants. Fine – believe in superstitious crap.But she should not have the right to claim historical fact or historical events as hers to control for the exclusive benefit of her swivel-eyed brand of religion.

  7. Paul says:

    It’s a very dangerous path to go down to inoculate religion against any form of critique. Islam is the best at this.
    Not to be able to make a film about a person and their life as that person, who in reality is not truly a saint, (whatever that means), is actually quite insulting. But the outrageous threats show just what religion does when it cannot accept any form of critique and for that reason the film should be shown. The real hurt and insult is to not allow people to see the film and make up their own minds.

  8. Welcome to RasPutin’s Russia.

  9. Brian Jordan says:

    A touch of the schismatics here, I fancy. I think the RCC would just have called them “martyrs” while the two halves of the Russian Orthodoxy took a while to agree whether – and never quite settled on whom.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canonization_of_the_Romanovs
    One lot canonised a whole raft of servants (a la Pharaohs’ celestial helpers?), the other not quite so many, Apparently, being murdered by the Bolsheviks was largely sufficient – so surely Stalin must have produced a cast of millions for the heavenly choir.

  10. Broga says:

    “You can’t show them having sex because that offends the feelings of believers.”

    This could be debated but that isn’t the way the believers operate. Any discussion would torpedo what passes for their arguments.

  11. Gui says:

    Isn’t this Poklonskaya the same that was the officer in charge of Crimea?

  12. Newspaniard says:

    Whatever happened to good, old fashioned Stalinism, you know, the type that Putin and Corbyn believes in?