Alexei Uchitel sits in the elegant lobby cafe of the historic Hotel Astoria in St. Petersburg and answers an endless stream of phone calls about his new film, “Matilda.”
The film depicts the true story of a love affair between the future Czar Nicholas II and a young ballerina, Matilda Kshesinskaya, in St. Petersburg’s famed Mariinsky Theatre. The film’s official release is Oct. 26, but erotic scenes shown in trailers have enraged religious conservatives in Russia, who call the film blasphemous for depicting Nicholas in love scenes with the teenage ballerina.
The movie’s storyline has sparked a debate in Russia between those who support a conservative lawmaker’s call for a ban of the film on grounds it insults the faithful, and those who believe the Kremlin’s support for a revival of religious beliefs and the promotion of traditional values is stifling modern Russia’s creative class.
That debate turned violent this year, when a religious radical group called the Christian State-Holy Rus wrote letters in January to movie theaters across the country threatening to burn them down if they screened “Matilda.”