Friday, June 9, 2017

Saint Wars and Russian Cinema

My scholarly work centers around a simple premise: When you make a saint, you gotta tell a story. The same holds true for when you move a saint, create relics, place relics in new locations, develop new festivals. These sacred acts can have enormous cultural and political consequences, but only if you tell the right story.

In Russia, pro-authoritarians have been resurrecting (pun intended) the notion that Tsar Nicholas II was a saint and martyr due to his execution by the Communists. That's one story. Now a major Russian motion picture shows him in love with a ballet dancer (which is true), and one not appropriately beautiful or Russian-looking enough for the authoritarians. Controversy follows.

New York Times reporter Neil MacFarquhar has a fabulous feature on the controversy. Here's an excerpt.
That has done little to douse the hostility from the Russian Orthodox Church and its adherents. Some want the movie banned, while the most extreme have threatened to torch movie theaters that show it.
The main objection from the church is that because Czar Nicholas II and his wife were canonized in 2000, the movie is an insult to the faithful, which is a crime in Russia.
“This film represents, in my opinion, the apotheosis of vulgarity,” Bishop Hilarion, the head of the church’s external relations department, said on television, noting that the director had invited him to view a rough cut. The bishop conceded that there had been some manner of love affair, although he dismissed it as a youthful infatuation.
And
Even as Mr. Uchitel acknowledged that the movie contained elements of fantasy, he questioned the historical interpretation used by his religious critics. Nicholas II became a sainted martyr because of the way he and his family died — in a hail of bullets fired by a Bolshevik firing squad — not because of the way he lived.
“Their main concern is that since he was shot with his whole family, and thus became a saint, he could not have had any affairs,” Mr. Uchitel said. “On the contrary, it is totally correct to show him in this human way.”
Making saints requires stories. As always, READ THE WHOLE THING.

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