“Tristounet and… Russian-Russian! » In front of sound posters movie theater, in Moscow, Andreï, accustomed to European and American films, does not hide a disarray tinged with irony. Last month, the young man certainly took advantage of the Jean-Luc Godard Festival, a rare French cultural event since February. Since the start of “Special Operation” Russian in Ukrainethe major Western producers have stopped sending their films to Russia.
“I am against this war. But why are you punishing all Russians with this cultural blockade which, de facto, blocks us even more at home and in the Kremlin system? Your films were openings…”, asks Andrei, cautious about his identity. Behind the scenes, among spectators and film professionals, the very pro-Kremlin line of the famous filmmaker Nikita Mikhalkov is also far from unanimous. “This war is a big mistake. But we can’t say it loud and clear. Too dangerous… “, slips an actress who, like many, plans to leave the country “out of shame and fear”.
The return of Soviet films
A few Western films nevertheless go beyond the prohibitions, without anyone explaining whether they are legal screenings or…“parallel imports”. Because, in industry as in culture, European products banned from export to Russia can be obtained from “friendly countries” – Turkey, China, Middle East… For the rest, lovers of the big screen in are reduced to watching Russian films. Even Soviet… Because, to fill in the gaps, the cinemas are indeed showing classics from the past. And, for lack of new films in sufficient quantities, cinemas are constantly emptying.
Since March, cinema attendance has been divided by three. In the past, the average number of tickets sold per week varied between 2.5 and 3.5 million. In September, it fell to 900,000. A particularly telling drop in the weight of the offensive in Ukraine, which came just as the Kremlin had just declared “partial mobilization” to send young men to the front.
Result: 100,000 fewer people went to the cinema each week. Since then, a few films have helped boost attendance. The Russian mega-production Heart of Parma thus made it possible to increase to 1.3 million spectators during the 4e week of October, a far cry from past figures.
“A risky investment”
“Up to 80% of the films came from Hollywood and Europe. The shock is hard!worries Elena Dubovchenko, expert in the sector, ex-director of the now closed Russian subsidiary of Sony Pictures. Our film industry finds it all the more difficult to fill in the gaps because making a film takes two or three years. »
Even if the State offers to cover 70% of the costs, it is up to private entrepreneurs to invest first. “A risky investment. Theatrical hits are rarely jackpots,” recalls Elena Dubovchenko, also concerned about the lack of male actors and technical personnel since the military mobilization. Meanwhile, on the Russian Web, public demand for streaming foreign films is exploding. No permissions or copyrights…
“Russian cinema is still far from producing enough films: a hundred a year, when it would take three times more”, recognizes Karen Chakhnazarov, the director at the head of Mosfilm. Its imposing post-Soviet studios in Moscow have 16 filming pavilions, with impressive warehouses for sets (500,000 objects) and costumes (300,000 items of clothing). But it’s mostly for television. “Stuck in a system that is neither public nor private, our cinema is still struggling financially. In my opinion, few today have the mind to invest! », warns the director, who is putting the finishing touches to a major production promised for early 2023. A detective film, far from politics.
Kirill Serebrennikov, a filmmaker in exile
Born in 1969, the Russian theater director and filmmaker has become despite himself, in his country, the symbol of the opposition to Vladimir Putin.
Arrested and then placed under house arrest in 2017, he is accused by the power of embezzlement within the framework of his mandate as director of the Gogol Center, but receives the support of many artists.
Sentenced in 2020 to a three-year suspended prison sentence, he left the territory after the outbreak of war in Ukraine and took refuge in Berlin.
Director of Leto and of Petrov Fever, he presented Tchaikovsky’s Wife at the last Cannes Film Festival (in theaters February 15) and opened the Avignon Festival this year with The Black Monkby Anton Chekhov.