'Matilda' premiere draws extra security in Moscow after threats

Moscow (AFP) –


A Russian cinema chain said Tuesday extra security measures have been put in place ahead of the Moscow premiere of a controversial biopic of the last tsar, that has drawn threats from religious extremists.

Alexei Uchitel's "Matilda" has outraged hardline Orthodox believers, who view tsar Nicholas II as a saint and object to the depiction of his affair with a ballerina.

The film's trailer triggered a wave of attacks in the country, including Molotov cocktails thrown at the filmmakers' Saint Petersburg offices.

In Moscow, two cars were set alight outside the offices of Uchitel's lawyer last month.

"There will be increased security measures, but so far just for the first weekend of release," said Alexei Ryazantsev of the Karo Premiere distribution company that is hosting the premiere on Thursday in Russia's capital.

Distributors were still receiving messages about possible disruptions at screenings but they were being handled by police, he told reporters.

A small crowd of Orthodox believers holding pictures of Nicholas II gathered outside the Mariinsky Theatre in protest of the film's premiere in Saint Petersburg Monday, where key scenes from the movie were shot.

"This film is a falsehood and a blasphemy," demonstrator Vladimir Vasilyev told AFP. "It offends our morality. It is a Western conspiracy".

Uchitel said he had not expected such controversy and would not wish it on anyone.

"It's been very hard psychologically," he said. "As you know there have been threats... but the authorities have reacted and these people have been arrested".

- Mixed response -

In the Urals city of Yekaterinburg -- where the royal family was killed by firing squad -- a man drove a van filled with gas canisters into a movie theatre and set it on fire in apparent protest against the historical drama.

Last month, Russia's two biggest cinema chains Cinema Park and Formula Kino said they would drop the film from their lineup after threats, but reversed themselves afterwards.

Nicholas II and his family were denounced in the Soviet period but are now viewed as holy martyrs by the Russian Orthodox Church.

The visually luscious, erotically charged "Matilda" focuses on the emperor's relationship with ballerina Mathilde Kschessinska before his marriage and ascent to the throne.

German actor Lars Eidinger -- who is known for playing in steamy art house films -- stars as the last tsar. Eidinger declined to travel to Russia for the film's premieres, citing security concerns.

Moscow ads describe "Matilda" as "the most anticipated film of the year" but the movie has received a mixed response, with journalist Marina Akhmedova writing: "Watching the fuss around the film has been much more interesting than watching the film itself".