In “1612,” Unicorns Meet Tsars

The latest Russian blockbuster to hit the screens has been met with tepid reviews. Released on November 4th, the National Day of Unity, the film shares its title with the holiday’s origin: the 1612 victory of a unified Russian army against Polish invaders. The similarities stop there, however, and critics of the Kremlin have said that the film resembles Soviet propaganda.

While “1612” bears a secondary title of “Historical Chronicles,” most of the history has been diluted beyond recognition. The gaps have been filled with a steamy love story and mythological figures including talking fish and a white unicorn. Historical figures have been left out, marginalized, or transformed into something unrecognizable. Scenes, including the selection of a strong tsar to rule Russia, happen to coincide with upcoming presidential elections in March.

“It’s important for me that the audience feel pride,” said the film’s director, Vladimir Khotinenko (as printed in the Sunday Herald). “That they didn’t regard it as something that happened in ancient history, but as a recent event. That they felt the link between what happened 400 years ago and today.”

So is Russia merely experiencing something of a “Hollywoodization” of its film industry? Critics say that on the contrary, this movie is merely the latest example of the Kremlin’s campaign to white-wash and omit the negative aspects of Russian and Soviet History (read more).

“1612” was commissioned by the Kremlin, and co-produced (and partly funded) by Viktor Vekselberg, a Putin-friendly oligarch with a fondness for symbols of national pride.

Ultimately, the film’s aim and message resemble those of another Russian classic. Eisenstein’s masterpiece “Aleksandr Nevsky” was similarly commissioned by Soviet authorities in 1938 to unify the Soviet Union against the Nazi threat. Like “Aleksandr Nevsky”, “1612” features a rising king and a historical battle between ethnic Russians and an invading army. Unlike “Aleksandr Nevsky”, “1612” will not be remembered.