Moscow Patriarch Metropolitan of Volokolamsk, Hilarion spoke out recently on the topic of historical film Matilda, the release of which is currently upsetting many people in Russia.
Hilarion Alfeyev is a theologian, religious historian, and musician, educated at the prestigious Moscow Gnessin School and Conservatory and the University of Oxford. His commentary represents a rare voice of calm and moral clarity amid the hype, affectation, and display of a truly peculiar vocabulary of the modern Russian writing style, replete with juvenile internet slang and strangely corrupted English words, displacing the existing Russian phrases. Matilda, directed by a popular Russian film-maker, Alexei Uchietel’, bills itself as a “historic drama” and is scheduled to be released on October 25.
The release of its trailer has ignited a fury of condemnation and a wave of protests, occasionally quite violent, as its screening coincides, intentionally or not, with the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution. While the Russian public agonize over the Centenary itself, the film’s storyline involves a pre-marital love affair of the Russia’s last monarch, Nicolas II, whose entire family, including small children and devoted servants, was slaughtered in horrific fashion by Lenin’s goons, possibly in retaliation for Lenin’s brother’s execution. These memories, while still not processed properly by the country, are very traumatic for the Russian people; and the fact that the Czar Nicholas has been elevated into sainthood by the Orthodox Church strongly complicates the matter. The emotions fly so high that many of those who oppose the release of the film, threaten to burn the movie theatres that will screen it. Others protest peacefully, like these Omsk residents in the picture.
Protest in Омск . Sign reads: People have absolute right to protect their sacred symbols. We demand prohibition of the screening of the film Matilda.
Here is what Hilarion said.
“The situation relating to the release of the film Matilda, unfortunately, reminds one of similar events that took place some time ago at the scandalous French publication Charlie Hebdo. Then, as now, we were all presented with the dilemma, “Are you with Charlie, or with the terrorists who shot the staff?” Now there is an attempt to present us with the choice: ‘either you support the film Matilda or you are with those who call to burn the movie theatres.’
But what about those of us, who are not on either side of this polemic. I am, myself, for example, unconditionally and categorically standing against any calls for violence, any threats towards anyone, be it the director, or the actors, or the screening venues, and so on. I am also standing against the prohibition of the screening of the film, against the rebirth of the soviet style of censorship. At the same time, however, I am neither willing to nor able to position myself on the same side as those who defend this film.
Unlike the majority of those who are engaged in this polemic, I have seen that film. Many presently are saying, “Since you, people, haven’t watched the film, be quiet, wait until the release.” I am accusing those who make statements against the film after merely watching its trailer in criticising the film without watching. I expressed my opinion about the film not on the basis of the trailer, but on the basis of watching the film itself. My opinion about it upset the director, who had invited me to watch it, but I was not able to lie to him about it. Nor was I able to keep silent.
Some very different individuals and groups of people participate in this film’s discussion. But there are also thousands of letters expressing anger today. Many people do not understand why it was necessary in this year of the centennial of the revolution to yet again spit into the face of a man who was executed together with his whole family, with his young children. The anniversary of the revolution should serve as a cause for a prayer and remembrance of those who suffered from it, not the reason for continued attempts to insult their memory.
I am not even mentioning the fact that Emperor Nicolas II has been canonized to sainthood by the Church. And so was his wife, Empress Alexandra — portrayed in that film as a hysterical witch—been canonized too. Hundreds of thousands of people gather on Tsar’s Days Festival in Yekaterinburg to march for five hours from the place of his assassination to his presumed grave. I hope that in this Centennial year of our nation’s tragedy, one that resulted in the loss of an immense number of lives, such film directors, writers, and artist will come forward who can pay honourable tribute to the memory of our martyred monarch.” (Translated by R. L.)