Photo by Milena Botova/Sony Pictures Classics.
I finally got around to seeing Nikita Mikhalkov’s film, 12. Released in 2007, it only recently became available in the U.S. through Netflix. I’ve been climbing the walls in anticipation. 12 is Mikhalkov’s remake of the American play/film, Twelve Angry Men. Set in Russia, the jurors decide the fate of a Chechen boy accused of murder. It is VERY GOOD and you should see it. Go watch it and come back and finish reading this, ok?
For those of you who are neither film buffs nor interested in Russia (how do I know you? why are you here?), Nikita Mikhalkov is the director of the Oscar-winning 1994 film, Burnt by the Sun. If you haven’t seen Burnt by the Sun, I recommend it too. It’s stunningly beautiful, simultaneously sentimental yet critical about the Stalin era, a real gem of a film. You might remember that he carried his little daughter on his shoulders when he accepted the award. It was beyond adorable and we were all still feeling so good about ourselves after the recent collapse of the USSR. Those were the days… I suspect if it were released for the first time today, in the current political climate, it would have a radically different interpretation and reception than it received in 1994.
Mikhalkov gets a whole lot of heat. I’m not entirely convinced he doesn’t deserve some of it, given the amazing amount of hype he also drums up. Almost immediately after the success of Burnt By the Sun, it became fashionable to criticize his films for their sleek Hollywood aesthetics and patriotic agendas. The director himself has elicited charges of self-promotion, both in response to his films, which are vehicles for his own celebrity, and also for his role in the Russian film industry, which is a petri dish for egomania in its own right. It’s difficult to deny that he doesn’t mind being the center of attention, but it is more difficult to explain why he shouldn’t be. More recently his vocal support of one Vladimir V. Putin has garnered a lot of attention. It doesn’t bother me, but some people kinda consider him an ambitious sycophant. Some people lack the capacity for nuance, and possibly a heart. (more…)