Russia seeks to calm tensions over czar love affair film

MOSCOW — Top Russian officials have sought to downplay the "hysteria" surrounding a new film depicting the love affair between Russia's last czar and a ballerina, amid arson attacks and threats against cinemas.

Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky wrote on Twitter on Wednesday that "Matilda" was just "an ordinary feature film."

President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists Wednesday that pressure on cinemas was "unacceptable" and he condemned the "unpleasant form" debate about the film had taken.

The movie — which is yet to be released — has sparked harsh criticism from hard-line nationalists and some Orthodox believers in Russia. Although most people accept that the affair happened, they maintain its depiction in the movie has been distorted and that the portrayal is vulgar.

Nicholas II was murdered by the Bolsheviks and canonized by the Orthodox Church in 2000.

In separate comments to the TASS news agency Wednesday, Medinsky said that "there is nothing (in the film) insulting either for the memory of Nicholas II or for the history of the Russian monarchy."

He called on Russians to "observe the law, common sense and have respect for each other" and urged law enforcement agencies to protect cinemas and audiences.

Russia's largest cinema chain announced on Tuesday that it had contacted police about threats it had received over "Matilda" and would not show the movie because of safety fears.

While Medinsky said the decision by the cinema chain operated by Formula Kino and Cinema Park was the prerogative of its owners, he said attempts to pressurize cinemas were "pure lawlessness and censorship," TASS reported.

Peskov said that any extremism in Russia should be investigated by the security services.

Two cars were set on fire earlier this week outside the office of the attorney for director Alexei Uchitel and signs reading "burn for Matilda" were reportedly found near the scene. Last month, assailants tried to set fire to Uchitel's film studio.

Uchitel has said the audiences who have attended pre-release viewings of Matilda have reacted positively to the film, and has called on the state to ensure the safety of cinemagoers.

Matilda is set to be released in Russia on Oct. 26.

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