Cinemas in Kazakhstan have declined to screen a recently released Russian state-funded romcom about the Crimean Peninsula in apparent concern over the political sensibilities underlying the movie.
Crimean Bridge: Made With Love! — which was released in its home country on November 1 — is the screenwriting effort of Margarita Simonyan, head of the Kremlin-funded television channel RT.
The story unfolds in Crimea and comprises a series of whimsical adventures variously connected to the construction of a bridge from southern Russia to the annexed peninsula.
Critics of the movie have accused it of being little more than propaganda to gloss over Russia’s grab of land that is still internationally recognized as being part of Ukraine.
That feels like the most plausible reason for Kazakhstan refusing to show it. But that is not the story that the distributor, Central Partnership, is telling the public. In a statement cited on November 13 by RFE/RL’s Kazakhstan service, Radio Azattyq, the company said that “they had received very few orders from local cinemas.”
Kazakhstan is in a tight spot over Crimea. While Astana is an unmistakably close ally to Russia, it has declined to back the 2014 annexation of the peninsula.
When the UN General Assembly voted by majority in March 2014 against the holding of a referendum on the secession of Crimea, Kazakhstan abstained.
Crimea seems destined to create awkwardness between these firm allies.
Another odd incident occurred last week, at a regional forum attended by Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.
As Russian newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets explained, ahead of Nazarbayev touring the event held in the northern Kazakhstan town of Petropavlovsk, his delegation “reacted with horror” when they noticed a stand showing photos of the Crimean bridge. In an apparent bid to ensure Nazarbayev would not be seen standing by the image — which they surmised could be taken as some form of endorsement for the annexation — it was blocked from view with artificial plants.
Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, later confirmed to reporters that the Kazakhstan delegation had requested a last-minute change to Nazarbayev’s itinerary so as to ensure he did not walk past the offending photo. Nazarbayev’s spokespeople denied the whole incident had occurred.
Last fall, Kazakhstan updated its military doctrine in such a way as to prompt analysts to speculate that Astana was insuring itself against future potential Crimea-style land grabs by Russia. Northern Kazakhstan is heavily populated by ethnic Russians. For the first time, terms like “hybrid methods of war” were adopted — a transparent reference to Russia’s actions in Crimea and their subsequent involvement in the still-ongoing unrest in east Ukraine.
“Crimean Bridge: Made With Love!” does not seem to have gone down well in Russia either. It has been showered with poor reviews by critics and has ranked poorly on websites like KinoPoisk, which aggregates scores from filmgoers.
Since its release on November 1, the movie has earned $550,000 at the box office. That is a disappointing figure for a release that the BBC Russian service has reported cost almost $1.5 million to produce. What is more, most of the money reportedly came from Russian state coffers.