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Bold New St. Petersburg Fest Unveils Controversial Cinema in Russia

Bold New St. Petersburg Fest Unveils Controversial Cinema in Russia

SPIMF programmers have chosen to go bold, opening with Xavier Dolan’s “Mommy,” a movie not intended to go down easy with opening night smoked fish and champagne at the city’s Old Stock Exchange. The Media Forum’s General Producer Ekaterina “Katya” Mtsitouridze, who is also the Editor-in-Chief of Variety Russia, told me she chose the movie with her gut. And, after seeing it a second time, I realized that I was emotionally gutted by the dysfunctional mother-son drama that is Canada’s pick for the Oscars in a way that few contemporary films deliver.

Bold, too, were the choices to screen two more Cannes favorites, both exploring gay themes despite considerable contemporary LGBT controversy in Russia. During the recent Olympics, the New Yorker‘s David Remnick reported “there reigns a disdainful and intimidating unanimity: homosexuals are a threat to morality, to the family, and to the state.”

But, in St. Petersburg, 440 miles NW of Moscow, Remnick’s blanket description did not cover the Russian premiere of Francois Ozon’s sophisticated and wry audience favorite “The New Girlfriend.” The charming French film about a woman’s intimate relationship with a cross-dressing widower played to an appreciative full house at the gracious art nouveau cinema Aurora on Nevsky Prospekt.

“The New Girlfriend” continues Ozon’s explorations of the many strange and beautiful ways men and women connect. The dramedy charts a growing bond between a bereaved young woman and her best friend’s widower – a situation complicated by the fact that the man has taken to wearing his late wife’s wardrobe. The filmmaker loves women – and overturning preconceptions about where masculine and feminine intercept – and this is among his best movies.

Another gala Russian premiere, the French Oscar selection, “Saint Laurent,” one of two biopics on the hedonistic gay designer Yves Saint Laurent encountered a bit more difficulty capturing the entire audience’s attention at its Saturday night showing at the Rodino Cinema Center. Whether this was because, after a late start and a 135 minute running time, it cut into the Saturday late-night dinner hour, or the images of rough trade and drug abuse and male genitalia offended some old-school audience members was unclear.

Read the rest of Thelma Adams’ report here.

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