By Robert Coalson, for RFE/RL
Even back when construction of the controversial, $3.7 billion Crimean Bridge was just beginning, RT Editor in Chief Margarita Simonyan already knew how the story ended.
Crimea Bridge: Made With Love! — a new film written by Simonyan and directed by her husband, Tigran Keosayan — is an uber-patriotic romantic comedy that was filmed against the backdrop of the rising edifice, which links Russia via the Kerch Strait with the Ukrainian region of Crimea that was annexed by Moscow in 2014.
The film had a gala Moscow premiere on October 30 and opened generally on November 1. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov and Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova were among the glitterati attending the opening, both giving it two thumbs up.
Crimea Bridge: Made With Love! is something of a cross between the 2008 hit musical Mamma Mia! and the 1938 socialist-realist fantasy Volga-Volga, the film often said to have been dictator Josef Stalin’s personal favorite.
“It is a film about love during the building of the Crimean Bridge,” Simonyan told journalists in August. “It begins in 1940, during the war, and ends in the current day, the day of the opening of the bridge. Before I started working on the script, we traveled several times to the bridge, to take a look, to get to know the people, to talk to them. Several of them became prototypes for the characters in the film.”
Anton Dolin, film critic for the Meduza website, writes that the film takes place in an idealized Crimea where the sun always shines, the women are all beautiful, everyone speaks in folksy intonations, and even the mud has health-giving properties.
“Leaving the theater,” Dolin writes, “just like after seeing a 3D film, you automatically start looking for the box in which to drop your rose-tinted glasses.”
The film offers an unlikely take on the issue of Crimean Tatars. It opens with a young Crimean Tatar boy named Damir recalling how the original Kerch Strait bridge, a temporary wartime construction, was destroyed by winter ice in early 1945.
The scene is improbable at best, since the entire Crimean Tatar population was ruthlessly deported from the peninsula in 1944 by Stalin. In fact, Simonyan’s masterpiece was filmed just a few dozen kilometers from the Arabat Spit, where the last pockets of Crimean Tatars who had escaped deportation were loaded onto a boat that was then scuttled in the Sea of Azov, drowning all aboard.
Damir, however, grieves because the destroyed bridge separates him from his wartime love, a Russian girl named Raya, who has gone missing.
Damir is a forgiving type. At one point, discussing his own family’s fate under Stalin, he says simply, “They were sent away — that means it had to be.” At other points in the film, he has approving words for Stalin.
After the 2014 annexation of Crimea, Russian President Vladimir Putin promised the Crimean Tatars equal treatment and respect, despite the fact that the vast majority of them — along with the UN — refused to recognize Russia’s takeover of the region.
In the years since, Crimean Tatars and international rights groups have denounced Russia’s “persecution” of the group, noting harassment, threats, unlawful searches of their homes, physical violence, and disappearances.
Nothing of that sort makes it onto the sun-dappled screen of Simonyan’s depiction of Crimea.
“In the film’s finale, Damir and his newly found, beloved Raya meet again in an embrace on the just-completed bridge,” Meduza’s Dolin writes, “and all the other people suddenly disappear, as if they had never been there. Instead of them, innumerable Russian flags unfold on the breeze: the people are finally transformed into simple, comprehensible symbols….”
Simonyan’s film was released almost exactly one year after the state-funded feature film Crimea by director Aleksei Pimanov, which gave a patriotic and Putin-friendly accounting of the events of 2014.
By Robert Coalson, for RFE/RL