Issue 61 (2018)

Aleksei Pimanov: Crimea (Krym, 2017)

reviewed by Irina Anisimova© 2018

krymIt seemed that Aleksei Pimanov’s Crimea (Krym 2017) had enormous potential for box office success. It tells the story of the Russian unification with, or annexation of, Crimea—an event that has wide support among the Russian population; it contains breath-taking views of the Crimean landscape; and its plot includes a steamy romance. Moreover, Pimanov had unlimited access to the latest military equipment, and he could make use of an extended advertising campaign and the widest distribution network. What could possibly go wrong under these favorable circumstances? However, not only did the film fail at the box office, it also led to several scandals related to its promotion and advertising campaign. In fact, these scandals prove more interesting than the film itself. Combined with the questions surrounding its production and distribution, Crimea can serve as a microcosm of the relation between state-sponsored culture and often ineffectual attempts to control audience responses on the internet.

First, it is important to introduce the film’s director and producer, Aleksei Pimanov, who is more famous for his connections to official circles than directorial success. Pimanov is a journalist and director of the news consortium of the Russian army, Star (Zvezda), which consists of a TV channel, a radio station, and a newspaper. Moreover, he has connections to Russia’s central, state-owned TV channel, Channel One (Pervyi kanal). He is a producer and host of the well-known TV show Man and Law (Chelovek i zakon), the Russian equivalent of Law and Order. Recently he started to produce and direct TV series and films. By directing Crimea, a state-sponsored film of national status, Pimanov joined a select group of Russian film directors of state-sponsored patriotic blockbusters.

krymGiven his central position at the military media consortium, Pimanov is very well connected with Russian government circles. He is a personal acquaintance of the Minister of Defense, Sergei Shoigu. Indeed, Pimanov acknowledged that the idea for the film was suggested by Shoigu himself (Pimanov 2017). The Ministry of Defense was one of the film’s sponsors, giving the director virtually unlimited access to military equipment, such as planes, helicopters, tanks, and ships. The film had wide state support, including from Vladimir Putin, with the rest of its funding coming from Cinema and Culture Funds (Ismailov 2017). Not counting free military equipment, the film’s budget was 400 million rubles, approximately 6 million USD. Because of Pimanov’s media connections, Crimea was publicized widely on Star and Channel One. Pimanov gave countless interviews, and the film enjoyed a nation-wide advertizing campaign.

Crimea belongs to the limited number of films with national status, which gives Russian cinema wider distribution rights. Initially the film’s release was to coincide with the third anniversary of the unification. While the theatrical release date was moved by six month, Crimea was aired on Channel One right before the Russian presidential elections, thus coinciding with the fourth anniversary of this event.

Because of the film’s status and its positive representation of the peninsula’s annexation, most critics considered Crimea as an example of propaganda. If viewed from this perspective, however, Crimea has a rather limited value. The plot is rather fragmentary and flawed by poorly motivated character action. It feels as if the film consists of separate episodes which were spliced together and edited in a hurry. The fragmentary nature of the film similarly reflects an uneven combination of different genres: it has elements of romantic comedy, action, spy thriller, and drama. These genres are not harmoniously integrated, but instead attached to separate episodes. The narrative does not provide an ideological or political grounding for the events in Crimea and Ukraine in 2014. It appears that the director assumed these were universally known and saw no need to explain or justify anything. Therefore, the film serves as a picturesque illustration and reminder to the avid consumers of Russian state news.

krymCrimea tells of a love affair between a young woman journalist from Kiev, Alena, and a former member of elite military forces from Sevastopol, Sasha. Their romance takes place in 2014, and the characters magically appear at the epicenter of most dramatic events, such as the Maidan demonstrations, attacks by Ukrainian nationalists, secret machinations of Ukrainian spies, and the appearance of polite people—a euphemistic description of the Russian military forces that eventually occupied Crimea. The lovers find themselves on opposite sides of the Russian and Ukrainian conflict. Alena joins the pro-European Maidan uprising, while Sasha supports the Russian military’s actions in Crimea. At the end of the film, he even participates in separatist actions in Eastern Ukraine. Despite these clear political divides, the ideological messages of the film are quite muddled. The film is dedicated to “Russian and Ukrainian officers who did not shoot at each other in 2014,” yet this pacifist message contradicts the film’s use of military equipment and the protagonist’s decision to join the separatist cause. Similarly unclear are the protagonists’ beliefs: for example, Alena says that the supporters of Maidan fight for freedom; the reason for the Crimea’s resistance is even less clear. Sasha’s parents claim that they do not want to be turned into Ukrainians, yet it is not obvious what this Ukrainization would actually mean. The film lacks clear markers of Ukrainian identity; for instance, none of the Ukrainian characters actually speak Ukrainian, and they differ from Russians only by their names and preferences for suits and bow ties. Another troubling aspect of the film is its gender dynamic, which invites an uncomfortable gendered reading of the Russo-Ukrainian conflict. Because a military man represents Russia and a woman journalist represents Ukraine, the film creates probably unintended association between Russia as a violent aggressor; this reading is especially applicable to the erotic scene.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the film is the number of scandals that surrounded its promotion and distribution. Pimanov took an active part in discussing all these issues at Star’s radio and TV channel, and at Channel One, contributing to the media buzz surrounding these events. These scandals and Pimanov’s commentary and self-presentation illustrate multiple technologies of state’s control over the media.

First, Ukraine protested against the film’s release and criticized it as Russian propaganda. At the request from the Embassy of Ukraine, Belarus withdrew the film from distribution, therefore closing the possibility for a single international release. To overcome limited international distribution, Pimanov stated that the film would be made available online via torrents, and it is now available on YouTube.

krymThen there was a hacking incident widely covered by Meduza. The chief editor of KinoPoisk, Elizaveta Surganova, claimed on FaceBook that tens of thousands of user accounts had been hacked in order to inflate the projected number of film viewers. Suddenly many users who were not planning on going to see the film found that they were “highly anticipating” attending. After this instance of hacking, the viewers’ anticipation score rose to 6.2 out of 10 (Surganova 2017). Similar activities were reported by the editors of another film tracking site, Reportedly, fake Twitter accounts were created to boost positive reviews of Crimea. Following the hacking clean-up, the rating of Crimea currently stands at only 3 out of 10 stars on KinoPoisk, but is around 7.4 out of 10 on IMDb (possibly IMDb still relies on the inflated numbers).

Finally, the film’s spoof made by blogger and film critic, Evgenii Bazhenov, producer of Youtube Channel Bad Comedian, received much better viewing ratings than the original work by Pimanov. The video combines clips from Crimea and other films, excerpts from Pimanov’s interviews, and Bazhenov’s humorous analysis. The blogger is particularly critical of the film’s script and character development. Bazhenov not only accused Pimanov of making a film of poor quality, but also of money-laundering and misuse of state funds for the production of Crimea. Thus, Bazhenov’s assessment is similar to social critique by such media figures as Aleksei Navalnyi, but he extends the accusations of corruption to the sphere of culture and state-sponsored cinema. Thus, the release of Crimea lead to several cases of internet tampering, yet despite all these efforts, the film failed to become a box office hit or an internet success. Still, Crimea provided material for a successful spoof by an internet blogger.

Irina Anisimova
Florida State University

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Works Cited

Ismailov, Ruslan. 2017. “Zakazano Shoigu, odobreno Putinym,” (8 September).

Pimanov, A. [interview] 2017. “Pimanov rasskazal, kak Shoigu pomog emu v Krymu.” TV Zvezda (8 Feb.).

Surganova, Elizaveta. 2017. “Na ‘Kinopoiske’ nakrutili raiting fil’mu ‘Krym’ dlia etogo bylo vzlomano desiatki tysiach akkauntov,” Meduza (28 September).

Crimea, Russia, 2017
Color, 99 minutes
Director: Aleksei Pimanov
Screenwriters: Aleksei Pimanov, Vladimir Bragin
Cinematography: Vladimir Klimov
Production Design: Maiia Mart’ianova
Music: Oleg Voliando
Editors: Konstantin Pakhotin and Il’ia Mondrichenko
Cast: Roman Kurtsyn, Evgeniia Lapova, Pavel Krainov, Pavel Trubiner, Aleksei Komashko, Boris Shcherbakov, Danila Shevchenko, Elena Kotel’nikova, Gennadii Iakovlev, Nikita Zverev, Iurii Chernov, Igor’ Buianover, Il’ia Dombrovskii, Nikita Abdulov
Producer: Aleksei Pimanov
Production: Pimanov and Partners, Paradis

Aleksei Pimanov: Crimea (Krym, 2017)

reviewed by Irina Anisimova© 2018

Updated: 2018