Color, 100 minutes
Russian with English subtitles
Director: Ol'ga Zhulina
Screenplay: Elena Isaeva, Anatolii Voropaev
Cinematography: Vasia Sikachinskii
Art Direction: Oleg Fomin
Original Music: Luigi Tonet
Cast: Andrei Panin, Aleksandr Beliavskii, Dar'ia Mikhailova, Raisa Riazanova
Producer: Anatolii Voropaev
Production: Anatolii Voropaev's Production Company
David Remnick, a staff writer at The New Yorker, suggests that perhaps because of "the vastness of Russia's geography" or "the bloody absolutism of its history," "it's always been easier to contemplate a new master of the Kremlin by seizing on homey anecdotes" (10 March 2008). Indeed, everyone seems to know that Vladimir Putin excels at judo, that he once nuzzled and kissed a little boy's tummy, and that he, like his sometimes pal George Bush, enjoys such manly hobbies as hunting and fishing. But what's to be said of his personal life?
Unlike American First Ladies, Putin's wife, Liudmila, rarely appears at her man's side. His daughters, in marked opposition to the scandal-prone Bush twins, stay out of the limelight. A Kiss—Not for the Press, which was released, lovingly, on Valentine's Day 2008, fills in these lacunae in the soon-to-be former-Presidents's personal biography. Told from the wife's point of view, Kiss is a family melodrama that in a series of flashbacks details the couple's true romance, family life, and various close calls with death.
Producer and co-screenplay writer Anatolii Voropaev denies that the film's main character is meant to be a direct replica of Putin. Even actor Andrei Panin, who plays a KGB-agent stationed in Germany and later becomes the leader of Russia, expressed improbable surprise when he chirped: "I really didn't get it right away. I was acting in a family melodrama, playing an absolutely unfamiliar character" (Komsomol'skaia Pravda, 28 January 2003). After all it's a tricky connection to make: Panin's character's name is Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Platov, not Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, and he's married to a woman named Tat'iana, not Liudmila. Hmmm, if there were a story about Will Clifton, his wife Jillian, and his lover Monique, would you need a decoder ring to figure it out? So the real question is not whether this is or whether this isn't a film about Putin. It is. The question is: why all the deflection?
Made on a five million dollar budget, A Kiss—Not for the Press was in production from 2001 to 2003. Voropaev hired Oleg Fomin, who has done the majority of his work in television, to direct the film. However, the project went on for so long, that Fomin passed the baton to first-time feature film director Ol'ga Zhulina. In 2005, after the film had long been collecting dust, a journalist from Komsomol'skaia Pravda contacted Fomin and the film's female lead, Dar'ia Mikhailova. Both responded with suspicion ("How did you hear about this film?" Fomin asked) and declined to answer further questions stating that their contracts prohibited them from doing so. In the three years since, Voropaev filled one of the famously appointed (that is to say, not elected) positions of vice governor in two separate regions, Tula and Stavropol.1 Voropaev, who supposedly felt that releasing the film while at his post might constitute a conflict of interest, recently retired from politics freeing him of such concerns. According to all sources, the Kremlin did not financially back this film, did not approve or disprove of it, and had nothing to do with its release just two weeks before the March 2nd elections.
Those willing to believe that Panin, in the role of Platov, does not represent Putin may be satisfied with such an innocent tale about this film seven years in the making. Those, however, who recognize the Kremlin's strong-arming of state controlled media; its sway over Russia's youth via Nashi (Ours), the largest of the pro-Putin youth groups; its vehement, and often violent, reactions against opposition leaders or political dissenters (for example, Garry Kasparov and Anna Politkovskaia); and its consolidation of power that made the election of Dmitrii Medvedev little more than a reelection of Putin will read the story of the film's production history as implausibly benign.
A Kiss—Not for the Press is, ironically, emphatically for the press. This is a publicity stunt that has had to wait its turn. Foregoing the cost of theatrical release, the film has been distributed across Russia on DVD. Voropaev claims that this decision stems from democratic considerations: he wants every Russian family to have access to the film. Moreover, he describes the movie as championing family values and hopes that families will cozy up together in front of the TV to watch it.
It may be that upon entry into the Kremlin, homey anecdotes about the incoming leader circulate widely, but far more important, at least for Putin at this juncture, is that such anecdotes continue to circulate. As is widely acknowledged, Medvedev may be deemed Russia's new president, but that's only in name. If, indeed, homey anecdotes are any indication, this film's release reminds us precisely that the next man to fill the Kremlin's most honored position will be none other than Putin—husband, father, and President.
1 Following the Beslan school hostage crisis in September 2004, President Putin consolidated the federal power of the Kremlin further when he decided to appoint regional governors himself, rather than have the positions decided by democratic vote.
Ol'ga Zhulina graduated from the Shchepkin Theater Academy in 1982. Though she had done documentary film and work in television earlier, A Kiss—Not for the Press marks her feature film debut.
2007 Go and Don't Return
2005 Along the Roads to France (documentary)
2003 (rel. 2008) A Kiss—Not for the Press
2000 Legends of the Arbat (series of five shorts)
1998 North Pole (documentary)