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Patriotic tank film busts Russian box office record

A Russian war film that tells of a Soviet soldier’s “devotion to the Motherland”, the latest in a line of state-funded patriotic blockbusters, has broken box office records after its New Year release.

“T-34”, named after a tank used in World War II, had the best opening weekend of all time for a Russian-made movie with around 713 million rubles ($10.6 million) in takings, according to an industry newsletter.

“This is a drama about how a concentration camp prisoner escapes from fascist captivity in an attempt to preserve his life, love and devotion to the Motherland,” a culture ministry statement said.

Director Alexei Sidorov said the aim of the picture was to “tell a war story in a way that attracts young people and does not provoke objections from those who still remember the Great Patriotic War,” the statement added.

Memories of the Great Patriotic War, as the conflict with Nazi Germany is known in Russia, have become a key tool in promoting patriotism during President Vladimir Putin’s long years in power.

Criticism of the official heroic narrative of the war, in which an estimated 26 million Soviet citizens died, are discouraged or silenced.

Also released over the New Year was “The Holiday”, a black comedy set during the siege of Leningrad, one of the war’s darkest moments.

But in contrast to “T-34”, which has been heavily trailed in state media, director Alexei Krasovskiy decided to screen his film exclusively over YouTube after officials condemned his project, requesting donations from viewers.

Lawmaker Sergei Boyarsky said the idea was a “blasphemy and a shame” when it was reported in the Russian press last year.

The privately funded film has racked up almost 800,000 views on YouTube, compared to 1.5 million in theatres for “T-34”.

Films require a permit for a cinematic release from the Russian ministry of culture.

The ministry has been known to reject or delay permits for projects deemed problematic, such as the British comedy “The Death of Stalin”, which was pulled at the last minute in 2018.

The government has funded a number of patriotism-promoting pictures in recent years, not just focused on the Soviet war victory.

In December 2017 a film based on the Soviet Union’s unexpected 1972 Olympic basketball victory over the US became the highest-grossing Russian film of all time.

And in November last year the rom-com “Crimean Bridge: Made with Love!” hit theatres shortly before the structure became a flashpoint in a naval standoff between Russia and Ukraine.