Turmoil fails to derail Moscow fest

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LONDON -- The 29th annual Moscow International Film Festival opens Thursday in the Russian capital with an impressive range of competition titles despite a major management upheaval just three months ago.

Simmering differences between the festival's powerful president, director Nikita Mikhalkov, and Renat Daletyarov, head of its long-running management contractor Interfest, came to a head in March when a new company was appointed to run Russia's only A-list film festival.

Months of internal turmoil, which delayed programrs from assembling suitable competition films, came to an end with the appointment of Mediafest to run the festival, a company with reportedly close connections to Mikhalkov's Tri-Te studios.

Russian-speaking Kirsi Tykkylainen, former head of the international department of the Finnish Film Fund, was appointed new program head for the 10-day showcase.

Now a field of 20 largely European movies will compete for the festival's top prize, the Golden St. George, under a jury headed by Australian director Fred Schepisi.

European films include controversial German Hitler farce "Mein Fuehrer: The Truly Truest Truth About Adolf Hitler" by Dani Levy and French 17th century costume drama "Moliere" by Laurent Tirard.

Hollywood offerings include Zoe Cassavetes' well-received romantic comedy "Broken English" and Anna Biller's 2006 drama "Viva," about a bored 1970s California housewife who sets off to find love and excitement.

Chinese director Yin Lichuan's strange tale of a marriage match-making event, "The Park," and Hungarian helmer Janos Szasz's "Opium," about a pre-World War I doctor's intimate involvement with a drug he uses to cure madness, also are in selection.

Following hard on the heels of Russia's national film festival, Kinotavr, which closed in Sochi last week, Moscow's competition has little of note from domestic directors, though Larisa Sadilova, noted for her acute observations of post-Soviet Russian life and society, is in competition with "Nothing Personal," the story of a private eye paid to spy on two young women.

"Traveling With Pets" by Vera Storozheva -- about a woman released from a forced marriage who thrills in her new freedom -- and Valeri Ogorodnikov's provincial love triangle "Putina" complete the Russian presence.

The festival opens with Serbian director Emir Kusturica's new film "Promise Me This" and closes June 30 with French director Claude Lelouch's "Tracks" (Roman de gare), in which Fanny Ardant plays a femme fatale writer who meets an escaped serial killer.

Perspectives, the festival's special competition for debut directors, has a 12-strong lineup that includes 95-year-old Yamamoto Yasuhiro's wartime docudrama "The Warship That Walked on Land" and Russian director Arkady Yakhnis' "Horror Which Is Always With You," which examines the lives of a middle-aged couple for whom the tenderness of love is but a distant memory.
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