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Danish director Thomas Vinterberg on Sunday presented his new submarine catastrophe film Kursk at the Rome Film Festival. The pic, which stars Colin Firth, Matthias Schoenaerts and Lea Seydoux, had its world premiere in Toronto.
Luc Besson’s Europacorp produced the film, which is based on the tragic true story of a series of explosions that sunk the Russian Kursk nuclear submarine to the bottom of the Barents Sea in August 2000. Many crewmembers died instantly, but a small crew managed to seal themselves in a safe rear compartment. With the clock ticking down, other nations offered their assistance, but the Russian navy insisted they had it under control.
In Rome, Vinterberg was asked at a press conference why he cut the character of Russian leader Vladimir Putin from the film.
The Hollywood Reporter had revealed that Putin had appeared in earlier versions of the screenplay, and was featured in the source material, Robert Moore’s A Time to Die. But Besson wanted to focus on a humanistic story over a political drama. Some security experts hypothesized that critiquing the leader could expose film studios to hacker retaliation.
But Vinterberg said he never intended for Putin to be a character in his version of the film.
“There is a story on the internet, that we were somehow intimidated by Russian authorities. It’s all bullshit. This was an artistic decision solely,” said the director. “I made the decision because I think this movie was, first and foremost, about humanity. And I did not want this movie to reduce itself to become a finger-pointing movie against specific persons.”
Added Vinterberg: “Also, we do not know how or how much Putin was involved with this. It was 100 days into his job and he had a navy, the Russian fleet. We don’t know who made these decisions. To that regard, I found it nobler and more humble to change the names and take out Putin. But also, I didn’t want to see yet another actor try to impersonate a president.”
Schoenaerts originally brought the script to Vinterberg and convinced him to take it on. Vinterberg described it as “dramatized reality,” with the invention of a love story to explore what happens to a family when death is on the horizon.
“This film is a bargain between fiction and reality,” said the helmer. “A lot of the reality is kept a secret on the bottom of the sea. We don’t know exactly what happened. But through extensive research and forensic reports, we know quite a bit.
“Even from the beginning, there was the big challenge of the language,” he continued. “They speak English. They’re supposed to be Russians, which I also found was a bargain with reality.”
Vinterberg announced that the pic has been sold to Russia, although it does not yet have a release date. “I’m very curious to see how the Russian people will perceive it if they get a chance to see it,” he said.
The filmmaker was also asked how he cast Firth in the film. “We’ve been trying to work together for years,” said Vinterberg, who explained that he admired Firth not only as a great actor but also as a great human being. “I would always choose Colin Firth for anything — also for my female lead in some other movie,” he joked.
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