Cannes 2012: Paul Schrader to Pen Script for Russian Ballerina Biopic (Exclusive)

Paul Schrader Headhsot 2011
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The untitled film, financed by a Kremlin-backed fund, will tell the story of Mathilde Kschessinska, a mistress to the last Russian tsar described by producers as "the ultimate femme fatale."

CANNES -- Writer-director Paul Schrader will write the story of the adored and reviled Russian prima ballerina Mathilde Kschessinska, a mistress to the last Russian tsar described by producers as "the ultimate femme fatale."

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The biopic -- which is being financed by a Kremlin-backed fund -- is being produced by Russian comedian, pop singer and TV host Vladimir Vinokur and Russian ballet impresario Vladislav Moskalev in collaboration with American producers David Weisman (Kiss of the Spider Woman) and Anatoly Davydov.

The movie, the first time a big-name American screenwriter is doing a Russian film about an iconic figure from the country's past, is financed by the V. Vinokur Fund for the Support of Russian Culture & Arts.

The untitled film will be shot in English with a mixed Russian and American cast. The production team said they expect "an internationally acclaimed director" for the film to be announced soon.

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“Kschessinska’s life is a powerful metaphor for Russian culture and evokes the best of Russian arts,” said Schrader.  “She was not only a witness to the critical period of Russian history, she was a player in that history, only to be thrown aside.”

He added: “Kschessinska’s story gives me an exciting opportunity to create historical fiction not only through direct narrative but also through the ballets she danced and defined.”

The ballerina rose from poverty, thanks to her dancing skills, charisma and ambition.

"As the Russian Empire was falling apart, a tiny ballerina caused scandal, heartbreak and intrigue among the royal family," a description of her life provided by the producers said. "Kschessinska played mistress to at least four aristocratic men who controlled the crumbling Romanov dynasty, including Russia’s last tsar, Nicholas II."

Her son's paternity remained in dispute, though, "and her dream to become mother of the tsar would never be realized," they added. After narrowly escaping the Bolsheviks, she taught ballet in Paris, where she died in 1971 a few months before her 100th birthday.

“Kschessinska was worshipped and reviled,” said Weisman. “Nicknames such as ‘Black-Eyed She-Devil of the Imperial Ballet’ and ‘Mathilde the Magnificent’ echo the seething jealousy and boundless admiration Kschessinska provoked during her time."

Said Moskalev, “This project is not just about making a movie for the international market, it is a window into true understanding of the Russian soul."