Russia Delays Release of Peter Greenaway's Sexually Explicit 'Goltzius and the Pelican Company'

Greenaway Still - H 2012

Greenaway Still - H 2012

Despite questions about a political motivation, distributors say moving back the title's May 16 debut is a commercial decision.

DUBROVNIK, Croatia – The first general release of Peter Greenaway’s sexually explicit film Goltzius and the Pelican Company -- due to open in Russia on May 16 -- has been postponed until later this year.

The film was pulled from the schedule, leading to speculation that the film's sexually explicit scenes, frequent swearing, religious hypocrisy and what some observers have termed “ambiguous observations on race,” were the reason it was delayed for political reasons.

Cinema Prestige, the Moscow boutique label that was due to release the film, denied the film had been censored.

FILM REVIEW: Goltzius and the Pelican Company

Company spokeswoman, Alexandra Ternovskaya, told The Hollywood Reporter the decision was "exclusively a distributor's decision."

“The film will be rescheduled for release in the summer or the autumn,” she added.

She declined to comment on speculation that the political atmosphere in Russia, where inter-ethnic and religious tensions are present and where there are new rules outlawing swearing by print, television and radio journalists, might cause the film problems.

But the question persists: The Art Newspaper stated that two versions of the film on DVD seen by its correspondent were different, with one being several minutes shorter than the other, “suggesting cuts were being made,” the publication wrote.

The film, like most of Greenaway's work, is a complex intellectual and moral study that draws upon classical sources.

The film features Ramsey Nasr as the 16th century Dutch printmaker and engraver Hendrick Goltzius, who toured Germany and Italy in 1590. Greenaway plays with history to add an imaginary band of actors and artists – the Pelican Company – who stop at the palace of an Alsatian nobleman (played by F Murray Abraham). They enact a series of performances demonstrating the sexual taboos of the Old Testament as a tribute to the freedom of thought and expression found there.

It all goes wrong, erupting in scandal, torture, rape and murder.

For a film that opens with a scene of egotistic Margrave taking his daily public defecation, the content may help explain the delicacy around its first general release. First seen in public at the Netherlands Film Festival last September, the film has so far only been screened at festivals; most recently in Istanbul last March.

Greenaway's films have a reputation for being long, complex and demanding on their audiences. This may offer an alternative explanation for why the Russian release date has been put back.

Political sensitivities do often play a role in distribution decisions in Russia. In 2007, veteran Polish director Andrzej Wajda's film Katyn, about the murder of Poland's officer class by the NKVD (wartime predecessor of the KGB) in 1940, struggled to find a distributor and release in Russia.

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New Russian art house film, Intimate Parts -- a debut by Natasha Merkulova and Alexey Chupov -- launched for sales with a Cannes market screening. Producer Julia Mishkinene tells THR that no public money had been tapped to make the film, which should see “limited distribution in Russia.”

“We made the film without Ministry of Culture or Film Fund support,” she says, referring to the two key sources of public coin for Russian filmmakers. The film, for which she is hoping sales house Ant ! Pode Sales and Distribution will find international art house berths at Cannes, plays to foreign perceptions of “Russian cinema as something exotic.”

“It is about modern middle class people. They have personal secrets which they hide from others and reflect on freedom, happiness and sex. Like people all over the world,” Mishkinene said. “But more like Russian they afraid to be themselves and to show their innerselves.”