The Russian hit film that dodged the censors

Why the film was finally released is a matter of speculation, which Lockshin offers with the caveat, “Someday, hopefully somebody tells us for real”, because he has gotten no official explanation. He assumes that because Russian money was used, suppressing the film would have been an embarrassment. And there had been a flurry of publicity about the film even before it started shooting, so anticipation was already high.

On its release, it drew large and enthusiastic audiences. A Russian film producer reported that when he saw the film much of the audience cheered afterwards. He said, “People are happy they are able to experience and watch this film that has this clear anti-totalitarian and anti-repressive-state message.” In the midst of such positive responses, “withdrawing the film would have caused too much unrest”, Alexander Rodnyansky told Vanity Fair. So far the film, which reportedly cost $17 million, has earned $26 million at the box office in Russia, a huge amount for that country and many times what anyone expected.

The film does not yet have distribution outside Russia. It’s hard enough for any unconventional foreign language film, but The Master and Margarita has extra legal issues. “We’ve been trying to get all the rights out of Russia, so the international sales would be separate,” Lockshin says. He thinks the producers are close to ironing that out so they can begin talking to distributors in Europe and the US.

Permanently settled in Los Angeles, Lockshin says he does not feel like an exile because he has always had a connection to both the US and Russia. “I’m sad, of course, that I won’t be able to go back in any foreseeable future,” he says. And he now says of the head-spinning way the Russian establishment turned against him, “It was very ironic and very funny in a way as well, but also scary. It was a mix of all these emotions. But you know, I kept on thinking about how Bulgakov would be looking at this, and he would just be laughing his head off.”

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