Putin's life move to celluloid
A young KGB spy falls in love with an air hostess called Lyudmila and then conquers the Kremlin. Sounds familiar? The plot of Russia's latest film bears a remarkable resemblance to the life of President Vladimir Putin.
The film, Kiss Me Off The Record, breaks a taboo which has kept Putin's love life firmly under wraps.
The official release is set for Valentine's Day, two weeks before Russians vote for a successor to Putin, who is stepping down after eight years in office. Backers hope to outdo recent Hollywood hit Pirates of the Caribbean in Russian DVD sales.
Producer Anatoly Voropayev, a former deputy regional governor, told a news conference no one consulted the Kremlin about the film, which was shot from 2001 to 2003. He denied reports that Putin's wife helped write the film's plot.
"We live and work under a certain first person so when we speak about politics we cannot just ignore that," he said.
Putin has always tried to keep his family out of the limelight and Lyudmila, 50, has sometimes seemed nervous in public. They have two daughters Maria and Katerina but Russian media have never reported on the children.
Kiss Me Off The Record features key scenes from Putin's life, including his first meeting with Lyudmila, their 1983 marriage and subsequent move to Dresden, Germany where Putin worked as a KGB spy.
Lyudmila is shown badly injured after a car accident, the future First Family is shown escaping a fire at the family dacha outside St Petersburg and Lyudmila is even shown questioning a touchy Putin about the real nature of his job in Dresden.
Putin, 55, is played by Andrei Panin, a respected actor known for his role as a corrupt policeman in Brigada, a mini-series about crime groups in the early 1990s.
When asked about the likeness with Putin, Panin said with an ironic smile: "Am I the same, perhaps from the back ?"
Pressed about the negative qualities of the president, Panin seemed lost for words until saying: "Yes, he is late a lot." Putin is known for running late.
Few film directors have dared to delve into the family life of Russian presidents in a country where intrusive reporting about current and former Kremlin leaders is still unthinkable.
Prominent political journalist Sergei Dorenko said taboos about delving into the political life of Putin would have made such a film hard to release when it was first finished in 2003.
"Russia is a country with a Byzantine tradition in which the family is much more of a closed affair than in Western Europe - it would have been scary to even think about this type of film two years ago," he said.
"But now that everyone believes Putin will leave there is an attempt to exploit, to sell his story. It is an interesting mixture of Byzantine culture and capitalist marketing."
And while Putin may bring in the crowds, the real heroine is Lyudmila, said the film's artistic director Oleg Fomin.
"It is a family love story above all, it is a story about a woman whose husband is very busy at work, a woman who wants a family and children and wants to see her beloved person close to her," he said.
Putin is known for springing surprises so it was not entirely unexpected that the film's makers refused to say how it ended.