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Russia Unleashes The Butterflies Of War

A screen grab from the trailer for "Olympius Inferno."

A screen grab from the trailer for "Olympius Inferno."

Those who missed the Russian made-for-TV action-adventure thriller "Olympius Inferno" last weekend can see it in full now on YouTube. It tells the fictional story of a Russia-born American biologist who films the opening moments of war in South Ossetia last August and then -- with his winsome girl-reporter sidekick -- must make his way back through the war zone to Russian lines in order to bring a Kremlin-friendly truth to the world: that Georgia launched an unprovoked and savage invasion of the peaceful region.

Russia's state-run Channel One television bankrolled the lavish production, rushed it to completion in less than four months, and heavily promoted its prime-time airing after the news on March 29. The effort apparently paid off, with reporting that about one-quarter of the television audience in Moscow tuned in and viewership was high across the country.

"Komsomolskaya pravda," the nation's most popular daily, ran an appreciation of the film by its correspondent who covered the real war, Dmitry Steshin. Steshin, writing as "an eyewitness," lauds the "journalistic quality" of the film and marvels how the producers managed to recreate the conflict so accurately.

He confesses that after about half an hour, he had trouble watching the film: "I could sit in my chair in front of the television. I paced around the apartment aimlessly and fixed some tea about 10 times. I couldn't look at those basements full of women, the elderly, children. I couldn't watch the people running under gunfire, the cars with blown-out glass flying over lawns, the burning multistory apartment blocks, the corpses lying against fences, mad animals wandering through the city streets, the sense of doom hanging in the air. The only thing missing was the sweetish smell of burnt powder and the odor of corpses lying out under the August sun."

Steshin concludes by saying the film is a "significant event" because "for the first time Russia has tried to defend its point of view through a work of art, just like Hollywood has done for many decades."

The daily also printed short reactions to the film from political and cultural notables. South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity said, "the theme of the information aggression carried out by Georgia against our republic was clearly developed." The father of a Russian soldier killed in the conflict said, "the film showed the most important thing: that Georgia was the aggressor." An official with the Emergency Situations Ministry who said he brought humanitarian aid to South Ossetia during the conflict noted that "the film didn't show half [of the destruction], but it must be seen anyway."

The reviewer at the RosBalt news agency seemed to have been watching a different film, one that "would be hard to call an artistic film since it is such a thoroughly propagandistic work." "Nezavisimaya gazeta," under the headline "The War Continues On The Television Screen," summarized reactions from the blogosphere. "There hasn't been a single film produced in the last few years that has made such an impression on me as this one," one blogger wrote. "Our filmmakers have brought to the world a documentary film that perfectly fit into the 'artistic' format."

Another wrote: "Director Igor Voloshin says his film casts light on who was the aggressor in the August war. I don't understand -- does anyone have doubts? Everyone has already been enlightened."

-- Robert Coalson

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