The horrors of the nearly 900-day Nazi siege of Leningrad during World War II left a mutation on the genetic code of the survivors that was passed on to their progeny, including a preternatural sense of civic responsibility. Russian President Vladmir Putin, born in what is now called St. Petersburg, has got the golden gene.
It sounds like the stuff of a bad pulp sci-fi thriller. But in Russia, the theory is getting silver-screen treatment.
Officials from the Russian Culture Ministry and State Duma as well as World War II veterans got a chance to watch a special closed screening of Blockade Blood, Genetics, directed by Eleonora Lukyanova, on January 18.
The siege by German and Finnish forces during World War II lasted for 872 days -- one of the longest and deadliest in history. Estimates of casualties vary, but some sources state that 1 million residents of Leningrad died from hunger, disease, exposure, and shelling.
WATCH: Blockade Blood, Genetics (in Russian, no English subtitles)
According to the newspaper Novaya Gazeta, the film poses the question why a large segment of the city's population is united into "one psychological-behavioral group" without any visible ancestral link?
Obviously some genetic mutation, the film argues, which all those born of siege survivors share.
And how does this gene manifest itself? According to Blockade Blood, Genetics, it gives the holders a "high responsibility for what is happening in the country and the city," Novaya Gazeta said.
The film then lists some of St. Petersburg's native sons, with a few daughters thrown in, who are among the fortunate few. Putin, who was born in 1952, nine years after the siege was lifted, is one of those.
Others Leningrad natives whom the film asserts also have the gene include the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, and Sergei Mironov.
Who's Sergei Mironov? Only the head of the Just Russia party, which backed production of the 48-minute film.
"I’m proud that I and the party took such an active role in the creation of the film," Mironov was quoted by Novaya Gazeta as saying.
Putin himself has spoken openly and written about the privations of his parents and relatives, many of whom died during the siege, including an older brother.
The film highlights the work of Oleg Glotov, from the Ott Research Institute of Obstetrics and Gynecology in St. Petersburg.
Glotov has argued in the past that, by studying survivors of the siege, he and his colleagues identified three gene variations associated with a more efficient metabolism in people who are starving.
Commenting on Glotov’s work, geneticist Stephen O'Brien told Science magazine that the findings were "fascinating," but warned that the small pool of survivors made the results "very difficult to interpret."
With much of Russia’s media kept on a tight leash by the Kremlin, Putin is frequently depicted in films, videos, books, and articles as being strong, heroic, and adventurous, among other things.