The most compelling image arrives late in Alexei Uchitel’s Russian melodrama Matilda. After attempting 32 fouettés in a row, the camera stares down at Matilda’s (Michalina Olszanska) bloody feet. The prima ballerina’s open sores have leaked streaks of red through her pink pointe shoes. This visual not only confirms her ambition to succeed as a dancer but also her willingness to bleed for what she wants. At the top of her wish list is Tsar Nicholas II (Lars Eidinger), or “Nicky” as she affectionately refers to him. When they’re not evading a cavalcade of villains — including his mother, a mad scientist, and a mustachioed bureaucrat — Uchitel captures these star-crossed lovers in slow motion as they frolic in exquisitely adorned aristocratic bedrooms.
This is a Slavic version of Downton Abbey, and one in which the Dowager Countess has no sense of humor. But Matilda’s fiercest antagonist turns out to be her romantic rival, a religious zealot named Alexandra Feodorovna (Luise Wolfram). From the history books we know that Alexandra married Nicholas and, in 1917, after some 20 years on the throne, both were executed. When compared to other epic love stories set in the 19th century, like Martha Fiennes’ Onegin and Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina, psychological acuity has been replaced by opulent symbolism. Those bloody feet reveal more about character than a slo-mo fainting scene at the last emperor’s coronation.
The film is not rated.