Russia on Wednesday cancelled the release of a Hollywood thriller set in the Stalin era on grounds it distorts history and would be shown as the country celebrates the Soviet Union's victory over Nazi Germany in WWII.
The film, "Child 44", starring Tom Hardy, Vincent Cassel and Gary Oldman, tells the story of a serial killer who targets children in the Stalin era. It is based on a fantasy novel by British writer Tom Rob Smith and was due to premiere in Russia on Thursday.
Russia's culture ministry said the film's distributors in Russia, Central Partnership, had agreed to withdraw a request for a distribution licence after ministry officials viewed the film.
"Films such as 'Child 44' should not go out in our country on mass release, earning money from our cinema audiences, not in the year of the 70th anniversary of victory, not ever," Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky wrote on the ministry's website.
The move to effectively ban a major mainstream Hollywood film just a day before it was due to premiere was unprecedented.
In recent years, Russia has cracked down harshly on negative depictions of the Soviet Union during the Stalin era, while criticism of those who fought in World War II is taboo.
The culture ministry accused the film of "distortion of historical facts and the idiosyncratic treatment of events before, during and after" World War II.
The film is set in 1952, a year before Stalin's death, and features a maverick investigator seeking a serial killer, while hindered by official attitudes that such murders are not possible in the Soviet Union.
"You realise murder is strictly a capitalist disease," French star Cassel hisses in a thick Russian accent in the film's English-language trailer.
Culture minister Medinsky slammed the film for its depiction of the horrors of the Stalin regime and said it misrepresented a country that was "one of the world leaders".
The film shows Soviet Army officers as "blood-thirsty ghouls" randomly shooting people, "especially gays," Medinsky complained.
Soviet women have to offer them sexual favours or "be sent, as is customary, to the Gulag," he added with heavy irony.
- '44 shades of vileness' -
The decision to pull the film came after the culture ministry on Tuesday gave it a distribution licence with an 18+ certificate.
The head of Central Partnership, Pavel Stepanov, issued a statement saying he was "satisfied" with the film's ban.
"We consider it's important in the future to increase state control over distribution of films that have a socially significant context," he said.
On Tuesday, Kultura state-funded arts newspaper, whose editor is a member of President Vladimir Putin's arts council, published a review of the film titled "44 shades of vileness."
"Daniel Espinosa's film is made up of lies and spitting at Russia and Russians," it wrote.
Earlier this year the outspoken culture minister voiced his dislike of Russian art-house film "Leviathan," despite its landmark victory at the Golden Globes and Oscar nomination, complaining it was full of "existentialist hopelessness."
Last month he sacked the head of a theatre in Siberia after its radical staging of a Wagner opera including images of Jesus Christ angered some Orthodox believers.