Hitting cinema screens in Russia this month was a new light-hearted romcom - a story of love and construction along the Kerch Strait, the body of water that separates Russia from Crimea.

The film is called The Crimean Bridge. Made with Love!, and the fact that Crimea was annexed by Russia from Ukraine in 2014 makes the protagonist's exclamation, "welcome to the Krimski Bridge, the biggest bridge in Russia!" somewhat controversial, as the majority of world leaders do not recognise Crimea as Russian.

It was not particularly popular with Russian audiences, however, the Russian political establishment took great interest.

"The theme of Crimean Bridge is something that concerns the whole country," said Dmitri Peskov, President Vladimir Putin's press secretary, at the premiere; adding that the film "must be funny".

It is a film loved by politicians, not by cinema-goers; and the story was not written by a known screenwriter - but by a journalist, Margarita Simonyan. As the editor-in-chief of state-funded news network RT, Simonyan is one of Russia's most influential journalists, a surprising yet ideal author for such a patriotic blockbuster.

This is one in a long line of such films produced in the past few years, and it had financial backing from the government, which contributed at least $1.5m to the Crimean Bridge budget, according to the BBC.

Patriotism is always called for in difficult times, for any country. There is a need to both distract and unite people.

Larisa Malukova, film critic, Novaya Gazeta

The current minister of culture, Vladimir Medinsky, has been vocal in his support for "patriotic filmmaking" and under his leadership, the ministry has funded countless productions centred on the heroism and victories of Russia or the Soviet Union - whether in war, sports or space exploration.

In addition to Crimean Bridge, this year's releases include T-34, a war film about Soviet soldiers who escape from the Germans in a tank, and the football-themed Coach, which came out just before the FIFA World Cup in Russia.

Medinsky is a divisive figure: he has strong ideas about what it means to be Russian as well as an ambiguous relationship with facts.

"For one thing, he was accused of plagiarism while kind of carrying out his doctoral dissertation and he has written books on history, [which] kind of bring in elements of fiction," says Vlad Strukov, associate professor of film at Leeds University. "He's also a member of a very specific association known as the Military Historical Society which views the second world war as a kind of a cornerstone of Russian identity."

This makes Medinsky an ideal political appointment since World War II, known as the Great Patriotic War, has become the main vehicle for restoring national pride in Putin's Russia.

"Patriotism is always called for in difficult times, for any country. There is a need to both distract and unite people," according to Larisa Malukova, a film critic at Novaya Gazeta.

"The theme of patriotism was displayed constantly in Soviet films, the struggle against the counter-revolutionaries, enemies of the people, as well as the depiction of grand socialist construction projects. We do not like to dwell on our mistakes and failures, we concentrate on victories. This principle of making such state-supported films is being resurrected."

Contributors

Larisa Malukova - film critic, Novaya Gazeta

Vitaly Mansky - documentary filmmaker

Vlad Strukov - associate professor, Leeds University

Filip Perkon - founder, London Russian Film Week

Source: Al Jazeera