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Review: Naître Svetlana Staline


- Swiss director Gabriel Tejedor takes us through one of the most incredible and intriguing fates of the 20th century

Review: Naître Svetlana Staline

Presented in its world premiere at the FIFDH in Geneva, where it competes in the Focus Competition, Naître Svetlana Staline is the fourth feature by Geneva-based director Gabriel Tejedor, who once again takes us to the heart of the former USSR with its conflicts, paradoxes and secrets. A tireless explorer of a Russia suffocated by its own cumbersome past, Gabriel Tejedor focuses his camera this time on the "princess of the Kremlin," who in her journey towards a supposed freedom will also make a stopover in Switzerland.

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Told chronologically through archival images, interviews and clever animated interludes (courtesy of Marc Trompetter, Elisa Gómez Alvarez, Timo Kreitz of Studio Baguette Magique), the incredible life of Svetlana Staline begins in the bosom of an unusual family that gradually crumbles, leaving her alone with her destiny. Amidst small acts of rebellion and quick marriages, Stalin's sparkling daughter struggles to impose herself in a society succumbing to her father's image.

It is in 1967, in the midst of the Cold War, that Svetlana, the only daughter of the Russian dictator, decides to take the road to freedom by disrupting the international diplomatic system. Having travelled to New Delhi where her late husband was born, Svetlana takes advantage of a moment of weakness (or rather drunkenness) on the part of a diplomat to get hold of his passport and run to the American embassy where she seeks asylum.

A sort of femme fatale from a film noir, the princess of the Kremlin abandons her two children and communism to live her life outside her father's shadow – but things soon turn out to be far more complicated than she thought. Once again imprisoned within mechanisms that consider her only as a pawn on the cruel chessboard of international politics, Svetlana does not intend to give up and starts writing her autobiography, a burning document that she carries with her on her various journeys like a bomb ready to explode.

From the splendours of the Soviet empire to the solitude of a Swiss convent where she hides while waiting for the United States to decide to take her in, Svetlana never stops dreaming of a freedom that, in the end, she will not know how to manage. Beyond the pragmatism and coldness that characterise Stalin's daughter, the film also allows us to glimpse the personal torments that agitate her. Daughter of a cruel age, struck by sudden bereavements and exposed to senseless violence since childhood, Svetlana seems incapable of truly connecting with the reality around her, of genuinely coming into contact with others, of exposing herself in all her fragility. It is then her children, whose story could certainly be the material for another film, who speak for her, who release their anger by rejecting her excuses. At the end of her life, Svetlana finds herself alone with her pride and her disappointed hopes. The price of freedom was higher than she thought.

Naître Svetlana Staline embarks on the far from easy task of presenting a character with a thousand contradictions who embodies the very history of the 20th century. Beyond the character, it is the wounds inflicted by history on a single human being that intrigue. Svetlana did not choose to be Stalin's daughter but had to come to terms with this fate. Like an invisible thread, everyone's family history traps and nurtures us at the same time and this is what the film tries to highlight.

Naître Svetlana Staline is produced by Geneva-based Akka Films, RTS Radio Télévision Suisse and France's Temps Noir. Mediawan handles international sales.

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(Translated from Italian)

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