In Russia, despite repression, a film made by an opponent and financed by public money is in first place at the box office

In Russia, a film escaped Kremlin censorship. Directed by an opponent of Putin, “The Master and Margarita” is a hit in theaters.


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A Russian flag flies near one of the Kremiln towers, in Moscow, February 2022. (ALEXANDER NEMENOV / AFP)

In Russia, the world of culture has not escaped the repression that is sweeping the country. Many artists have fled abroad, plays are banned because their authors spoke out against the war. Same thing, for example, with the successful writer Dmitri Glukhovsky whose novels have disappeared from bookstores since he was sentenced in absentia to 8 years in prison for “spreading fake news about the military.”

But censorship sometimes fails. This is the case of the latest film by Russian director Michael Lockshin, The Master and Marguerite, adapted from the novel by Mikhail Bulgakov which has just been released in theaters and immediately rose to first place at the box office. Except that Lochkin is a critic of the Kremlin, opposed to the war, and that the success of his latest feature film is causing some commotion locally.

A $20 million production

The new adaptation of Master and Marguerite was one of the most anticipated releases of the year in Russia. The film brings together many Russian stars, and at $20 million it is a very big production for the local market. It must be said that its release had to be postponed several times, notably due to the withdrawal of the American studio Universal, which left the Russian market after the invasion of Ukraine. In the end, it was a public and critical success.

Only, that was without taking into account the climate of Russia in 2024. Many propagandists and nationalists were unleashed against the director, Michael Lockshin, who fled Russia and does not hold back from openly criticizing the war in Ukraine. On pro-Kremlin Telegram channels, messages from the director hostile to power are highlighted.

Above all, we are outraged that this film was able to receive public funding. It was made in 2021, before the war. The scandal, for the moment, has not reached the top of power but some moviegoers are rushing to see it, in fear that it will disappear prematurely from the screens.

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