Home » How Zelenskyy conquered Moscow (as Napoleon), only to fall for a Russian general’s cunning plan

How Zelenskyy conquered Moscow (as Napoleon), only to fall for a Russian general’s cunning plan

It’s hard to believe that only a decade ago Zelenskyy was a comic film star in Russia while Putin was Russia’s president. Zelenskyy was then head of Studio-Kvartal 95, the entertainment company he founded. His company co-produced the film along with two Russian studios. It was shot in Ukraine, and intended as a sequel to director Maryus Vaysberg’s 2008 comedy Hitler Goes Kaput!

Here’s the trailer for the film:

So it’s 1812, Napoleon is at the height of his power after conquering most of Europe. Now he sets his sights on invading Russia. At the border, he encounters a problem we’ve heard a lot about today—mud. His horse sinks into the mud, but fortunately Russia hasn’t really mobilized and its border is lightly defended.

The Russian army is weak and unprepared, and Napoleon’s army cuts through the defenses and captures Moscow. Now he is planning to attack the Russian capital, St. Petersburg, and finish his conquest.

But in the film, and in real life, the Russians actually had a competent commander-in-chief: Field Marshal Mikhail Kutuzov. The real Kutuzov had studied George Washington’s strategy in the American Revolution and realized that you didn’t have to win battles to ultimately win the war. So Kutuzov waged a war of attrition, weakening Napoleon’s forces and disrupting their supply lines.

In the movie, Kutuzov comes up with a cunning plan to distract Napoleon and get him to linger in Moscow so he has time to build his forces and train the new recruits. Yes, even in a comedic farce the screenwriters knew enough that you couldn’t throw mobiks into battle without sufficient training.

Kutuzov realizes that Napoleon’s biggest weakness is that he’s an insatiable ladies’ man. He knows that no Russian woman is capable of resisting Napoleon’s charms, and only the best tempter in the Russian army could carry out the special military operation to distract Napoleon.

And that’s Poruchik (Lieutenant) Rzhevsky (played by Pavel Derevyanko). Poruchik Rzhevsky is a folkloric charactera dashing Napoleonic-era hussar and ladies’ man who’s a popular subject of Russian jokes.

There’s only one problem. Rzhevsky is serving a life sentence in prison for promoting the sexual revolution. So the Russian generals offer Rzhevsky a pardon if he’ll undertake the mission to dress as a woman and tempt Napoleon. Does that sound familiar?

In a bizarre scene, Rzhevsky is fired in a giant cannonball to the outskirts of Moscow, where he meets up with Count Leo Tolstoy who assists in his mission. (Never mind that the Russian novelist wasn’t born until 1828.)

Tolstoy takes the lieutenant to a Moscow brothel, where he undergoes a makeover and is transformed into Countess Rzhevskaya. So the savior of Russia turns out to be a drag queen—pretty bizarre considering that in 2013 Russia passed its first “Don’t Say Gay” law.

Countess Rzhevskaya meets Napoleon at a grand ball. He’s smitten with the countess who plays hard to get. But the plan starts to go awry when Rzhevsky meets the woman of his dreams—Miss Europe 1810 Natasha Rostova (heroine of War and Peace, played by Svetlana Khodchenkova) at a spa/gym. He desperately wants to meet her, but first he must get some men’s clothing.

He then encounters Jean-Claude Van Damme, in a cameo, who refuses to surrender his clothes. Rzhevsky overcomes the Muscles from Brussels, takes his clothes, and meets Natasha, who also plays hard to get. Later, it turns out that she’s also on a special mission: cross-dressing as a young French officer to spy on Napoleon. 

After leaving the spa, the countess is whisked away by French security headed by the Marquis de Mazo Sad who has been looking for her on Napoleon’s orders. The countess had dropped her shoe at the ball, and its used it to identify the countess. She ends up tied to a chair in an underground cell where Napoleon tries to seduce her. 

More complications ensue as Countess Rzhevskaya toys with the smitten Napoleon, while Lieutenant Rzhevsky lusts for Natasha. There’s even a double same-sex marriage ceremony, although none of the participants realize it. I’m not going to spoil the ending, but it does, in its way, sort of conform with history.

So here’s the whole film. It’s in Russian without subtitles, but it’s enough of a slapstick comedy that viewers can follow the basic plot.

Ironically, the film was banned from distribution in Ukraine in 2015 before Zelenskyy became president. The reason was that the cast included the Russian comedian Yuri Galtsev, who played a supporting role as the mayor of Moscow. Galtsev was included on a list of persons who threaten the national security of Ukraine, and the distribution of films with the participation of people on the list is prohibited.


November 2022