A controversial new film by Alexei Balabanov, one of Russia's leading directors, had its premiere in Moscow yesterday (March 14), sparking a political slanging match in the local media..

The film, War, which was shot last year in the Caucasus and war-torn Chechnya, features an international cast including British actor Ian Kelly, Russian actors Sergei Bodrov Jr and Alexei Chadov and Lithuanian actress Ingeborga Dapkunaite.

Released on 80 prints in 15 Moscow cinemas, it the biggest domestic release of the year and its producers STV Films have made no secret about its tough content and the fact that international audiences may find its patriotic theme and violent subject matter hard to swallow.

World sales are being handled by Intercinema Art Agency, which expects the film to provoke a wave of international interest.

Scripted by Balabanov whose two previous films Brother and Brother 2 were domestic hits as well as selling well abroad, War is likely to draw heavy criticism for its view of the conflict in Chechnya, which depicts the local people as brutal warlords who torture and behead Russian civilians as well as foreigners.

Both CNN and Sky TV were present at the film's press conference - a rare event for a Russian release. The domestic press is already awash with controversy as journalists take up positions for and against the film's political stance.

Sergei Bodrov Jr's role is bound to draw comparison with his father's Oscar-nominated Prisoner Of The Caucasus where he played a young soldier taken prisoner in Chechnya.

However, while Bodrov's film took a humanistic view of the conflict, Balabanov's film portrays the vivid horrors of war and is gritty, realistic and definitely non-Hollywood.