Catherine the Great's life seems to have been made for the cinema. Countless love affairs and wild sexual escapades, betrayal, revenge, murder - there is no shortage of historical drama. But Oleg Erdmann, a young Russian filmmaker, seeks to discover and portray the real Catherine, her essential, emotional truth.When he is dropped from the film he initially scripted - his name summarily excised from the credits - Erdmann is cast adrift in a changing world. A second chance beckons when an old friend enriched by the capitalist new dawn invites him to refashion his opus for a television serial. But Erdmann is made acutely aware that the market exerts its own forms of censorship. While he comes to accept that each age must cast Catherine in its own image, one question continues to nag at him. Was the empress, whose sexual appetites were sated with favours bought with titles and coin, ever truly loved? In his search for an answer, Erdmann will find a love of his own that brings the fulfilment that filmmaking once promised him.
In Soviet Russia the desire for freedom is also a desire for the freedom to love. Lovers live as outlaws, traitors to the collective spirit, and love is more intense when it feels like an act of resistance. Now entering middle age, an orphan recalls the fleeting moments that have never left him - a scorching day in a blossoming orchard with a woman who loves another; a furtive, desperate affair in a Black Sea resort; the bunch of snowdrops a crippled childhood friend gave him to give to his lover. As the dreary Brezhnev era gives way to Perestroika and the fall of Communism, the orphan uncovers the truth behind the life of Dmitri Ress, whose tragic fate embodies the unbreakable bond between love and freedom.