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Pardo alla carriera to Marlen Khutsiev – War & Peace

Marlen Khutsiev

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Zastava Il’iča (Bastion Il’ich) and Ijul’skij dožd’ (July Rain) are both emblematic of the Khrushchev Thaw, representing a Soviet New Wave. Did you feel you were part of a new, worldwide cinematic movement?

No, I had no opinion on the matter. I just made pictures as I felt was right, that’s it. There was something in the air. I hadn’t even seen L’eclisse, my favorite Antonioni, until after we’d wrapped Ijul’skij dožd’ (July Rain). I was just caught in the rain one day, so I stepped into a phone booth and started fantasizing...
 

Only one of your films, Byl mesjaz maj (It Was the Month of May), deals with WWII explicitly, and yet the war echoes throughout your oeuvre. The veterans’ reunion in Ijul’skij dožd’ (July Rain), the postwar everyday life in Dva Fjodora (Two Fyodors), the father’s photo in Zastava Il’iča (Bastion Il’ich).

Absolutely. Even in my first movie there is a poem about the war. The thing is, I didn’t fight. I had been a sickly boy, so I was turned down because I still looked like a child. This is sort of like a debt I’ve been repaying ever since.
 

One of your most memorable scenes is the meeting with the dead father, killed in combat, at the end of Zastava Il’iča (Bastion Il’ich). This search for the lost father is another one of your motifs. How autobiographical is it?

My father died in 1937. I woke up one morning, and he wasn’t there. My stepmother told me he had gone away on a business trip. What kind of business trip? After a while I understood her. Once, when I was already an adult living in Moscow, I had a dream of meeting my father on the bus and hugging him. Zastava Il’iča (Bastion Il’ich) is, of course, a deeply personal picture. I even used to say that the three main characters were all me. One of them stood for my inner turmoil and doubts; the second one, for my family situation at the time; and finally, the third one was the person I aspired to be.
 

Beskonečnost’ (Infinitas) is not just your magnum opus but also a retrospective of all your previous films. It’s filled with allusions: for example, you replicate the dance-floor scene from Dva Fjodora (Two Fyodors).

So it seems. There are references, of course, though it hadn’t really occurred to me. I came up with Beskonečnost’ (Infinitas) long ago, while I was working on Zastava Il’iča (Bastion Il’ich). Everything at once: the title, the selections from Bach, the meeting of the protagonist with his younger self. Everything except the ending which took me a while to write. It’s my most serious film. It may be a little too long, but I couldn’t bring myself to edit anything out. On the contrary, I had to throw away a subplot – the German one. My character didn’t fight in the war, and yet he meets a German POW... The scene of the soldiers leaving home in 1914, which is for me a very painful page in history, was pretty short in the screenplay, but it ended up growing into an elaborate, complex sequence.
 

The protagonist receives worn-out daguerreotypes from a stranger who quotes a Pushkin poem. “You speak as though you were his contemporary”, the protagonist says. Let’s talk about your most recent project Nevechernyaya (Not Yet Evening), the story of Chekhov meeting Tolstoy, which you’ve been working on for over decade. Is it based on archival materials?

No. All the dialogue is fictional. My son wrote it. The only factual basis is that Tolstoy actually visited Chekhov in the hospital when he was sick. There’s a letter by Chekhov that says, “Tolstoy dropped by. We talked about immortality”. That’s it. Is it possible nowadays for a distinguished man of letters to visit a young writer? That really struck a chord with me. Then I came up with the idea for the second part of the movie, which matters a lot to me. It’s about Chekhov visiting Tolstoy in Crimea. This is where the theme of immortality is resolved. We see some shoots sprouting, and Tolstoy says, “This is it. This is immortality right here.”

Boris Nelepo
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