[b]This year, Belarusfilm has presented two premieres: Alexey Kolbyshev’s Wolves drama and Andrey Kudinenko’s Massacre — a ‘bulba-horror’. Wolves won a diploma and a prize from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Belarus-Russia Union ‘For Faith to Spiritual Ideals in Cinematic Art’ at the Golden Vityaz Film Festival. It also took the Grand Prix at the 7th Festival of Belarusian Films in Brest and the Grand Prix of Berdyansk’s Brigantine International Film Festival (Ukraine). Meanwhile, Massacre has just begun on its artistic path, making its screen debut at the International Listapad Film Festival [/b]
The two films explore conceptual opinions, presenting their own set of artistic co-ordinates and an original take on our world. Both have used national themes, though in different ways: Kolbyshev reconstructs the daily routine and human relations of the hard post-war years, while Kudinenko creates a post-modernist comedy. Each relies on the strong work of the author, although principal differences are evident.
Director Alexander Kolbyshev is a pupil of famous Belarusian film director Victor Turov. He began his career at the Belarusfilm Studio over a decade ago, but his biography extends much further. He studied at Mr. Turov’s studio, graduated from the Kiev Theatrical Institute’s Acting Department, worked at Brest Regional Drama Theatre for seven years, went to war in Afghanistan, co-wrote Black Box (a drama) and devoted two years to a popular TV criminal series, Authorised Operatives: Chronicles of the Murder Squad.
Mr. Kolbyshev admits that he loves strong ‘men’s’ stories, with sad endings. After ten years at Belarusfilm, he released his Wolves. Its script — inspired by Alexander Chekmenev’s novel — was not accepted for three years, for various reasons. On its release, Belarusfilm offered Wolves to the Berlin International Film Festival. Sadly, the offer was not accepted; it’s not easy to break into Europe after such a long break. The failure of the film distribution system, insufficient financing and a general crisis in film production presented obstacles. However, Alexander’s attempt to reach Europe did not go unnoticed. In fact, Wolves is the first Belarusian film presented for screening at an ‘A’ class film festival.
Who knows whether the film will be appreciated by European audiences? Will they admire the in-depth character portrayal of our Belarusian (Vladimir Gostyukhin, Tamara Mironova and Oksana Lesnaya) and Russian (Dmitry Ulyanov and Andrey Panin) actors? The film lacks the usual themes common at international festivals: gender issues and criticism of our consumer society. However, it is elegant, revealing the personal pain of the author.
Mr. Kolbyshev skilfully builds the faзade of his plot, taking us into an atmosphere of fear and restless expectation of the inevitable. Andrey Panin plays perhaps one of the brightest characters of his career, while Dmitry Ulyanov matches the professionalism of his work from 72 Metres. No doubt, the film is worthy of being awarded a ‘Nika’ or ‘Golden Eagle’ for ‘Best CIS Film’. Without exaggeration, Wolves is sure to be a success.
“All films need PR, from the very beginning but, certainly, on the eve of their premiere,” believes Mr. Kolbyshev. “Our Russian colleagues have no qualms about promoting themselves but we tend to be shy. Truly, modesty is inappropriate, since Wolves is suitable for ‘A’ class festivals. It is worthy of acclaim and recognition, even if it does aspire to such fame. Of course, who knows whether others will admire our classic, indulgent style? Nevertheless, the film explores common human values: the universal condition. It is not outside of our shared experience, regardless of whether you live in the West or East. As the saying goes: ‘In the eternal river of life, everyone cries in one and the same language’.”
What attracted you to Alexander Chekmenev’s novel?
I liked its absolute sincerity and truth. What is ‘truth’ on screen? This is a fully-fledged drama, told by its characters, chosen with clear reason. Alexander Chekmenev is directly connected with film making — being a director. The novel — written in 1963 — boasts unity of time, place and action, which is very important to us. I don’t like to suddenly read ‘three months later’ or ‘one year previously’ on the screen. These techniques have the right to exist but I’m not a fan. The plot of ‘Wolves’ develops immediately, in front of the audience’s eyes. This allows us to achieve maximum identification with each character.
Can you explain why so many post-Soviet films are unsuccessful and why so many are set during the war and post-war years?
A conflict of characters is vital for drama. Extreme situations allow this to be heightened. The war and post-war years offer this possibility. Victor Turov used to say, “Remember, characters are key; a film will fail if you forget about them.” His professional experience is obvious but it took me some time to understand his full meaning. A director may become engrossed in the form of his film, losing the individual characters. We all learn from experience. I began as a film maker after having worked as an actor. Theatre and cinema have much in common, since drama is also very important in the theatre. Much was clear to me immediately. Generally, all wars are similar. They only differ in the date of soldiers’ deaths, as inscribed on obelisks.
Did you take part in the Afghanistan war?
Yes. I served as a soldier. My first film — Black Box — is about a pilot during that war. I loved working on it greatly.
What did you learn from that war?
I have nothing to compare it with and don’t know what would have become of me if I had failed to participate in the war.
Does Fiodor Bondarchuk’s 9th Squadron adequately interpret the Afghan-related topic?
We should treat it as cinema, since it’s fiction. Probably, the director consulted the real 9th squadron but Mr. Bondarchuk is an artist, with his own vision. I couldn’t watch the film, only scanning the episodes. His characters fell down mines and attacked from a standing position… I think we fought in different Afghanistans! I left the topic completely after shooting ‘Black Box’ in 1994.
What is the origin of your love of the army?
In my youth, I dreamt of becoming a military pilot. I also wanted to shoot a film about modern pilots. My work has been a tribute to this old dream. I’m still looking for an appropriate script. I could write it myself but I’d need a great deal of time to do that, clearing my schedule for about six months. I don’t have that luxury at the moment. I’ve been offered almost every military script in existence but turned them down for not having strong enough plots, even when I’ve had no other work at the time. They’ve all gone on to be made by other directors.
How did you earn money then?
I participated in crowd scenes and decorating houses, taking any opportunity to earn money. However, I refused to shoot those films with weak stories. Should we speak about them then? Moreover, I was ‘sick’ with my own material. Our cinema has another problem now. Not long ago, I met a writer and wonderful playwright, Victoria Tokareva. She wished to grant me an exclusive right for her new script. Previously, I shot a four-series TV film under her novel — ‘The Bird of Happiness’. Victoria loved my work which is soon to go on sale in Moscow. She told me then, “Sasha! I’ll give you the best script!” Later, we met at her dacha near Moscow, speaking a great deal. She gave me her script and, on reading it, I realised that it was great. However, afterwards, she told me, “It costs $50,000 — no less.” It’s no sense to speak about the sum. I understand that this is her job which costs much — according to Moscow’s pricing. In the West, a worthy script might cost even 10 percent of the film’s cost. I told Victoria then, “Please understand, I don’t have such money! We represent the state cinema.” She then said, “Then, I’ll wait until you have money or sell it to someone else who can pay.” This is her profession. Apart from Ms. Tokareva, I’m in touch with some other authors whom I know for many years. However, my personal affection to them won’t reduce the sum needed for payment.
Being a professional director, I always need to have several scripts in my portfolio which suit my vision. Each director focuses on a certain genre. I’ve always loved the so-called ‘films for men’, with severe characters are circumstances.
Director Andrey Kudinenko became famous after shooting his Occupation. Mysteries. Later, he released a remake of Vladimir Menshov’s famous Draw Game, at Pavel Lungin’s studio. Eventually, he returned to his native country to shoot Massacre. The film represents Belarus in Listapad’s contest programme.
This is the story of an earl-werewolf. Its authors say that the film is full of hidden post-modernistic quotations and self-irony. However, our modern world requires much more. The time of ‘hidden’ quotations ended in the 1990s and the period of clear expression has come. It seems the director pinned too much hope of the plot, the work by artist Artur Klinov and virtuoso cameraman Pavel Zubritsky (also shooting Wolves), the music by talented Belarusian composer Oleg Khodosko and the historical dйcor. However, all these exist in separation, without forming a single picture. Meanwhile, a film needs more than mere visual effects. Hoary tales about the insufficient financing look infantile: chamber psychological Bergman-style dramas should be shot if there is lack of money to release a modern horror film.
Mr. Kudinenko attracted good actors for his Massacre. Among them are Minsk’s theatrical stars Ivan Matskevich, Vyacheslav Pavlyut, Sergey Zhuravel and Svetlana Zelenkovskaya, among others. It’s evident that they have missed true cinematic work. However, there is an impression that the director has put historical costumes on them but forgotten to provide them with ‘crutch’: the artistes don’t understand at all how to live up to their characters.
In any case, these two examples prove that the modern Belarusian cinematography is trying to master new themes and styles on the basis of the best global experience, while combining it with the national material. Of course, the result of this synthesis is always unpredictable. However, no other path is available in our globalised world to look interesting for others.
By Valentin Pepelyaev