Belye Rosy: 28 years later

[b]While preparing for my conversation with the playwright Alexey Dudarev, I decided once again to enjoy the film Belye Rosy (based on his play of the same name), which was directed by Igor Dobrolyubov and filmed at Belarusfilm Studio in 1983 [/b]The same old questions came to mind: what makes the film’s characters so vivid and why do I constantly feel that they live in some town in Belarus? That was perhaps the reason why I eagerly welcomed Dudarev’s recent announcement to his readers and potential film viewers that he was planning a sequel to the beloved film Belye Rosy. The new script has already been published in SB Belarus Today. The characters of the film still live in the world of virtual images only. As Dudarev said during our talk, the script is still looking for investors, sponsors, and, naturally, a tough producer with a team of professionals.
While preparing for my conversation with the playwright Alexey Dudarev, I decided once again to enjoy the film Belye Rosy (based on his play of the same name), which was directed by Igor Dobrolyubov and filmed at Belarusfilm Studio in 1983

The same old questions came to mind: what makes the film’s characters so vivid and why do I constantly feel that they live in some town in Belarus? That was perhaps the reason why I eagerly welcomed Dudarev’s recent announcement to his readers and potential film viewers that he was planning a sequel to the beloved film Belye Rosy. The new script has already been published in SB Belarus Today. The characters of the film still live in the world of virtual images only. As Dudarev said during our talk, the script is still looking for investors, sponsors, and, naturally, a tough producer with a team of professionals.
When reflecting over the pheno-menon of Dudarev as a playwright and considering the background to his creative life, which was revealed to me during our interview, I perceived once again that Dudarev’s sincere feelings and dynamism are the very ‘elixir of life’ that enlivens his heroes. Alexey actively uses his spiritual life as material for his writing, enriching it with vivid and plausible features that bring it to life. The ‘Pygmalion’ theme may not be new, but it still requires a good artist to create something fresh.
Perhaps my reasoning is somewhat mystical. So be it. But neither cinema nor theatre can survive without fiction that forces us to laugh or to cry and makes us believe in miracles. A good play or script is always a work of fiction, created by the author’s will, despite the presence of real actors and a real environment.
So, readers, welcome behind the scenes of the artistic ritual performed by playwright Alexey Dudarev, who was invited to our office for this interview. By the way, listening to him is a great pleasure — he is something of a one-man show. That is not surprising considering that Dudarev, arts director of the Belarusian Army Drama Theatre, is professionally trained in the performing arts.

Alexey, can you remember how the script of Belye Rosy-1 came to be written?
Honestly, I was not supposed to write this script. Belarusfilm studio announced a contest and I was invited to take part. At that time I was already known as a script writer of such films as ‘The Wheel’, ‘Neighbours’, ‘The Debut’. But I refused since I was busy with other work. Nevertheless, the studio editor at that time, Lilia Beldyukevich, called me at home and tried to persuade me, saying that a dozen pages about village life — which was so familiar to me — would be more than enough. So, I signed the application to write the script (which was called ‘The Village’) and undertook to write it.

So in effect, you receive a commission for a film?
Right. But I strongly opposed the title ‘The Village’. So, I invented the legend about our forefathers who were called ‘belye rossy’. I remember the reaction of Ivan Shamyakin (People’s Writer of Belarus): ‘Alexey, what have you invented? It is not true. Leave it’. He was one of the judges. I have naturally always respected Ivan Shamyakin, but nevertheless I didn’t follow his advice. And, with time, I was proved right because it has indeed become a new concept in Belarusian culture. Sometimes, I even hear how the Belarusian people are called ‘belye rossy’. The idea of white dew (translated into Russian as ‘belaya rosa’) came to mind when I imagined my native village. Good or bad, I got carried away by the script writing. And only when I saw the film for the first time did I realise my mistake in hesitating to accept this job. Even now, I feel very grateful to Beldyukevich who persuaded me to sign the application.

How did the most famous master of Belarusian film, Igor Dobrolyubov, come to direct the film?
Very simple. He chose the script, and later he called me and said, “Lesha, I’ve never read anything better on this subject. Would you mind if I directed the film?” I almost dropped the phone. How could I, a youngster, refuse such a renowned film director? I was more than happy to work with him. I only remember saying: “Of course, I don’t mind. Igor Mikhailovich, I know you and appreciate your talent”. I wish all my scripts were treated the way he treated mine. Dobrolyubov significantly developed and deepened it…

So, he skilfully translated it from a script into the language of film?
You are right. Most importantly, he didn’t try to change the feeling of the script, which reflected my view of people who don’t always fit into regular life, people who are often called odd. This oddness was a necessary element of the film’s success. As a director, he didn’t break this fine narrative arc, but simply developed it. So, I believe it was actually his film, built on sounds foundations established by me.
I recently watched it again. I can admit, just as in the past, that it cuts to the quick, making one ponder one’s own feelings.
In my view, it is one of the major attributes of this film.

Who was responsible for the casting?
Traditionally, casting is the right of the director. Of course, I wanted to see Belarusian actors in it. There are some, but well-known Russian names predominate in the film.

That is natural, as a film’s success largely depends on the hype surrounding the actors…
Undoubtedly, that is a major factor for success. What’s more important is that all the actors should fit organically into the film. Let’s take, for instance, Stas Sadalsky (Honoured Artist of Russia). The role didn’t fit him in any way. However, with the help of Dobrolyubov his character turned out to be touchingly organic.

Did Dobrolyubov listen to your wishes? Did you collaborate at all?
Of course, I gave Dobrolyubov some advice and information. But he was responsible for all the decisions. Once I phoned him and asked, “Igor Mikhailovich, do you have a tape recorder at home?” He answered, “Of course, I do”. I said, “Can I take an hour of your time? I would like to come to your place and read the script the way I see it. You record everything and then, perhaps, some of my intonations may prompt you. There are many things that I can’t explain in words…” Dobrolyubov agreed. During the next few days, we locked ourselves in his small home office and I read the script my way. I am not sure if the recording still exists. Later, when the first cut of the film was shot I saw the author on the screen. Not myself as the author. But the one who feels more acutely than others do. Perhaps this is not an accurate analogy, but I believe that I felt like a mother feels for her child. It was some inexplicable, profound connection.
Whenever a director or an actor feels what I feel in my play, they do a very good job. Otherwise, the result is just ordinary.

Did you influence the filming process?
No, I didn’t interfere in the process. I tried to make myself scarce during filming. However, I controlled the entire audio-dubbing. I recollect with great gratitude Igor Mikhailovich’s question after every dubbing session, “Lesha, do you have anything to add?” And frequently, I made notes on Nikolay Karachentsev (People’s Artist of Russia)’s intonations and those of other actors. I once tried to correct Boris Novikov (Russian Drama and Film Artist), but later I regretted it and never again made any remarks on his work. The reason was Novikov was like one of the elements. It was absolutely useless to disagree with him. He could act in an absolutely unpredictable manner on the set. He was a natural Russian joker, a genius. And it was better to accept him as he was because he did it like no one else could. In my view, the film was one of his best cinema performances. Unfortunately, Boris Kuzmich is no longer with us.

Was it necessary to adjust or cut the script directly during filming?
I had to make some corrections, but not on the set. One day, I received a call from Dobrolyubov who said, “Lesha, let’s go fishing together,” although I have never been a passionate fisher. So, we went to Smolevichi in the Minsk Region, and, taking our rods, went into the water. The water was very clear and cold. I could see the float and even the bait and couldn’t understand the real reason for our trip. At some point, Dobrolyubov started talking, “Lesha, we need one more genre scene, the material doesn’t fit together”. And he explained where exactly in the script I was supposed to add it. Naturally, I agreed and immediately started working on it. Some twenty minutes later I returned and read him the result. Igor Mikhailovich approved of it. I asked him, “What is the main reason for our trip on such a cold day?” Dobrolyubov just smiled. Later, I realised just how creative a real master of film can be. In the meantime, I did cut the script significantly — many scenes were not included in the film. For instance, the scene where I played the director of a fish factory — not because I acted badly, but because it was too long.

Where was the film shot? How long did it take?
The film was shot in Grodno and on the Kunashir in the Kuril Islands. We started in spring and finished in autumn.

How did you feel when you realised the inevitability of the film’s success?
I felt great, after doing a good job and I enjoyed the feeling of being part of this process. Perhaps it was also pride when I learned that 1,200 copies of the film would be distributed around the Soviet Union. It was the unquestionable success of the time! Films had to be approved by the State Cinema Committee in Moscow. I didn’t personally go there. Later, Dobrolyubov told me how the experts responsible for deciding on the number of copies of the film that were to be distri-buted, stood silently then one of them said with a stunned expression on his face, “You guys really impressed us…”

Did you predict the scale of the film’s success? Could you envisage that the film would become a real pearl of Soviet cinematography, a real people’s comedy made by a solid director and talented actors?
I am convinced that when you do something with all your heart without thinking about money or fame — the result is always the same. Sincerity in art has always being the most indispensible factor.

What were your impressions after the first showing of the film?
It took place at Cinema House in Moscow. I remember going to the stage where the entire film crew was invited including Dobrolyubov and the actors. Vsevolod Sanaev (People’s Artist of the USSR) took the floor, while I, young and shy, mostly kept silent. The official part ended and we all headed to our places in the auditorium. Suddenly, Boris Novikov says, “Lesha, will you be watching this rubbish?” Somebody laughed, and I was confused, but I couldn’t refuse him and followed him to the cafeteria next to the auditorium. Boris and I were sitting together when we heard bursts of laughter from the hall. “It seems they like it,” Novikov said. Of course, he was clowning around as he knew very well that the film was a success and he just wanted to see my reaction. So, this was how I missed the first showing of the film.

Have you ever heard rapturous reviews of your contribution to the film or is the audience generally interested in the actors alone?
In the late 1980s, we were in India with some Moscow playwrights. We were invited there by the Soviet Trade Office. Nobody knew that I was the scriptwriter of ‘Belye Rosy’, until I started talking about my plays and introduced myself. At that moment, I became the main focus. One woman, the wife of a trade specialist, stood up and asked, “May I kiss you? I am so glad to be able to express my gratitude to you. Your film is the only salvation here. It is so hot here, and at home it may be snowing already. When I have the blues, I go to a friend of mine who works as a projectionist and ask him to show me this film. I always watch it from start to finish and it always changes my mood. It is some kind of film therapy.” I recall that I kissed her hand feeling deep gratitude for her words.

You’ve mentioned several times that a sequel to Belye Rosy would be impossible. Suddenly, I hear that Dudarev is working on Belye Rosy-2. How can that be?
When I said that you can’t enter the same film twice, like a river, I wasn’t being flippant. It is a genuine concern. A sequel or a remake always carries hopes that the first version will lift the second one. Financially as well! Even if the second ‘Belye Rosy’ is not shot perfectly, people will still watch it just to make sure that the first film was better.

Aren’t you afraid of this scenario?
Over the years I have learned to believe and hope for better things: I am trying, as the young say, to be positive. Yet I am afraid of betraying what we achieved with ‘Belye Rosy’, I am afraid of betraying the memory of people I love and those who will never appear on film again: Novikov, Sanaev, God rest their souls. Unfortunately, Igor Dobrolyubov is also not with us any more. I think he would have accepted the offer to work on the sequel. All the other heroes have aged by almost 30 years. Some of them have passed away, of course, but their families live on. I haven’t violated the essence of the previous film with the sequel.

I’ve read your novel and was happy to feel the same atmosphere as in the first film…
You are right, it was deliberately preserved. The main goal of the novel was to continue the traditions of warm, heartfelt attitudes towards others. Should the new director feel the same way, the second film might be even better and have an even stronger emotional impact on viewers. One wise man said, “Don’t take it perso-nally, but your second job is better than your first one. It is deeper, more lofty…” In no way could that offend me. By the way, it was Gennady Garbuk (People’s Artist of Belarus) who urged me to write the sequel. At his birthday celebration, I was giving an interview and blurted out that I would give a role to Garbuk in the second ‘Belye Rosy’. At that time, I hadn’t even started it, although the idea of writing a new script had already crossed my mind. Later, I was literary torn to pieces by questions of when? It was at that moment that I realised how popular the film is and how irresponsible my statement had been.

Tell us about your inner state while working on the sequel?
I had the feeling of returning to the time when the first script was developed. And when I felt that I had captured the familiar atmosphere, I indulged in it and it gave me confidence that the sequel would be a success as well. Mostly I worked at nights. Belye Rosy… There is something magical in this name, something very close and native for me. It’s funny that today that name has been given to a real town not far from Moscow, an ensemble in Grodno, and even a street, and some estate in Vitebsk Region, and another ensemble in Novosibirsk. By the way, before 1982 there was Malye Rosy, Velikie Rosy, but no Belye Rosy. It was my complete invention.

Writers often say that when they are working on a book they experience a special feeling that the book is part of their flesh and blood and that is springing up out of the soil into an imaginary world. The work is created entirely out of their thoughts, feelings and fantasies, out of their ability to shape these thoughts, feelings and fantasies into words, and out of their talent in shaping events and characters, singling out those features that are closest to them. Having finished the novel have you experienced loneliness and the loss of something beautiful, something that inevitably leaves you with the final dot on the page?
Of course, I felt it and still experience this emotion. It is an unavoidable state of mind for a creative person. And it was not the first time. For instance, when I completed the novel ‘The Black Lady of Nesvizh’ I refused absolutely to part with my heroes because I knew that now the play would be given over to others. It is similar to the feeling of saying goodbye to a beloved person forever. These are not just words but part of my life. I have already said that people involved in art have a dangerous profession. They enter an alien world which becomes extremely close to them and this world starts to influence them. Over the years, I have had more and more proof that our real world is somewhat tied to the virtual one. Therefore, we should be very careful when creating images and shaping situations. I am confident that you should never design nasty things because at some moment they might return to haunt you.

Perhaps it is very important to have pure intentions because you often have to recreate, for instance, war or some other act of brutality…
Pure intentions are an a priori in everybody’s life. Especially when you are recreating death or making your characters suffer in wartime. What in my view is even more critical for an author is his or her ability to be compassionate. It is like a gift from the Lord.

They say that even the most wonderful script, just like the most talented direction, cannot guarantee 100 percent that a film will be successful. It is the actors who attract the viewers in the first instance…
Only an insurance company can give you a 100-percent guarantee — those are the words of Ostap Bender (hero of a popular Russian film ‘Twelve Chairs’). But, seriously speaking, success is directly related both to a good script and to a gifted director. For instance, who knew Vladimir Ivashov, starring as the hero in the film ‘Ballad of a Soldier’? While the film is astonishing, if it were not for a script with such a reverent, humane approach towards the war, there would have been no film that later won numerous awards at international festivals in Warsaw, London, Cannes, San-Francisco, and Mexico. The script is the foundation on which a skilled director builds.

I remember reading somewhere that Americans spend approximately 60 percent of a film’s budget on advertising. What can you say about film budgets, one of the key factors today in the success of a film?
If you spend millions on poor work, it will still be bought! But for what? Perhaps I am too old-fashioned but I believe that depending on positive word-of-mouth, which spreads like wildfire, is also a safe strategy. A bad film will be spoken of as a bad film. For instance, we now see many TV-ads of ‘Sochny’ juice. It features an absolutely adorable boy. Remembering the boy, I bought the juice. But no matter how much I like the boy in the ad, I don’t like the juice and I buy a different product next time. I watch a TV-ad as a piece of art work, but not as an incentive to buy anything. By the way, at the time, nobody promoted ‘Belye Rosy’. Nor did they promote ‘Seventeen Moments of Spring’, nor ‘White Sun of Desert’, nor ‘Solder’s Father’ and many other wonderful films. Of course, you should promote your work, but counting on advertising alone is wrong.

What budget would Belye Rosy-2 require, in your opinion?
I don’t think it will require too much funding. There are no large battle scenes. All the filming will be done outside. The only desire from my side is that the film should be shot in the same location as the first one. For example, I would like to see some scenes near the Court Building in Grodno. The first film has a similar scene with Karachentsev’s hero. Even if we film somebody else, as long as it is near this building, it will create a connection between the time-frames of the two films — or a recognisable moment uniting both of the films.

What would you wish for the future director of the film?
To feel the material. If he feels my text, the film will succeed. Even if the director comes to me and says that I have to change half of it, I would be more than happy, provided that I realised that the director feels it. Although, I can say in all modesty, that there would be no need to re-write the script.

Would you like a role in the film, in the same way that Eldar Ryazanov (Russian film director) appears in his works?
No, I can’t say so. I have enough experience starring in films. I believe that everybody should do their own job. By the way, Ryazanov does sublime work in front of the camera and, in my view, there is no one better. However, if the director tells me to act in some episode, I won’t refuse if I feel it is really needed.

Today your main occupation is with the Belarusian Army Drama Theatre, isn’t it?
Right. I am the art director, defining the theatre’s policy and artistic philosophy. I am persuaded that every creative company should have its artistic philosophy. If it has none, there is chaos and frustration.

Are you staging plays yourself?
Usually I participate in the process, my vision and guidance to the director carry over into the final performance. I create the foundation while the director (my namesake Marina Dudareva) builds the edifice.

What is your view on the global film industry, in general, and the Belarusian one, in particular?
I hate the phrase ‘film industry’. In my view, this concept is essentially contrary to the idea of quality in films. There can’t be an assembly line in art. Of course, I don’t suggest that only films like Andrey Tarkovsky’s films should be made. Naturally, not all films should require deep thought. People also need light entertainment, but they should have a certain level of creativity and quality. I also don’t like films spoken of in terms of commercial products. A good film is not a product. I would be happy to hear Belarusian cinema spoken of as durable and high-quality, to see more good new films (not products) shot by our film studio.

You are one of the script writers of The Brest Fortress. Do you think that the film is a success?
Yes, I think it is. And I am glad that my part of the script shows the severe pain, compassion and anticipation of conflict. It shows heroic people who fulfilled their duty knowing they were doomed. I believe it is very important that a man in such terrifying conditions remain human. I am happy to see it in the film. We may as well admit that there are many films with nice backdrops and a great deal of naturalism — but they don’t touch me. Sometimes I ask myself if I have become cynical. But the problem is that if cynics make such films I also become a cynic. If in the script a man dies, somebody should feel pain and grief. I don’t know the mechanism by which a script-writer conveys pain when crafting a scene, but in my own experience I know it works when there is compassion on the part of the scriptwriter.

Your novel contains some very deep thoughts. For instance, the idea that people shouldn’t verbalise their thoughts, but feel each other’s souls, that everything true is given to a person for free, that living decently is more profitable… How would you comment on them?
Should I? I can only present these ideas, without comment.

By Valentina Zhdanovich
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