A filmmaker intent on communicating and understanding

Distinguished Russian filmmaker Aleksandr Sokurov, director of the «Russian Ark,» «Molokh» and «Solntse,» which is currently showing at local cinemas, was recently in town. Sokurov, who may be excelling at fiction but will not give up on documentaries because they «bring you down to earth,» met up with Kathimerini to discuss his latest film, among other topics. As opposed to ridiculing and deconstructing Hitler, which you attempted in «Molokh,» in «Solntse» it is obvious you are referring to two entirely different worlds. You stress the great cultural difference between Hirohito and MacArthur. The leading character definitely has some nobility. Let us not forget that Hirohito was a prince, the son of a great dynasty; he was educated and a nobleman. Regarding Hitler, I tried to be objective. They were two entirely different leaders. Yet they both caused death, they led very large groups of people toward death. I think the public expected me to show Hitler as a great criminal, but I wanted to present him the way he was in reality, a small, dirty man. There must be no difference and distance between the people and leadership. People must not deify the leaders, but work with them. Greeks know that well. You have known the concept of democracy since antiquity. I see the students demonstrating on the streets… The students are a country’s citizens, they know what they want and they express it in the city streets in a civilized manner. This would not happen in contemporary Russia. Why do you claim this would not happen in Russia today? Because young people do not feel like citizens. In essence, there is no society. All over the world, social change takes place through young people. Middle-aged people merely support the change, the reversals come from the young. What do you mean when you say there is no society in Russia? There is no social web, no social stratification. There is only central power; that is why anything can happen. In Dostoevsky’s «Idiot» there is, at the end, a scene where Rogozin and Myshkin are sitting in a large room. It reminded me of the Hirohito-MacArthur meeting. Maybe, in a way (it does)… But intellectually Hirohito and MacArthur were inferior by far. In both cases, there was a discussion between two men. When men meet up, without any women, the atmosphere is always different. Tarkovsky used to say that masterpieces are born out of the artist’s anxiety to express his ideals. What are your anxieties? As if I would tell you! Not that I am keeping secrets, but when you start a movie you don’t know if it will turn out a masterpiece or something mediocre. In my opinion, Tarkovsky was not being honest, because no one knows, at the beginning, if the film will end up a masterpiece. How much a film can withstand time depends on the things the film hints at, not on those it expresses openly. The more «undercover» thoughts and hidden feelings are invested in a film, the longer life the film can have. (It depends on) something you haven’t said to the very end… The desire to shoot a film must have troubled you for a long time. I spent 10 years preparing for «Solntse» and I spent the same amount of time for «Russian Ark»… I would write thoughts down, I would put them in a drawer and I would leave them. A year would go by and I hadn’t done anything, then a second and a third one… Yet the desire remained. That was the signal that I had to go on. I knew something would come up. You have created an entirely personal style with your films, which have been described as ark-like by the French press. What does this ark include? A lot, I don’t know where to start from. Every time I shoot a film I want to say something that I left unfinished in my previous film. I try, every time, to conquer what I didn’t conquer in my previous work, via the actors’ interpretation, the structure, the plot or the cinematography. The same thing worries me every time I embark on a new film: that it won’t come out. I am afraid I will fail and that I will stumble on dead-end thoughts. In essence, I talk about the same thing in every film: people’s need to communicate with each other, to understand each other, to have patience for one another and to learn, in effect, to deal with death. In «Molokh» I tried to say that there is no death. There is only God and Devil. I don’t believe in mysteries. Whatever mistakes we make are human and we must correct them. We have an obligation not to be afraid and to correct them. Mysteries are nothing other than people’s need to hide behind their actions and mistakes. Is that the category under which «Faust,» your next project, falls? It is precisely that. This work asks a very simple and human question: How much is your soul worth? How much would you sell it for? In my previous films, I showed people who would sell their soul for power. What else would you sell your soul for? Love? Faith? So with «Faust» will you shed light on another side that we haven’t seen in «Molokh» or «Solntse»? It is the same thing. There is no such thing as simple and better people, people with power and without. We are all the same. The only ones who stand out are the gifted artists. Of course, I am not denying that gifted people can be real monsters in their lives. Besides, I have many examples… There are famous directors who are as well-known as they are also dirty. Why did you decide to shoot «Russian Ark» with just one 90-minute single-scene shoot? Was that the only way to describe what you wanted or did you know you were trying out something unique? No, I could have shot the movie any other way and viewers wouldn’t even notice the difference. I wanted to state that the «Ark» is the history of Russia and time is not interrupted, it is continuous. I wanted to show the unity of time. Goethe had said that it is as hard to read a book as it is to write it. Is it the same in cinema? If it is difficult for a director to shoot a film, is it as hard for the public to watch it? Absolutely. Creating a work of art is very important, but it is just as important to realize it. To be able to follow the artist, we must work on it with our soul. When an artist works on a project, he climbs up the ladder kneeling, step by step. Spectators must go to the same trouble. Art and laziness cannot coexist. You have to work for morality and for thinking. You have to think, to be patient and to wait. Everything needs work from the soul and not everyone can do that. Our times have changed. People expect art to serve them, just like a waiter asking, «What would you like, please?»… That is why we often clash with our viewers. Some artists appear to be out of tune with our times. But art knows how to choose who will stay and who will be forgotten. The choice is as old as art itself.

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