The working title was “Screen Tests. Classmates” and it won the Nika Award as the best feature film of the CIS and Baltic States. Its international premiere took place during the Rome Festival in 2012, then it was screened at the Moscow International Film Festival, and finally at the Odesa International Film Festival. Eternal Return [other sources translate the title “Eternal Homecoming” and “Eternal Redemption”] will be distributed in Ukraine in September.
The plot is about a film producer (Anton Muratov) who is demonstrating to an investor, a sugar tycoon (Oleg Kokhan), screen tests for the film he commissioned a film director to make, but the director died. Several dozen times various pairs of actors (among them such Russian stars as Oleg Tabakov, Sergei Makovetsky, Georgii Deliyev, and Alla Demidova) say the same lines in the same situation. The main character “returns” to his former sweetheart, seeking her advice in a very personal situation; he has to choose between his wife Lena and his lover Liusia. The woman is not sure who she is talking to because he has a twin brother… The sugar tycoon is flattered to be invited to take part in a creative process, but then he says, “My answer is no, but that’s not final. The whole thing looks very elite, I like it, but will the audiences like it?”
DIVERSITY OF MONOTONY AND MONOTONY OF DIVERSITY
Kira Muratova determines her movie’s genre as “ladies’ needlework a la Kazimir Malevich.”
Muratova: “If the artist painted his Black Square at the start of his career, it would be a devastating failure. He painted it after he had made his name. I, too, have made my name, so I can afford to play games. This movie is also a game. I’m tired of thoughtfulness, there’s just too much of it around. I’m tired of stereotype plots with Pavel being in love with Maria and Maria being in love with Aleksandr, with Aleksandr staring into space, with all of them being OK in the end – or with one of them being run over by a car or jumping off a cliff or getting shot by accident. There is no end to such plots. I don’t mind, sometimes such plots make great movies, I like some of them, but I want something different. My Eternal Return is about the diversity of monotony and monotony of diversity. The plot is just an outward move. My husband and co-author, Yevgenii Golubenko, makes collages. He has a series entitled ‘Death to Content.’ Just empty frames as symbols of the form turning into content. I thought this over and over again while pondering my plot, and then I found a way to correlate form with content. I built a structure in which the form merges into content. They can’t be separated. I liked what I did, I love this movie.”
The impression is that you love watching the actors’ every gesture, hearing every line.
“You are right. That’s my favorite cast. I formed various pairs, seeking harmony. I allowed them to act the way they chose, I was afraid to make any comments and thus impose a common denominator. I wanted them to show individuality, be different and convincing in their own ways. I’ve always feared stereotypes, so I enjoyed watching them act in their different ways. Each created his/her unique image.”
MAKING A DRAMA IS PUTTING TOGETHER ACTORS’ LINES, EDITING A MOVIE IS PUTTING TOGETHER SCENES
Another impression is that in this movie drama is the main thing for you, not the cast.
“Yes, it is. Of course, there is no good drama without a good cast. The same was true in my case. However, the main thing is drama and editing the film. Both are equally important, because making a drama is putting together actors’ lines and editing a movie is putting together scenes.”
Alla Demidova often stars in your films and she is known for being loath to learn her lines by rote.
“I try to be tolerant toward good actors. At first Alla Demidova would just shrug, ‘What do you mean I don’t know the lines? That’s not Shakespeare, so why should I learn them by rote?’ In the scenes with Oleg Tabakov in Eternal Return she would pin a sheet of paper with her lines to his back. She is a great actor and a very special, funny individual. Actors are like kids and that’s how I treat them.”
Zemfira sang in your Melody for a Street Organ and she sings in your Eternal Return. Is her song to be regarded as a commentary on the plot?
“I wouldn’t put it in so many words. It is just that I loved Zemfira’s rendition of La donna e mobile from Verdi’s Rigoletto during a concert and I had since been thinking of using it in one of my films. The lines ‘La donna e mobile /Qual piuma al vento, /Muta d’accento – e di pensiero…’ seemed to fit in the Eternal Return’s plot perfectly. They are an off-screen refrain while on screen the heroine keeps trying to unwind a coil of rope. This can be interpreted as tangled human relationships, although that’s not exactly my interpretation. Rather, hints and allusions, like the painting A Ghost in an Armchair which she tries to hang from the wall. Nothing can be categorized in art. Lots of things are sensed rather than perceived.”
How important is impersonation for you? You often cast professional actors and amateurs.
“A combination of actors and non-actors produces a new spark of life. You’d be surprised, but a professional actor becomes more human when playing with a non-actor. Usually his feelings are hurt by having to be on the set with a nonprofessional. It is interesting to watch the two of them and the result is often good for the production. Sometimes movie stars refuse to work with non-actors. I stamp my foot and then a miracle occurs, like when a baby is born. What makes me fond of non-actors? They are charged with real life. They are not haunted by the actors’ competition, they have no parts to play on stage, they don’t have to compete for a leading role, so their attitude to the whole thing is uncomplicated. They’re given a part to play, so they play it. If they are refused a role, they can live with it. And they can have as much talent as a professional actor. They may not be able to act as Hamlet and as a shoemaker with equal skill, but they can impersonate a drunk better than a professional actor. A professional actor can play any part, but I’m sure he may not be as convincing as a non-actor.”
STUDYING VARIOUS SIDES OF THE SOUL
In your Eternal Return, there is a definite allusion to Nietzsche, starting with the title that reminds one of the philosopher’s well-known thesis about everything becoming and recurring eternally. Is this because you love metaphors?
“That’s because I love the arts and the cinema in particular. I see the meaning of my life in filmmaking. The desire to make films was programmed in me by my beloved professor, Sergei Gerasimov, at the All-Union State Institute of Cinematography [currently All-Russian State Institute of Cinematography]. I have since acted under this program. My whole system is afflicted with the cinema, beyond the hope of recovery.”
Do you care about what critics have to say concerning your productions?
“That depends on the quality and number of critics. Some are interesting to read, but I hate criticism for the sake of it. Also, if the press is too good for too long, I start telling myself enough’s enough, as was the case with The Tuner [Nika Award in 2005 and other prizes. – Author]. I was tired of smiling and smiling. Today’s critics are very different from what they were like during Soviet times. Then one devastating article carried by Pravda could put an end to your creative and physical life.”
Do you agree with those critics who say that the film director, Kira Muratova, is studying only the dark side of the human soul?
“I study various sides of the soul. What dark side is in my Eternal Return? The main characters are kind and attentive to each other. You will agree that the world is in a state of chaos which is terrible, irritating, frightening. The arts have always tried to make it better because the arts are more harmonious than realities; they offer consolation and hope. I have always sought harmony because I see it as the basis of the arts. After screening The Asthenic Syndrome I was told it was horrifying. I agree that the realities in it are far more frightening than in the Melody for a Street Organ. Different times have different clothes, but the human skeleton and organism remain the same, with two ears, two eyes, two feet, and two hands.”
You continue making films at the Odessa Studios that are in dire straits. Have you ever felt like moving to a city with a more favorable filmmaking environment?
“No, I haven’t. Perhaps my living in Odesa for so many years without being a born Odesite looks strange. The thing is that I feel very comfortable there. I can make films in what I consider to be the right way. There is no escaping oneself, considering that all the deep reasons behind what is happening to each of us are inside us. If a tragedy happens in your life, those reasons deep inside always find allies. In other words, in order to change the world, you have to change yourself. Success came my way after I did just that. After that my movies found vast audiences. Of course, people have for ages moved from one place to the next, but I don’t see why I should move to another city to continue making films.”
The Day’s FACT FILE
Kira Muratova (nee Korotkova) was born in Bessarabia, on November 5, 1934. She studied philology at the Moscow State University and in 1959 graduated from the directing faculty of the All-Union State Institute of Cinematography. After that she worked with the Odesa Studios.
Her first solo productions, Brief Encounters and The Long Farewell, touched upon moral problems and varying human characters, enough for the Soviet bureaucrats in charge of the cinema to shelve them.
Muratova made her Getting to Know the Big, Wide World at the Lenfilm Studios. While working on it, she met an artist by the name of Yevgenii Golubenko who would become her second husband and co-author of scripts. Her Change of Fate, The Asthenic Syndrome, Minor People, Chekhov’s Motifs, and Melody for a Street Organ attracted keen critics’ and public attention. Ukrainian and Russian movie stars, among them Georgii Deliyev, Renata Litvinova, Alla Demidova, Zinaida Sharko, Oleg Tabakov, Nina Ruslanova, Sergei Makovetsky, willingly play in Muratova’s films. Among the all-time stars were Vladimir Vysotsky and Bohdan Stupka. She has collaborated with composers Oleg Karavaichuk and Valentin Silvestrov.
Muratova has played in the films Our Honest Bread, Brief Encounters, Dangerous Tour, Garden of Desires, and Passer-by. Eternal Return is her latest production as a film director.