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“Absurdity surrounds us; we exist within it”

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Sergei Loznitsa • Director

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- At the recently concluded 8th Odesa International Film Festival, we sat down with Ukrainian director Sergei Loznitsa to talk about his latest effort, A Gentle Creature

Sergei Loznitsa  • Director

We talked to Ukrainian director Sergei Loznitsa at the recently concluded eighth Odesa International Film Festival (read the news) to discuss his third fiction film, A Gentle Creature [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Sergei Loznitsa
film profile
]
, the modern-day relevance of Dostoyevsky, the power of bureaucracy and the boundaries of absurdity.

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Cineuropa: A Gentle Creature is loosely based on the short story of the same name by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Do you think that he still remains an inspiration for current events?
Sergei Loznitsa: I believe that nothing much has actually changed in Russia since Dostoyevsky wrote his story. Dostoyevsky was a prophetic author. He predicted the horror that arrived in Russia soon after. In The Demons, one of his most prophetic novels, he describes a very particular type of human being – immoral, very devious and dishonest. They appeared in Russia at the turn of the century; they multiplied massively and at a certain point took over the country. Dostoyevsky depicted this atmosphere that generates the “demons” and encourages this type of devious behaviour. I was inspired by this concept introduced by Dostoyevsky, and I used it as a starting point for my film.

Are we still facing the same demons?
If we compare the Dostoyevskian era to our contemporary situation, I feel that we are in a worse position now. In a way, this is quite logical if we consider the millions of people who have perished in this country over the past 100 years. Those who were sacrificed certainly represented a different spectrum of the human character, totally opposite to the one of the demons. The negative selection in the population led to devastating results.

In essence, you are amalgamating real facts with fiction; would you classify A Gentle Creature as a fictionalised documentary?
Firstly, it is important to note that every documentary is a creation by an artist and not a “reality”; we are just under the impression that what we see around us is more real than what we see on the screen. Indeed, sometimes “real” life turns out to be much more powerful and absurd than fiction. A recent example is the case of a theatre manager in Moscow who has been charged for exploiting funds for a show that was never staged. What’s impressive is that the show has been staged, had hundreds of viewers, won awards, and there are facts to prove it like videos and photos. Despite this, the authorities claim that the show never happened and imprisoned the director. So you need to have the skills of Franz Kafka to write a script that reaches the levels of absurdity that exists in reality.

So the line is quite fine if we look at where reality ends and absurdity starts.
I believe that absurdity surrounds us; we exist within it, and there are moments when you must face it in a very concentrated form that surpasses reality. The absurd happens when somebody attempts to make a very precise prescription of life events that cannot be subjected to such rigorous linguistic examination. Even language itself is an attempt to put life under bureaucratic control, and this is absurd.

Is your heroine trying to fight this bureaucratic monster?
She doesn’t really fight the system; she never tries to fight. In one of the final episodes of the film, all of the characters that she meets during her journey get together to participate in a kind of imaginary court trial. This is a very important scene, as I try to show the relationship between power, the authorities and the ordinary people. We tend to depict the authorities as something over and above ourselves, and somehow, we separate ourselves from the people who rule us. I believe that things happen differently. Every single person participates in this process of power exercising, so everyone is responsible for the outcome. Power comes from the mentality and the behaviour of every single person whose actions create this tapestry of social interaction in which we exist. Thus, all of the citizens are collectively responsible for the actions of their rulers.

This sounds like an unavoidable fate; is there any solution to this extreme kind of ruling power?
Certainly, but this solution can only be put into action by a different kind of people and not those who we see in the film. People who want to fight for the right to a dignified life and who are ready to sacrifice their lives. This is what happened in Ukraine during the Maidan events, where citizens became heroes.

Can we also expect something new from you soon?
I’m working on two documentaries. The first, entitled Victory Day, was shot in Treptower Park in Berlin on 8 and 9 May; it’s a place that ex-Soviet citizens, now German residents, visit to commemorate the victory in WWII. The second is a montage of archive footage of the show trials that were held in Moscow during the Stalinist period. The film will be called The Trial. I’m also preparing a new feature film, and I just came from a location-scouting trip in Central Ukraine.

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