One of the brightest personages in Russian moviemaking, actor Aleksei Guskov is a well known and versatile personality. The characters Guskov creates on screen and on stage are variegated, but one will always remember them. He does not seek to be charming in all of his roles, but he is not afraid to look a villain. After becoming a producer, he got interested in animated movies and presented for the new generations of children his own interpretation of famous Neznaika by Nosov. Both feature and TV films he produced (Guskov plays roles in nearly all of them), from Dustman to Four Days in May, do not leave the audience indifferent, leave an imprint in one’s mind, and raise heated discussions. At the moment Guskov is also a pedagogue, a head of an actor training course. On the eve of the elections, he was made a trustee of the newly elected president of Russia, which did not affect in any way the sounding of his own voice.
Aleksei was present at the Vologda Festival VOICES for only one day: he presented there his new work Four Days in May. This movie was removed from the program of a Russian TV channel on the eve of the Victory Day, “at a persistent request of the working people.”
Mr. Guskov, ice and fire go together with each other in your work. The profession of an actor, full of emotions, is dependent: you always need for a job offer, whereas producer embodies rigidness and ability to calculate. Why did you become a producer? Was it out of discontent or you were willing to present yourself with what other directors didn’t see in you?
“This is my lifestyle. I don’t separate the component of an actor from the profession of a producer, producer’s from teacher’s, teacher’s from the audience’s. The older I become, the greater delight I feel about another person’s talent. I won’t break my work into components: here with the wave of a magic wand I become a rational man, and there, as you’ve just said, I exhale fire from my nostrils, ears, and other parts of my body. This is a lifestyle. Isn’t an actor a producer of his role? Take away the director, the cameraman, and the partner. Take just the script.”
A director of your own?
“Aleksandr Proshkin was right when he said that ‘an actor is not the one able to show, but the one who is able not to show and conceal. Then it becomes interesting.’ Concealing and not showing is the inner world. Critics like to say that this is a background, a mystery, a personality, etc.”
Do you work much as a TV producer?
“I have been working on television since 1998. I have made a break in 2005. And this year I came up with a desire to make a TV format production, and we did it, shooting the movie Coma. I assure you, this is not an empty story. I cannot bring myself to shooting a series with eight to twelve episodes, this is too long for me, but we did make a TV movie.”
A redistribution of costs has taken place in the sphere of moviemaking in Russia. There is a pool of producers, who are part of the court, so to say. Do you belong there?
“I don’t want to hear anything about it and I am not going to discuss it. Nothing has changed for me. I continue to live like I have been living since 1991, and I continue to look for the money for my projects the way I have been looking for.”
Does not the state fund your projects?
“It does, almost each of them. Starting from Dustman, then The Taiga Love Affair, Ragin, Father, and Four Days in May. But I have never asked for 100 percent state funding, I haven’t even asked for 50 percent, always less. At the moment, as an expert, I am a member of different councils and I will never support the projects whose authors demand over 50 percent from the state, because this indicates that the producers who bring these projects are not sure about them. Like Chekhov said ‘they have no faith in their right.’”
Hopefully, it does not refer to the debuts, for which it is especially hard to find the funding.
“Debuts have their producers of their own. But this is a separate topic, I agree. One must support debuts, but they have to be low-budget. If the state takes a risk, it should be reasonable. But our state takes whatever risks it likes.”
Your work Four Days in May, which you were presenting at the Vologda Festival, is perceived by the audience with warmth, interest and emotions, yet it was removed from the television channel program on the eve of the Victory Day.
“First of all, you should pay attention to the fact that the statement of the TV channel said about postponing the time of the show, not taking it off. Secondly, wasn’t it probably the right decision to show the movie not on The Day of the president’s inauguration and on the eve of the Victory Day, but choose another date? I think to this extent the society is not ready to speak openly about itself. Very little time has passed for our democracy, as well as Ukrainian one, for all of us, on the whole. You can see Belarus, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan – these are all different models.”
Do you mean the antidemocratic orientation?
“Let’s not be so categorical, because this is a complicated question. During the 20th century the elite was being destroyed in Russia, the society refused from Orthodoxy, which had united the nation for several thousands years. I am very much afraid of what Pushkin called ‘a Russian revolt, meaningless and unmerciful,’ very much afraid. When having no distinct guidelines, we were told, ‘Here is your freedom. Eat it,’ it turned out that we could consume, but it was hard for us to digest. We are not ready for freedom and responsibility for our actions.”
In my opinion, if people have gotten used to survive in the system of lawlessness over many decades, the culture of the rule of law will not emerge in the middle of nowhere.
“I am neither sociologist, nor political scientist. I can philosophize about life, but I won’t give you a distinct answer. I have been hunted by my childhood recollections. When I was nine, I was living in Kyiv, and we went to the countryside to gather mushrooms and berries. There was a wedding party in the forest, and the guests were swinging the bridegroom. Before my eyes they threw him up, he fell on the banisters with his backbone and broke to halves. They burst into tears right away in the same way they had been having fun. But the overall atmosphere did not change. They called the ambulance and went on: the harmonica continued to play and the guests continued to drink. What can we do about that? What culture are we talking about? This is a thing I cannot get. And the current situation can grow unstable. I went to the first meeting in Bolotnaya Square, but when I saw 30 percent nationalists at the meeting on Sakharov Square, I turned round and left. The world has become different, it has changed. The whole philosophy of life in the civilized world is about asking a neighbor how he is going on and smile back. Disrespect for oneself, your neighbor, a person nearby. Whatever opposition I join, I look at our politics and our politicians in a realistic way. As a citizen and father of three children, I support stability and definiteness. However, I do understand all minuses of staying at power for too long and share all the fears expressed by the opposition. And I am telling you this in spite I have been appointed the trustee of the incumbent president.”
Speaking again about Four Days in May. You belong to the generation, whose fathers and grandfathers survived the war. Was it an impetus for you to look at the events in an absolutely new way?
“When we were making this movie, we were going to speak about the choice and morality. We simply took the material of the World War II period for this aim, specifically the end of the war. Not the beginning or the middle, namely the end. It is based on a short document which has been discussed on the Internet without end, whether it did take place or not. But this is not the most important thing. The movie relates about the events when after three days of staying in an orphanage with young teenage girls, intelligence agents were approached by tank crew members who asked them to share. The intelligence agents refused. Why? What had happened to the people of one ideology, wearing similar uniform for 4.5 years by then, when they were moving to the same aim? They just said, ‘You cannot.’ ‘Why?’ they were asked. ‘You cannot.’ They even could not formulate their reasoning. When we came to this, I understood very clearly what I wanted to tell since the beginning. The value of life is unique, the value of any life, even one person’s life. There can be no movement of the masses towards building communism. Every person wants to love and be loved separately, build his wooden or stone house, love his wife, give birth to children, and work, he wants his children gave birth to their own children and people to bring flowers to his grave after he dies. That is actually all. That is really all. The rest is a drift, an ideology thingy. The movie was released because it is truthful. On May 30 the RIA Novosti finally gathered the veterans, not functionaries from the veteran organizations who are parasitizing on the topic. Those were real elderly, very old people who survived the war, men and women. I am not calling them grandmothers and grandfathers, because my memory about them and my respect to them are endless. We watched the film. I did not hear anything but the words of gratitude. They were speaking about some kind of authenticity of that time, they said the time was complicated and that they were facing the choice all the time, and it was hard for them and they got tired of hatred. Do you understand? This is namely what our movie tells about. These days the war is shown, especially on screen, like a military adventure, in the form of SKKA or Nazi. Some guys run here, other guys kill some other guys… The Victory Day had not been a holiday until 1965, it was a working day in the calendar. Later the holiday was brought back in the time of Brezhnev who needed someone’s support. They held parades once a year for five years in succession. Not everything in our history is so distinct. There is an attempt to impose a kind of ‘patriotic course,’ where one has to show the Great Patriotic War, and nobody says that it was a complicated time. But the question of patriotism is very complicated. For me this holiday is a memory, but memory is a quiet thing. When I was speaking on the Echo Moskvy Radio, we had a discussion of George’s Ribbon. I said this ribbon had been given for the blood shed.
“We have no relation to it. And putting it on one’s dirty car or woman’s purse, drink a shot of vodka and yell like a fool the song ‘Zemlianka,’ ‘four steps till death,’ this is looting, guys. This is looting, and if you don’t get why, this is your problem. I don’t need to be taught patriotism. This is a country of my ancestors, my fatherland, my country. The heroes of my film are bearers of morality, and anti-heroes are bearers of ideology. Our history is built according to the laws of any movie. This model can be designed, like during our first campaign in Chechnya. A lot of people have expressed me their gratitude via Facebook, in particular, Afghanistan veterans and now soldiers in Chechnya. The reason is that the movie tells about an ethical choice in an amoral situation. Nothing more than that.”
I have thought that the so-called collective letter and all those who signed it remind of far from the best years in the country. In this connection a decision was approved not to show, to postpone the time of the show, was this action staged?
“Of course. You are not mistaken, the whole television is politicized, as well as in Ukraine, I am absolutely sure about that. This is the way we are arranged today. To show on the eve of the holiday a movie where people of the same ideology and nationality turn their back to each other, would be probably wrong. Of course, ‘I feel offended,’ like Vysotsky’s song goes, but no more than that because you cannot hide anything. The film is living and it will live. It does not leave people indifferent – that is the most important thing. From any angle, ideological or ethical, it does not leave people indifferent even as an entertainment. Incidentally, the movie shows wonderful performances of actors: Andrey Merzlikin, Grigorii Dobrygin, Sergey Legostaev, Vladimir Svirsky, and German actors.”
You have three adult children. Have they seen the film? What is their attitude? What did you discuss with them?
“My sons and daughter are 18, 23, and 29. Can you imagine the focus group? Naturally, I have seen the film together with them. The oldest one said, ‘Dad, look, all kinds of things may happen.’ The middle one said, ‘Such an unexpected movie.’ And the youngest simply supported with both hands and invited to the premiere a huge number of groupmates (he’s a second-year student) and acquaintances, who later approached me with burning eyes. This is important for me.”
After this important for you expression, what would you like to talk about?
“Only about love. And here I speak about love too. I have wanted to speak about it for a long while. On the whole, I have been speaking about love for my whole life. Even in Taiga Love Affair I was speaking about love. I wondered where my hero, a restless person, a great and talented one, can stop. Where is the boundary? Everything he is doing, drowning and burning his rival, etc., is for the only purpose, to make him tell the truth. Why lie? This is the only thing I was trying to say, I cared about the triangle and Othello’s passions, that’s all.”
Does anything from the present-day, the so-called current literature, attract you?
“I don’t know. Maybe it is because we are from the same generation, but everything is very precise, in terms of reflections, philosophy, and views of the time.”
Will you work with him?
“I would like to. I will return to your first question, I am a kind of self-sufficient machine. What will wake me up and in what place? How do my rare stories develop? Have a look at my biography: my producer’s works are rare, I have been working mostly as an actor. It takes more than one, two, or even three years to prepare a project. I invent them, live through them, I become sleepless because of them, I imagine the continuation. There are successful ones, there are movies I would remake, and there are movies, where I did not reach the result I wanted. Once I was asked: to you watch them again? Never. I complete the project and go ahead. The same thing refers to everything. And the reason is love, not money.”
But you need money, too.
“You cannot do without it. Of course.”
Is funding the only problem? Are you, unlike the press and television, free in what you say?
“Why not? I am free. It is always easy to say what you think. But I cannot see any restrictions today. Compared with our recent 25-year past, what things are not possible to do? Leave the country? Come out and say bad things about the president? We can do all this. Naturally, we cannot do some things forbidden by law.”
Don’t you think it is dangerous?
“What is dangerous about it? Maybe when you have such own responsibility, you need to be well-reasoned and clever. Otherwise you become ‘the Non-Commissioned Officer’s Widow who whipped herself.’ Take cinematography as an example. For five years moviemakers have been asking for a state order. When they get it, they start yelling that the state’s involvement in cinematography is improper. You’ve asked the state, and it responded, not in the way you wanted, but according to its own understanding. If you are free people, don’t ask. You’ve asked for a vision of a boss and you got it.”
This appears to be a sad picture.
“No. This picture has been always the same, in all times. Human nature does not change.
“Read 58 and a Half by Valerii Frid. I was his student, and when Valerii Semenovych started writing memoirs, he gave them to us to read. At that time the forbidden literature by Shalamov, a camp literature, documents about Stalin’s camps were published. Our young brains were boiling from the terrible things we read. And when on the 15th minute of reading Frid’s text I caught myself smiling, and on the 35th minute I burst into laugh, I phoned him and said: my sense of humor must be strange. Am I an idiot? And he replied, ‘Oleksii, I just wanted people to understand: it was terrible. That was a terrible life in a camp, but first and foremost it was life. I kissed for the first time, I experienced first love, and for the first time I understood what is a betrayal.’ Nothing changes. The whole world is in your mind.”
What is your younger son’s occupation?
“He is a future producer.”
Does your daughter work in cinema too?
“My daughter took a path of her own, she’s working in a firm and has no relation to the profession.”
But isn’t your second son an actor?
“Yes, he is.”
What is more important for you, your work and self-realization with the help of it or family?
“My work. And family is work, too. Only pleasant one.”
Does your family take this for granted?
“This is a topic I have closed for the press a long time ago.”
After you finish some work, you draw a line and never watch your films again. Can we talk about your future projects then?
“Of course, we can. In 2008 life gave me an opportunity to work abroad. The movie Four Days in May was shot by a German crew on a majoritarian basis. This was preceded by the French movie, A Concert. An Italian film, in which I worked with European actors from England, France, Italy, and America, will be released soon.”
Are you speaking about actor’s works?
“Not only about them. As a producer I am working on international projects. But it is too early to talk about them now.”
Do you on your own for the possibility of co-production? The situation in Russian and Ukrainian moviemaking is much worse, though. There is a desire to enter the international arena, but something is in the way. How did you managed to do that?
“I don’t know. I simply work and do what I am interested in. I like the formula expressed by Aleksei Balabanov, it seems to me, to ‘find people of one’s own and calm down.’ Thus I am looking for people of my own. And if I haven’t calmed down yet, I haven’t found all of them yet. There is nothing more interesting in life than meeting talented people.”