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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

“A slow civil war is underway in our country. It has never ended”

Aleksandr Proshkin on why freedom gave a possibility for realization to criminals and whether it is possible to live not bowing before others. The director’s token movie Cold Summer of 1953 is 25 this year
7 August, 2012 - 00:00

Aleksandr Proshkin’s name does not need any promotion. Having come to cinema from theater (after graduation from the theater institute he worked in the well-known Leningrad Theater of Comedy), he has shot 20 movies. They include Cold Summer of 1953, which marks 25th anniversary this year, TV series Doctor Zhivago, a spacious epic movie Mikhail Lomonosov, and this year’s film Atonement.

As a head of the International young European cinema festival VOICES, Proshkin not only watched the competition program, closely observing the cinema image of young Europe, but also presented his new work and eagerly communicated with the audience. For in Centaur festival, where the movie was included in the competition program, he found himself beyond the discussions of professional jury, which completely consisted of his fellow film directors.

Both in his work and in life Proshkin takes an active civic stand. Like his heroes, he cannot be indifferent.

Mr. Proshkin, the movies Cold Summer of 1953 and Atonement with a 25-year distance in time are like two sides of one medal for me. What about you?

“Like most of us I have been shooting in a sense one and the same movie for my whole life. My movies may differ in genre, but their common topic is ‘showdowns’ with motherland – how can we live with a straight back and whether it is possible in our country. The movie tells about the time of the end of war and first after-war months, when a huge number of officers, in particular, Solzhenitsyn, were taken to prison. Yes, the ‘father of the peoples’ showed the winners who is the master. Those who did not get into this grinder felt it in their daily life. Do you remember the confession of the girl whose father died a heroic death, and everything was over, we won? She was living in total poverty and her mother was a thief. Why does she have a huge feeling of shame and inferiority complex? Because her classmates are colonels’ daughters with cuts from Germany – this is social inequality. We pin great hopes to every transitional period (the last one was the perestroika and the beginning of our light time), when everyone had rainbow hopes, especially intelligentsia who went out to the streets, to the White House and etc. But nothing happened. The decision was made above, which was comfortable for the officials. As a result everything was done in favor of a certain stratum of the parasite class.”

Mimicry is taking place in the parasite class: it is losing culture and has problems with intellect.

“This is an absolutely natural thing, because the level of corruption has grown as well as the price. What was happening in Soviet time? You could get sausages from the close retail establishment, now you can get property, huge money, and the possibility to live wherever you want, etc. Hence the moral decay. Besides, all those who were the main enthusiasts, found themselves in most of cases out of the game, and the stoically parasitizing class, which has always lived only to satisfy their needs and mastered genetically the mechanisms of appropriating, grabbing, adapting, has settled its affairs pretty well in these conditions, too. Say, even if fathers and grand­fathers, former generals are not playing the first roles, their captain children are. And a certain eulogy to the winners, which all of a sudden has started to ring now, many years after the war, the pompous celebrations of the victory, movies with ‘white-teeth’ heroes who win over everyone, etc., a certain apologetics of the war and victory are spoiling present-day generation. They think that a war is a merry adventure, a fun for men, a continuation of the game. And I think after so many years that have passed since the war we need to say absolute truth that the war is also the greatest misfortune, the greatest tragedy of a nation and every person in particular. People, much older than me, who survived the war, – I have communicated a lot with them – were reluctant to speak on this topic, but if they did, they admitted it was terrible. Those were inhuman dimensions.”

Previously art conveyed undisputable truth, showing good winners and bad losers. Then the books and movies started to show the soldiers’ war, a bloody, unfair, and painful one. And now we again see the ‘white-teeth’ war, as demanded by the ideology. Will there be new stages?

“You see, the power is appropriating the victory, though it does not have anything to do with it. For the incredible sacrifice was made by absolutely different generations, 27 million is the highest price paid in all history of humankind. Of course, the gene pool is getting poorer and we need much time to restore it. But in my opinion, the most important thing is that a certain instinct should appear for one to reject in our 21st century any war as a means of sorting out relations. And this fanfare leads to losing the skill to wage a war. Young people go and die in Chechnya, Afghanistan, somewhere else, without understanding what awaits them, because they are the winners and they have inherited a certain feeling of being the winners. For example, May 9 for me is a holiday when the alive understand what a huge sacrifice was made. With a huge number of soldiers’ graves remaining unfound, still we see the euphoria and shaking weapons. When I see on May 9 a bull on a Bentley or a SUV with an inscription ‘Conquer Berlin,’ I have convulsions. That is why my latest movie has been provoked to a certain extent by the fact that current generation does not understand the price of this sacrifice, they don’t understand that war brings incredible ruination and dirt. When we recall the Holocaust, we accuse only the Germans of it, but a huge number of people were destroyed by their compatriots. A war is the time when human filth comes out; it is not only a place for a feat, but for people’s dirt as well.”


It is extremely interesting for me that in Cold Summer the human essence became higher than the reality and straightened its back in spite of political realities. And in your new movie the heroine, “raised in a proper way” by the Soviet reality, gets it off her heart by betraying her mother. What attracted you in this story?

“Of course, this story is connected with a certain time, but the same thing is taking place right now. Now the girls who see luxurious glamorous life on TV from morning till night are ready to give anything to become part of it. And they have some poor parents unable to earn money, so they hate their parents for inability to provide them with everything so that they met the parameters of the disgusting time. Nothing has changed.”

Surely, but people cannot be equal either, this is unreal, is there any prescription to save a man’s soul?

“This prescription was written 2,000 years ago. If people lived according to this prescription, it would have probably been easier and simpler for them. A certain message of The Cold Summer is in two things which work and on which everything is based. The first one is the feeling of man’s dignity. It is impossible to live with a bent and humiliated back which is being hit by sticks, one needs to straighten his back, maybe at the price of own death, like Papanov’s hero. And another opinion, which turned out to be a prophetical one, is that when there is an easing, a ghost of freedom, the use of it will be first and foremost made by those who are close to power, so above all this will be a freedom for a bandit. The same thing has happened in our time. The 1990s are proof of this. Freedom given from above did not open any possibilities for many people to realize themselves. Criminals have realized themselves wonderfully, earning huge capitals and property, etc. and now it has become absolutely legal. In 1987 it was yet unclear. It is not without a reason, intuitively, a large part in this movie is given to the clan of criminals which seemingly were fighting against the power. In fact they are connected, because with their hands the power strangled all kinds of resistance and dissent in the camps, and they made arrangements with each other in a perfect way. The saddest thing is that we have not made any conclusions from our historical experience. We trigger a backflash every time. We have had a story with perestroika and the end of Soviet power. In a sense, we are in a similar situation, the life we are used to: we expect thaw to come after suppression. And we had a certain semblance, at least verbal, of a thaw, and now the regime is tightening the screws again. I am speaking about Russia, I don’t know what is going on in Ukraine, but I think this is the same mechanism. At that time I traveled a lot with Cold Summer, from US Congress to England. We were received as people on the verge of a gigantic rise. This is a feeling of freedom that fell upon us, we thought the creative forces would be set free and in five or ten years we will have an absolutely fantastic, amazing country, for having such a dramatic tragic experience, having acquired it, we were supposed to escape from it in seven-league strides. In this sense the role of our intelligentsia remained totally unfulfilled. And the German intelligentsia did fulfill its role: they conducted a total denazification. People apologized.”


“A kind of repentance did take place. And we have had absolutely nothing. In one way or ano­ther, a slow civic war is underway in our country and it is acquiring more acute forms. It has not stopped. You see, the difference between Russia and Ukraine is quite phantasmal. You have shouted louder in Khreshchatyk, bare-breast girls showed up. You’re in the south, the atmosphere is somewhat merrier, it is easier and freer, but in principle the mechanism is the same. And your Orange Revolution lost its breast in no time.”

At the beginning of perestroika the brains received such a powerful intellectual charge: forgotten names, shocking literature, shelved movies, and it was in vain. Why?

“Unfortunately, nothing was born in our country. The Germans gave birth to the new wave of Fassbinder, a very powerful campaign. The nation on the whole was influenced by intelligentsia, not just in terms of repentance: it extracted the thorn of Nazism from the body of the nation by radical means of art. Of course, a change of the national self-conscience and change of the mentality take place in all totalitarian regimes. We are still living with Soviet mentality, even those who were born in the new time. Young people come with red banners and shout. We have a student, a crazy one: whatever we discuss, he draws a conclusion that one thing or another was amazing in Soviet time. I tell him, ‘You haven’t smelled it and you cannot know.’ But they think that the formal equality in poverty was much better. How do these things appear in the minds of the new generation? It seems to me until we erase these things from ourselves, nothing positive happens. What I am dealing with has no demand. And it is our own fault. The fault of writers, journalists, and moviemakers.”

Haven’t you analyzed why?

“The thing is not about analysis, rather about stopping this slow civil war, renewing the ability to have a dialogue, to find a consensus. For people have lost the ability to talk, they have stopped coming to agreements. Watch any political talk show: they are shouting at each other to gain points, because a person who does not appear on TV seems not to exist at all. We need to hear each other. We are looking without stop for friends and enemies, internal enemies, etc. In such a state we are facing no prospects. As a result not the high-ranking elite, I mean those in power, will leave, but real elite, young spiritual forces, people who are able to realize themselves. When they see it is impossible and that one should realize oneself in a criminal way, they leave the country, there is an opportunity. How many people, how much capital have already fled by the way? The country with a colossal territory has a small population.”


You communicate much with people, with youth, you are a lecturer, so a social person. Do young people see and hear this, for you said it so expressively in Cold Summer?

“We have an illusive understanding of whether our business, I mean cinema, is possible to influence. When we come with a movie to some place and meet with the audience, this is always an amazing dialogue. People happen to be absolutely frank and demand you to be absolutely frank, then this dialogue takes place. But these are one-time actions. When the movies are shown in cinemas, people don’t watch them, because they are addicted to television, which deceives them. But a new generation is taking shape, presented by those who don’t want to watch TV, they go to the Moscow squares. My students were shooting Bolotnaya Street actions and all the talks that people in mink furs came there are a lie. For the large part the protesters included young people, educated ones, but yet unsettled or those who are settled but understand that there are no prospects, no possibility to move forward. And in this sense there is some fermentation, beyond doubt for me these are premises for the future dawn. There are very good young people, especially in province. You can see that here in Vologda Festival there are so many wonderful girls and boys who are doing everything for free, from the bottom of their hearts, it is extremely interesting for them and they follow what is going on in the world and Europe. Owing to the world of the Internet, and accessibility of culture, we currently have no special difference between the possibilities in province and the capital. People have access to everything. What seems extremely dangerous and harmful for me is that a certain substitution of ethic authorities without whom a nation cannot exist is taking place. There should be people, with whom you may disagree, but still hear what they say. There was Solzheni­tsyn, I disagree with him in many things, but he is a man-mountain, and when the role of personalities is played by political commentators and television, there is practically no access to some really extraordinary, thinking, creative, and bright personalities. This is very dangerous. I think something should happen to the television, because it has fulfilled its function of deceit by 200 percent.”

Does cinema has its niche?

“The audience’s attitude to cinema is an absolute consequence of the generally depressive state of the country. I have visited a festival in Southern Korea, this is a country that is rising and building a fantastic civilization. There were 10 to 12 flights from Seoul to this festival, the audience went to certain movies. Thousand-people lines in cinemas to huge halls. Cinema after all is a visualized national idea. If people do not want to see their personalities, like actors, compatriots, their own landscapes, own problems, they are losing interest and respect to their country. Cinema is an indicator of an energetic nation. Clever governments, like in France, put colossal money namely in cinema, not television.”

Russia has restored the state order, whereas Ukraine has allotted little money for cinema. Is not it based on the funding?

“The question is not about that. The question is about accessibility. Russia has somewhat 2,500 cinemas, and Poland – 3,000, even more. Let’s compare the scales of Poland and Russia. Secondly, it is expensive, not everyone can afford it, you see in Moscow a ticket costs 500 rubles, the VIP halls are even more expensive, they are for a certain category of people who go there to get satisfaction, to be entertained, pleased, and amused. They don’t go to seek something. For the Soviet power cinema replaced religion to some extent. Of course, its significance was overrated due to the lack of other possibilities. And people went to the cinema. Some of them were looking for entertainment, and others sought advice how to live, for some ethic support. Therefore there were diffe­rent kinds of movies, though under very harsh conditions, like harsh censure. And now high-ranking officials say: let’s allot the money only for commercial movies. Commercial movies are corruption based on low-sort things.”

Wait, I think if we recall the screening of Cold Summer, it was more than commercial cinema.

“Those were olden times, yes, there were 64 million a year, but first of all there were tens thousand halls, taking into account the village installations, and there were 4,500 copies, and now there are 12 to 15 copies, and I still make it to screenings. Many movies are not screened at all. And since I don’t want to shoot the movies like A Pregnant Man or Hitler Kaput, nobody will fund my projects. They ascribe me to directors that are already leaving.”

But do you belong to the category receiving the state funding, or they don’t make much of you?

“No, absolutely not. They have never made much of me. With all regalia, ranks, and awards. The authorities have never liked me.”