KinoKultura: Issue 35 (2012)
Igor’ Voloshin: Look at our world today: people have faint ideas of what is actually going on. I was quite stunned by some journalists’ questions: after all, these are educated people, and yet they do not know that you can go to jail for importing medication that is not licensed in another country; or how you search for ways of finding money for the treatment of a sick child when you have a salary of USD 300 and you need USD 10,000 for the treatment. When the film’s main character decides to become a surrogate mother, this is an optimal solution, and I agree with her decision because it shows that she is a real, living person. […]
KiKu: Ol'ga, how did you prepare for your role: obviously, there is the psychological side, but did you actually meet surrogate mothers?
Ol’ga Simonova: No, we read up on the internet. But in Sevastopol, where I come from and where my mother lives, I have a friend with two children who went to Moscow to earn money to buy a flat from another friend of mine. But this was already after the film’s shooting.
I.V.: We wanted to make a contemporary film, about what happens today. My idea is to put a simple story onto the screen and tell about the experience of a living, human being. I wanted to show what you can do in our world when you have a harsh fate and a rough life.
KiKu: Three themes are touched upon in the film, which could be divided into three chapters: the story of the surrogate motherhood; the criminal world; and the departure to a different culture and religion. Why did you choose these three lines and juxtapose them?
I.V.: I like cinema when it’s interesting and I wanted to make the film more varied. But when I wrote the script together with Ol’ga (even if she is not in the credits), she made up this story. During our trip to Jordan we met Stella, our guide, who told us the story about the camel milk. The Bedouins we filmed gave us this milk: this is all real. How could we not make use of what reality presented to us? We did not look for anything. Rita comes to a certain city, settles in a particular district which has a single restaurant.
O.S: We went inside and were beleaguered.
I.V.: When we chose locations, we had the help of serious people from certain structure: I mean criminal structures. The heroine is desperate when she tries to save her daughter and she senses that she might need help from Zhenia. Also, there is so much crime in our world that it would be strange not to touch upon this issue. Yet strangely enough, nobody asked about the Chinese Mafia in the film …
O.S.: The thing is that we are not quite ready to integrate others into our society. This is something that has always fascinated me about American society, where you meet so many people from different backgrounds who they are fully integrated, unlike in our country. We have to make our own experiences before we can change. We have to understand that those people who come to work here and clean our streets are also people: without them we’d drown in snow and ice. We have to learn that they are not wild people, but have to be integrated into our society. I would like to see that kind of integration: not a fight for everybody’s place under the sun. There’s enough space for everyone. There is no national issue—that’s all invented.
KiKu: Like the integration that the heroine experiences in Jordan?
O.S.: Yes, quite.
I.V.: We did not invent things, but there is a structure in the script. The division into three parts follows the three acts of a classical drama. The acts explain the heroine’s moves: I can follow her because her movements are genuine. The people who help her are strangers, who have no obligation to help at all.
O.S.: The people she counts on let her down, but the strangers help. The evangelical story about relying on your closest neighbors comes through here: someone collapses in the street and people think they are drunk…
KiKu: I have a question about the third act: on the one hand I can see that you want to move to another country, to another culture: but why Jordan and not, say, Uzbekistan? If we talk about integration of different ethnic groups, then why not choose an ethnic group of the former USSR, so that the heroine travels to a country where the migrant workers come from.
O.S.: We wanted a fresh start without the imprint of the Soviet past. We wanted something different, exotic, and new.
I.V.: For Rita or anyone else from Russia, going to Uzbekistan would mean certain death for a woman with money and a sick child. She would be considered mad, or she would have to know exactly who to turn to. But she has no such information.
O.S.: This journey is her last straw.
KiKu: Is there not also a fairy-tale element here?
I.V.: I just wanted to say: this country is a kingdom and it is the cradle of Christianity, of the Old Testament. It has a certain atmosphere and quietude about it.
O.S.: I feel that this land is my third home after Sevastopol and Moscow. This place harbors the cradle of humanity and witnesses the birth of our world.
I.V.: It is a setting that inspires quietude and that balances things. Rita goes to a world that is magic, biblical. We deliberately move towards the soil and away from the industrial world. There are no slot machines there, no port where Rita’s friend works, no computers which provide a link with her daughter. The Bedouins have nothing but their tents, their children, and their cattle, and they share everything with you. […] The arrival of a woman with a sick child is part of normality for them. That’s how we would like to perceive the world and how we would like to be seen.
KiKu: The third act contains a number of rituals, including the baby’s circumcision. We never see Rita as an orthodox believer, but here she enters another culture and another religion. Is this an allusion to the importance of Islam in our contemporary world?
O.S.: For me she simply acquires a god. This is not about religion, but about faith.
I.V.: We do not talk about religious views, as she is beyond that context, like the majority of our people. She makes no choice in favor of Islam, but we record a situation where the child has to be circumcised as part of the rituals of everyday life, not as part of a religious ritual. Rita is not interested in religion: she is a non-believer who gradually finds her way to god.
I.V.: She finds her god in the end: she recognizes that god created the world. She looks at the innocence of this place.
O.S.: You can find yourself anywhere in the world and acquire the fullness of life.
I.V.: I like the fact that there is no moral judgment in the film. We do not insist on anything or put forward a certain view, but we record the processes in our contemporary world in a documentary manner.
KiKu: If we go back to the fairy-tale line: the third act may be real, but it may also be unreal, as if the journey had never happened. Then what is the link between the Rita’s departure and the “other world” that Nastia creates for herself in the drawings she makes in the clinic where she undergoes chemotherapy?
I.V.: The children in the hospital find ways of realizing their potential. The nurses usually encourage the children to draw. Rita talks to Nastia about vampires: maybe we call the baby Edward, like the guy in the blockbuster about vampires, but Nastia says that Edward is not real but part of the imagination.
O.S.: In the hospital ward, imagination is everything: it keeps her alive.
I.V.: When I wrote the script I thought about those details that you mention. Nastia’s enormous inner world is somehow projected onto the desert and becomes wider—through cinematic language.
Recorded 11 June 2011
Birgit Beumers, Bristol
Svetlana Khokhriakova, Moscow
KinoKultura © 2011
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