The Grotesque world of Sergei Loznitsa

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Sergei Loznitsa is a prolific Ukrainian film director. He is often referred as a Russophobe by the Russian press, but he says they are wrong and his only goal is to show the real face of Russia to the whole world. He thinks that facing the problem and reconsidering the history is the only way to change the present. The film critics consider him as one of the few directors who really show the true face of modern Russia, the real history of Soviet Union and how it shaped the present of post-Soviet countries. Sergei Loznitsa has his own significant style. Saturated with grotesque humor, he makes movies , that show hidden  history of Soviet era and exposes its remnants. Sergei Loznitsa in his own unique way tells the story which shaped post-Soviet era for Russia and the other countries, describes Russia’s imperialistic attitude towards its neighboring nations. Ukraine and Georgia has a lot in common, they both have a European path and values that causes mental incompatibility with Russia -says the director. Russia still lives with “Soviet Nostalgia” and Loznitsa’s movies capture that  spirit which also defines Russia’s present.

Sergei Loznitsa became famous for his documentary films. He takes the material and without any sensationalism or dramatization and embellishment just reveals the reality with full intensity and clarity. His film “Victory Day” follows the celebrations of May 9th  by Russian-speaking society  at a memorial in one of the parks in Berlin. Sergei Loznitsa doesn’t play with the audience’s emotions, he manages to depict the grotesque realism  without any music or sound-effects. The stories in Loznitsa’s movies seem unbelievable, but who has had any kind of interaction with Russia, for sure knows  that stories, told by Loznitsa, are real.

I met Sergei Loznitsa at Tbilisi International Film Festival in Demeter of 2018.That year his drama film, based on true events,  “Donbass” was shown during the festival. “Donbass” was premiered and was selected as the opening film in the Un Certain Regard section at the  2018 Cannes film festival. Loznitsa won the Un Certain Regard award for Best Director. “Donbass” tells the story of the conflict between Ukraine and Russian-supported so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, which started in 2014 after Ukrainian revolution.

“Donbass” depicts Russian army with grotesque brutality. The director was accused of bias, but has an answer for the accusers-The Ukrainian army has not started the war. While watching the movie it is hard to believe that the eerie atmosphere in the movie is true, that army could behave like that, but this is Russia and scenes like that we have seen in Georgia, even during the August War in 2008 when Russian soldiers carried toilets or cutlery from the occupied regions.

“Donbass” combines 13 stories , the director shot the movie based on the amateur videos he saw on YouTube and tried to reflect unbelievable, yet true and bitter story. It is a messy chaotic satire , reflecting corruption, war and life in the epicenter of conflict.The bureaucracy and total disorder makes you feel hopeless, but you know there is no solution. The story makes you laugh , but it is a laughter with bitterness.  While watching it you have mixed emotions- it is incredibly funny and utterly sad at the same time. You don’t want to believe that this is actually happening somewhere and you know for sure that this is really happening.  “An incredible shot anti-militaristic anti-Russian Farce”-says issue “Premiere” and I think it is the best description of the movie.

Loznitsa creates a surreal mood in his movies, which is more real that anyone can ever imagine. “A Gentle Creature” his 2017 movie is an incredible journey of one woman in the barbarous prison  town of Siberia. Her husband is in prison she believes that he is innocent, so she  decides to hop on a train to Siberia and here starts never ending journey in a nightmare. She faces brutal, archaic chaotic situation from which there is no salvation and no desire to obtain that salvation. The whole journey feels like Dante’s “Inferno”.

Loznitsa’s filmography counts 26 feature and documentary films, saying  it’s just a beginning, and in his focus , with his stylistics , he will turn a number of hot topics into movies.

 

I’d like to start our interview with your latest feature  movie “Donbass”, which will be shown at  Tbilisi International Film Festival. Tell us more about “Donbass”, What is  the story behind the movie?

I always chose to film about the topics which  has a great influence over me. This is one of the major events, which started in Ukraine in 2014. This is the major event taking place in that period of time in the post Soviet territory.  I was following the news in press and television, I had conversations with people who managed to escape this territory. This inspired me to make a movie about events taking place in Donbass. On YouTube I saw amateur videos  shot by the locals in Donbass, I wrote the script based on this videos. If someone will say that situations depicted in the film is not real, they  can compare some scenes from my film to this videos and they will be sure that reality is even worse. Sometime cinema is a very dangerous art and it’s not always about entertainment. Shocking the audience was not my goal, I tried to keep a balance. I tried to describe the real situation taking place in Donbass, tried to tell real stories. I wanted to describe what had happened and why. What happens to people, there were situations I could hardly believe were real, sometimes people act like animals and those are the people we have to live with. Sometimes people can be brutal.

What do you think caused to form such a society?

This is our common problem, loosing humanity among the members of today’s society.  I think it’s a common problem worldwide, but especially in Post Soviet countries. We live in anti-world. We have lost the sense of truth and dignity. There was a revolution in Ukraine, Georgia will easily understand this, but it’s hard for the other Post Soviet countries. That was a revolution of dignity (Maidan Revolution, 2014 year). This all started with policemen beating students, people started protest marches and in only three months the President was changed.  It all started with a question Am I a human or a slave?! We all grew up in a country, in a society where individualism was being destroyed. If you were an individual you already represented a danger and were in a great danger. This was common for Soviet Union, but the idea is still alive.  Russia is still trying to create a similar system. Only in this culture can all victims be found guilty and vice versa. In this system human is not prioritized, human is only a recourse, which can be used for a various purposes.

You are often accused of being anti-Russia…

This a mistake, those who blame me made a mistake. There is book called “Russophobia”, which is written by a Russian mathematician, Igor Shafacheverich. In this book he describes Vladimir Visotsky as a Russophobe, but Vladimir Visotsky used his poetry to tell the truth about Russia and Soviet Union. By the same token we can say that Nikolai Gogol was one of the greatest Russophobes. If they  really want to realize who they  are, they can publicly discuss their problems, which they are avoiding constantly. For example the issue like Russian Gulag is not even mentioned in any of Russian movies. Can you name just one movie describing how the one part of population destroyed another and how did they continue living together after all. This is a question to me. Only now I have finished working on a movie called “Trial”, which is based on an archive materials  kept in Russian public archive. Those materials were filmed in the era of Stalin during one of the trials. These are people who admitted that they were preparing a sabotage and planned to destroy the Russian economy. Today we know that all this was a lie and a play staged by  the secret services and organized by Stalin himself. These revelations and materials exist. Open up the archives and watch these materials. I only took them and edited. These materials are recorded in 1930, it also has a voice. You can watch the whole history and travel in the past.

 How do you think will Russia ever change its attitude towards neighboring countries?

I really wish Russia’s attitude towards its neighboring countries to change, at least some day. It’s really hard to talk about the future.

What do you think how will the situation in Ukraine end?

I am really bad Cassandra. Unfortunately I am not expecting anything good, I can’t see the best solution for the problem.  This is huge problem, a confrontation of two different mentalities. Ukraine is holding European course, I can’t say that you will meet French or German mentality in Ukraine. This is not the case yet, but Ukraine is taking a path towards Europe and they chose European values. Russian  mentality is completely different and their goals are different. Geography is a problem too. Each culture is important. Russian culture has its own authenticity too and it will be hard to lose it too.
I want to ask about your movie “A Gentle Creature”, What is  the story behind it?

It’s the movie about yesterday and today, the present and the past face of Russia. This movie is based on the Novel by Feodor Dostoevsky and  he said that he saw Russia that way, he predicted what would happen to that country. It’s his last short novel, where he allegorically has assumed what would happen to Russia. Such thing didn’t happen to any other nation. One excludes and destroyers another. It feels like civil war still continues.

And my last question will be about Nana Djordjadze, what part did she play in your career?

I love her, she is a great person. She opened the door into the cinema for me.  The second time I tried to get into film school,  I got bad scores, I was 27. After that I approached to Nana, she met me in the street near VGIK (Film school in  Moscow, Russia). I asked her if I could be free listener at her class, she said-of course dear and that is how I became a director. I am very grateful to her.

 

Thank you so much

Author:Ruska Giorgadze

 

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