Does Tashkent believe in tears?
He played more than a hundred roles in cinema, but got famous as a director. No wonder - Vladimir Menshov has directed the films that got iconic in former Soviet Union and beyond: “Rally”, “Love and Pigeons”, “Shirley-Myrli” and, of course, “Moscow Doesn't Believe in Tears”, that got US Academy Awards as Best Foreign Language Film in 1981. People’s Artist, laureate of the State Prize of Russian Federation, Vladimir Menshov spoke about his life, cinema’s yesterday and today, his colleagues, contemporaries, and much more at the meeting held in Tashkent at the PROlogue Film Festival.
You have become an honorary guest of the PROlogue Film Festival. What is your opinion about it?
- I remember the Tashkent International Film Festival (International Film Festival of Asia, Africa and Latin America that took place in Tashkent biennially from 1968 to 1988 – ed.), which was a significant and serious event. It is remarkable that nowadays Uzbekistan supports art. If the producers are ready to find and "pull out" good movies, that is great.
In general, we can confidently say that the East is growing stronger. Recently I was at the Pyongyang Film Festival, where decent films were presented. It seems China thrives for leadership in world cinema market. They are demonstrating now what they have learned from Americans. I think both Russia and Uzbekistan should take their experience into account.
- You are considered to be the person that had presented the Russian-language cinema to the West, breaking some invisible wall. How did you manage it and how did it all begin?
- I’m not so enthusiastic in evaluating my own works. There have always been good films, and I took them as an example when doing my own movies. The cinema of the 1930s is especially strong. I love gorgeous and smart comedies of that period. Some viewers took movie posters with them when going to the cinema. We can say about many of them that the creators touched the very heart of the nation.
I grew up watching Grigory Alexandrov’s comedies, it is impossible to restrain laughter. However my career growth began in a spirit of French new wave of the 1950s. Back then the cinema was the only window into the world. Only few could afford a TV, and everyone listened to the radio all day long and went to the cinema as if it was a festival or holiday. I was also greatly influenced by Italian neo-realism, where they showed devastation, but did it with such taste, from such an angle that I could not see too much of it.
With all these background, I began directing. Moreover, I did not think for a second to do something incriminating, and oddly enough I was often criticized for that. Then a miracle happened: the "Moscow Doesn't Believe in Tears" was accepted and understood by the people, it was nominated for US Academy Awards. Then it got nominated as Best Foreign Language Film among other five movies. It was me, young and unknown, competing with Akira Kurosawa, Francois Truffaut, Carlos Saura, Istvan Sabo... In general, everyone understood who was an outsider. I have not even book a flight to America.
The ceremony was to take place on March 30th. Everyone tried to see it on TV or radio, but, in the morning, it turned out, that an assassination attempt was made on Reagan, and thus the ceremony was rescheduled to the next day. That was March 31, and taking the time difference into account, it was already April 1 in Moscow. When the phone began to burst from calls with congratulations, I decided that it was a joke, moreover, rather a dumb one.
- You directed so many successful movies, don’t you like to give them a sequel?
- I will say right away, there were proposals, but, personally, I have a negative attitude to such ideas. What can I say? Take "Moscow ...", we share copyright with Valentin Chernykh - the script author, who wrote a book about the heroes of this movie. To be honest, I have not even read it myself. This story is well known, heroes are loved, and the sequel can only kill the effect. There are many examples. Let us remember the "Irony of Fate." (Ironiya Sud’bi, another Soviet movie-hit, that got a sequel in 2007 – ed.) There should be a certain completeness of the story. The moment we here the last phrase in “Moscow Doesn't Believe in Tears”: "I've been looking for you for so long," end credits appear on the screen. That was the idea. What's next? Maybe six months later they broke up, but the film is about something else. In this case, you can recall the words of Tolstoy, who said that a happy ending is a hoax for the reader, in fact, all problems begin right after the wedding.
- What would advise young directors?
- I myself teach at the Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography and at the Advanced Course for Screenwriters and Film Directors, but so far, I have not found any single success formula. Over the years, I begin to lean toward the simplest solutions in everything, including the casting. So to say, I know that I know nothing. I look at the acting or the picture and I can say where everything is right and where it is not. However, I cannot just generalize how to direct, act or choose artists.
I am sure, though, that you need to practice and have good education to make a good movie. I advise everyone to go to the theater. In terms of form, theater art is much inventive. It enriches culture and triggers creativity.
No need to despair. In every year, we have the brightest, energetic students who set the tone. There are those, however, who work aside - quiet, not running ahead of everyone. I can say the last ones are more often become those who succeed.
- Todays filmmaking is full with computer technology. How do you feel about it?
- It is not easy for our generation to fit in. We should have merged in new trends about 20 years ago. I think I will not have time to direct something like that myself, but I was acting in so to say hi-tech “Night Watch” and “Day Watch” movies (urban fantasy supernatural thrillers by Timur Bekmambetov released in 2004 and 2006- ed.). It was interesting to watch the footage as the processing made the result unrecognizable.
I think gizmos are ideal for the production of fantasy and fairy tales. It is clear that the sphere is changing, as the time itself requires it. However, this is not the cinema, in which I came and enjoyed with all my heart. I am in love with films where human relationships develop; there is a serious social vibe.
- You are one of the few who have successfully proved themselves on both sides of the camera lens. What is preferable for you - to direct or act?
- The question is rather rhetorical, and I have an exact answer to it. Profession of a director is a wonderful lifetime lasting poison. Those who tried to direct, will not return fully to acting. Of course, many try, but there is no turning back. I noticed that I need a lot of mind work before I agree to act somewhere, and the script should really “cling”.
The director is doing a great job. It is necessary for him to adjust to the scriptwriter, and to answer all questions, to check. Acting is much simpler, as actor is responsible for his role only.
- Are there any plots taken from your own life in your works?
- The director, as well as the operator, artist, actor, puts a piece of himself in any film. Nevertheless, I cannot name a single of my movies, which could be considered at least partially autobiographical. I am not brave enough for this.
My life, though, provided me with a number of interesting stories. For example, I got enrolled in the Moscow Art Theatre School only on the fourth attempt, I worked as a turner and sailor during breaks, but even then I realized that I would not live my life if I would not work in the cinema. However, despite all this, I only transfer my experience from real life to the movies.
- And summing up, share your impressions about Uzbekistan?
- Glad to be here again. I love the world, I love to travel, and my life since childhood has been connected with many countries. I was born in Baku, lived in Iran during the war (World War II – ed), and after it was Astrakhan. I still haven’t been able to get to my roots completely, but I’m sure: I have some eastern blood in me.
Uzbekistan is rich in talented people, interesting ideas, and good friends. I would like to know more about your art and creative life. Cultural exchange is the best way to achieve this.
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