Russian filmmaker Sergei Loznitsa will be at the Cannes Festival again this year, competing for the Palme D’Or. This time he presents “In the Fog,” a feature film adaptation of a novel set in the darkest recesses of World War II, when Russians accused each other of fomenting with the German enemy and men faced difficult moral choices. The memory of war is a difficult burden to bear but the need to memorialize a tragedy is as vital today as it was at the outset of the conflict. Loznitsa’s “My Joy” was well received two years ago, the forty-seven year-old director taking a minimalistic, and purely visual, approach to filmmaking: dialogues and sound are bare, sequences yielding instead to the immense and oppressive beauty of Russia’s expanses and men outwitting other men. We briefly spoke to him yesterday as he was in the final stages of preparing the film to show in Cannes.
You seem to hold a dear a link with Russia’s past, which is an incredibly rich trove of potential narratives. Is this a way to exorcise Russia’s former demons or to immortalize its heroes?
It’s neither nor. I do not regard Russia’s (or indeed any country’s) history as a “trove” which can be open or shut, as one pleases. We exist in historical time, and our mentality, our attitudes and our understanding of the world is determined by our perception of history. Everything that happens here and now also constitutes a part of history, however we do not see it as such, because we do not distance ourselves from the present moment. Detachment and distance are necessary in order to achieve understanding. I am particularly interested in World War II because I think that this chapter of Soviet history has not been reflected upon sufficiently and is yet to be understood. There are still lessons to be learned. Today, when 14, 000 soldiers and officers march through Red Square in Moscow at the military parade celebrating the 67th anniversary of the Soviet victory in WWII, which took away the lives of 26 million of the country’s citizens, there are still many questions which remain unanswered. Why was the human cost so enormous? As far as I am concerned this is cause for mourning and remembrance, not celebration.
Like with “Blockade” you set “In the fog” during a considerable period of Russia’s history, the Soviet-era, a period most Russians I presume would want to forget. And 1942 is the middle of World War II, an especially hard time for them. Why this particular historical period?
The script is based on a novel by the Bielorussian writer Vasily Bykov. I chose this story that speaks about the war without talking about military actions. Everything that we see at the frontline, impressive battle scenes, for example, does not interest me. I am interested in the conditions that force people to come to the front lines. And the origins of these conditions can be found in their daily routine life.
Why make a film about the World War II? Due to certain reasons, artists during the Soviet era had a very limited opportunity to reflect upon the events that took place in those tragic years. The post-Soviet culture also has produced very few works that give an unbiased representation of the events of that period. However, these tragic events need to be reflected upon and analyzed.
Premieres, sales—what do you anticipate for the immediate future?
The film is just about to be finished. I am still working in the lab, and we expect the first print to be ready by May 10th. The world premiere of the film will take place in Cannes. It is expected that “In the fog” will be released in Russia in autumn 2012. The film has also been bought for distribution in France, Germany, Poland, Benelux countries, and our sales Match Factory is currently negotiating deals with other territories.
You are a documentary filmmaker by trade, and perhaps by preference. Does making documentaries influence your feature filmmaking style, and how?
I studied feature film making at V.G.I.K., Moscow’s national film school. When I graduated in 1996, the circumstances were such that I was able to make independent low-budget documentaries. I travelled extensively through Russia, making documentary films. This experience is precious, and the stories I collected and the encounters I had, are unforgettable. I think that my documentaries influence my feature films and vice versa. I intend to continue in both genres.
Is there a conscious effort to avoid big cities (where human stories intertwine and complicated subjects are ripe for exploitation) in your narratives?
I grew up in the city and I’ve been living in big cities all my life, so I think it’s quite natural that I should be drawn to a space that’s unknown to me. I can say that perhaps I am on my way to a “city story,” but I have not reached this point yet. I have yet to reach “cities.”
What’s the one thing you are looking forward to the most, this time around in Cannes (professional and personal)?
I do believe that Cannes is the best place in the world to premiere one’s film. There is a great culture of celebration of the art of cinema there, and for the two weeks of the festival cinema truly becomes the most important thing in the world. It is a great pleasure and a great honour to bring your film to Cannes and to know that it would be received with the attention, respect and care it deserves. I also very much look forward to bringing my crew to Cannes–I want to share this joy with them.
Daily festival coverage starting May 15th. Follow Ali Naderzad @ScreenComment