Friday, 11 March 2011

Timur Bekmambetov: Day Watch - Дневной дозор(2006)

Directed by Timur Bekmambetov.
Starring Konstantin Khabenskiy, Aleksey Chadov.

First there was Night Watch, a 1998 fantasy novel by Sergei Lukyanenko, a psychiatrist from Kazakhstan.
This was about the Twilight, an underworld inhabited by the Others, human beings who had crossed over and obtained magical powers. There were two types of others - the Light Others, who believed in helping the helpless, and the Dark Others, who believed in helping themselves. They fought a war 1000 years ago. A delicate truce was maintained by two forces.
The Night Watch tried to contain the Dark Others, who came in different forms - vampires, werewolves, shape-shifters. The Dark ones had the Day Watch, to keep the Night Watch from taking over.
The book was a best-seller. The film turned the whole thing into a golden goose, the first real post-Soviet Russian blockbuster (taking more than Lord of the Rings). Now we have the sequel, based on the second book. Day Watch premiered in January last year across Russia and took double the kopeks of its predecessor.
Both films have done well in Europe and Rupert Murdoch's Fox Searchlight bought the rights to the first three films. The third film ( Dusk Watch) is being shot in English, which is a travesty.
The series comes out of the chaos of modern Russian life and especially the disparity between rich and poor in Moscow. The producer, Konstantin Ernst (a TV mogul), and the Kazakh-born director, Timur Bekmambetov, have said repeatedly that their aim was always to make the films for Russians about Russia. That's what makes both films watchable, if not exactly comprehensible. ...

INTERVIEW with Daywatch director Timur Bekmambetov

Former commercial director Timur Bekmambetov, 46, first made his impact on Russia’s growing film world with 1994’s Peshawar Waltz, a micro-budgeted drama made for less than $60,000. But after an US-financed, Roger Corman-produced female gladiator movie The Arena in 2001, Bekmambetov really made his presence felt with Night Watch, the first modern Russian blockbuster, which became a huge cult hit in his native land.

How would you describe the difference between Night Watch and Day Watch?
The first film was very provocative. People said, ‘Wow, there are vampires in Moscow!’ But the second one is more about the story, and what was happening with the characters. The first movie was for men, and so perhaps the second one is for women.

Was it harder to make after the success of the first film?
If anything, it was a little bit easier, because we’d already shot something like 30 per cent of the second movie before the first — we just had to adjust it for release.

Would you say it was a fantasy film?
No. I think it’s a very realistic film — it’s just that something unreal is happening. I don’t like the term fantasy. Well, it’s not that I don’t like it, I just don’t understand it. It’s not that interesting to me. What’s interesting about these films is what’s happening with the main character, Anton, who’s played by Konstantin Khabensky, because he is a real human being. Everybody has two parts, light and dark, and when you have a problem like Anton does in the first movie, with his son, then it becomes a big problem because your whole world, everything breaks apart and all your fears are unleashed. This happens in real life, to real people, and these are Anton’s demons. It’s not a metaphor for human suffering – it is human suffering! At the beginning of the first film Anton’s world explodes, this nightmare happens, and so he’s trying to survive. His only hope is to go back to the beginning with the Chalk Of Fate and rewrite his destiny.

What is the main theme of these films? Is it a comment on the age-old struggle between good and evil?
I think that the main message from the movie is that there is no good and bad in this world, there is only dark and light. There’s a big difference — light represents responsibility and dark represents freedom. This conflict is more real nowadays. We are very smart now. We understand that ‘good’ means what’s good for you, but for another person it can mean the opposite. It’s a really very childish way to see things — it’s very black and white and it doesn’t work. But look at it another way: freedom or responsibility? That’s a very important decision, and we have to make it every day. It’s a decision that’s made by the individual, by the family, by every city, every country of the world. If you have enough energy and you have a childish spirit, you will choose Dark. If you’re more grown up, like a hero, responsibility becomes a culture. It’s something that comes with experience.

So would you say that these are political films?
I think they’re philosophical, which means political, ethical and, I don’t know, sociological. I think it’s a very important question. There’s no discussion of it in the film — it’s just a story, it’s entertaining, and that’s all. I know that the way to deliver a message is to put it in a dramatic context, create conflict, and people will feel this. I’m not a teacher!

There’s a great deal of humour in Day Watch...

Yes. We are healthy enough to be ironic about ourselves!

Particularly in the party scene, where Anton’s son starts to become a man. What can you tell us about that?
It was a real party, and we invited a lot of famous Russian pop-cultural icons. For example, if it had been in London we’d have invited someone like, I don’t know, maybe Madonna! Celebrities. People like them, masses like them, and they are sucking energy from them. They live because they’re sucking energy out of their fans. It happens with politicians too. There was a communist politician there, a big bald guy, and Konstantin, during the party, went up to him and starting singing a communist song. He didn’t know the words! So it’s sort of a fake world, and we decided that that world would be good for the party scene. Celebrities and politicians are really dark. It’s in their nature. Dark means freedom. And they’re really free. ...

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