Saturday, 26 February 2011

Alexei Balabanov: Cargo 200 (2007) and Interview with Balabanov

Cargo 200, Russia, 2007
Color, 89 minutes
Director: Aleksei Balabanov
Scriptwriter: Aleksei Balabanov
Cinematography: Aleksandr Simonov
Art Director: Pavel Parkhomenko
Sound: Mikhail Nikolaev
Editing: Tat'iana Kuzmicheva
Cast: Agniia Kuznetsova, Aleksei Poluian, Leonid Gromov, Aleksei Serebriakov, Leonid Bichevin, Natal'ia Akimova, Iurii Stepanov, Mikhail Skriabin, Aleksandr Bashirov

Review by Tony Anemone© 2007 in KinoKultura

Although it may be too soon to declare Cargo 200 the best Russian film of 2007, it is hard to imagine much competition for the title of most controversial. Borrowing freely from various cinematic genres (for example, anti-war, family drama, psychological thriller) and literary classics (especially Dostoevskii's novels), Balabanov has constructed a rigorous and unsparing film about the death of the Soviet Union that is guaranteed to shock even the most jaded viewers. According to Balabanov, Soviet society circa 1984 was the poisonous wreck of an industrial civilization tottering on the verge of collapse from the sum of its political, social, and individual vices: a hopeless foreign war of choice bleeding the country dry, a terrorized and infantilized populace, rampant alcohol abuse among young and old, complete police lawlessness (bespredel), a geriatric and out of touch government, a dismal and hypocritical popular culture, an arrogant and cynical intelligentsia, a nihilistic younger generation, and the soul-crushing hopelessness of everyday life for the masses. When the best representatives of the younger generation were sacrificed to vain and doomed imperial ambitions in Afghanistan, the future was put in the hands of amoral black-marketers (fartsovshchiki), the absolutely predictable products of a soulless, cynical, and materialistic culture, who would become the business elite of post-Soviet Russia. In this way, Cargo 200 represents the continuation of the search for the origins of the post-Soviet power class that Balabanov began in Blind Man's Bluff (Zhmurki, 2005). ...


Filmmaker: At the start of Cargo 200, it says the movie is based on real events. How did you find out about these events, and how closely do you stick to the truth?

Balabanov: In 1983 I served in the army in transport aviation and we were attached to the landing force division who went to Afghanistan and came from there. I flew to Afghanistan myself. We took soldiers there and also brought dead bodies back. I lived in the barracks with a man who had a lot of war experience and he told me a lot of stories. For example that dead bodies very often disappeared and there was no real control about their transportation back home. That is how the image of the stolen dead soldier’s body came to my mind.

In 1984 when I came back from the army I started working at Sverdlovsk Film Studios as a
director’s assistant and I was assigned to the film crew of the film The Way to the Sunrise about Russia conquering Alaska. I traveled through a big part of Russia looking for locations. I met a lot of Yakut people. Germans. I lived with them, listened to their stories. There is a lot of my imagination in the film but real stories are the base of the film.

Filmmaker: How personal is this film to you? What are your recollections of that period of the 1980s influenced the film? How much did they creep into the film?

Balabanov: In 1984 it was the end of Soviet Union: Chernenko, the old sick leader died, Gorbachev came to power, new era started. The film is very personal. I wanted to tell the story which I was the witness of.

Filmmaker: What was your impetus for writing the film? Was it to counteract nostalgia for Communist era? (If so, do you feel Putin is responsible for the fond feelings of this period?)

Balabanov: I am 49 years old. I was born in the Soviet Union. There is no nostalgia for that time. And Putin has nothing to do with it. I just showed the life of people how I remember it.

Filmmaker: How easy was it for you to recreate the look of the 1980s in the film?

Balabanov: I remember the people, the events very clearly. I work with the same crew all the time, the art director, the costume designer (my wife) are very professional not young people, who also remember that time. Besides we shot the film in the province, here the atmosphere has not changed much. We did not have to build anything special, we shot in a communal apartment (home of the policeman in the film) which did not require special decoration.

Filmmaker: Your actors have a very deadpan style. Do you have particular methods to get them to act in such a way?

Balabanov: I give very exact instructions to the actors, I ask them to be very natural. I very often prefer non professionals. For example the mother of the policeman is played by a common woman who lived in the communal apartment where we shot these scenes.

Filmmaker: How do you describe Cargo 200 to people? Is it a comedy? A melodrama? A thriller?

Balabanov: I cannot define the genre of the film, I do not think you can place it in a certain genre.

Filmmaker: The film has a very dark sense of humor. Do you feel you are more able to make a point with a joke?

Balabanov: I have a sense of humor and I use it very often, but I do not think there is any humor in this film.

Filmmaker: How does the content of the film relate to contemporary Russia? Is there a lesson you hope people will take from it?

Balabanov: I did not think about the present contemporary Russia when making this film, but critics and audience saw allusions to today’s situation. It was not my intention. But films give space to interpretation, which sometimes surprise me. I am not a teacher and it is not my task to teach people any lessons.

One of my favourite films is Old People Do Not Live Here Anymore [the Russian title of No Country for Old Men] by the Coen brothers. What lesson does it teach people? Evil wins at the end and is not punished. Directors who are artists just tell stories, sometimes people make conclusions and interpret the films in their own way. Especially if films make an emotional impact on the audience.

Filmmaker: Is there are a certain group of people you were trying to reach with this film?
Do you think of yourself as an international filmmaker when you are making your movies?

Balabanov: I do not make films for myself. I make them for people and I want people to like my films. I do not make films for any group of people or only for Russians.

Filmmaker: Are audiences meant to enjoy Cargo 200? Or would you prefer that it disturbs them and gets under their skin?

Balabanov: I make shocking films and usually my films are either liked or hated. There are no indifferent viewers.

Filmmaker: How important is this film in terms of your career as a whole?

Balabanov: Each film I make is important for me, I do not do anything else beside making films. It is my life.

Filmmaker: After the huge success of Brother, you made Of Freaks and Men, which was a vastly different film. Did you feel a need to respond to that success on your own terms?

Balabanov: Of Freaks and Men was conceived and written before Brother, but it was the more expensive project so I made Brother, which cost very little ($300,000) before the producer was ready to finance Of Freaks and Men.

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