Elina Heiniemi: You are preparing a new film. What is it about?
Marlen Khutsiev: It tells about the imagined encounter of Tolstoy and Chekhov. I have a tape with me, I'm planning on maybe showing it on Sunday. If you are here then, you can see clips of my new film.
I started working with the film in Moscow at the Mosfilm Studio, and since I wasn't happy with it, I moved to the Gorki studio. For there are many private film companies to choose from in Moscow, where I live.
"Unfortunately, we don't have a picture for the article, but you'll surely find one on the Internet", the interpreter tells me.
Heiniemi: I have a camera with me...
"He's not talking about a picture of himself, but from the film!", the interpreter corrects.
Heiniemi: Yes! How did you end up choosing film, specifically, as your media of impression?
Khutsiev: I can't really explain, maybe we are chosen, I don't choose. I thought of applying to the art academy. However, I didn't pass the entrance exam. I got a position in a film studio, got familiar with the film making process, and that's where it all got started. I applied to a film school and got in, even though I had heard nothing at all about the school beforehand. That's the history, prehistory.
Khutsiev glances at the idyllic village through the window of Hotel Sodankylä's bar. I organise information about the director's personal history in my head. The Soviet film was in an unfortunate state during the last years of Stalin. Khutsiev, who was born in the Georgian capital Tbilis, graduated from Moscow Film School in 1952. Stalin died next year. This started a period called Thaw which lasted until 1964. That is the time Marlen Khutsiev really started his film career, at the turn of the 50s.
The revolutionary development of Soviet cinema in the 60s can be considered a phenomenon as important as the French New Wave. Marlen Khutsiev, along with Andrei Tarkovsky, Sergei Paradzanov, Vasili Suksin, Larisa Sepitko and Kira Muratova, belongs to the generation of directors also called the 60s group. Thaw made it possible to renew the language, form and contents of Soviet film. Of these directors, the influence of French films is best seen in Marlen Khutsiev's works.
Heiniemi: You have had a long career first in the Soviet Union, then in Russia. How has film making changed?
Khutsiev: It's a bit hard to answer that question... I was studying during Stalin's period, I started making films only after his death. Today, several films are made in Russia every year. There are, of course, some talented directors too, but not many serious, philosophical movies get done. Most of them are action or crime movies. They are trying to compete with Hollywood production by producing series. I feel like film was taken more seriously in Soviet Union. Film was the most important form of art, as Lenin put it.
Marlen Khutsiev has also gotten into trouble during his career. The artists' dreams of a more liberal society tumbled down Thaw ended as Leonid Breznev seized power (1964-1982). The censors of the cinema ministry Goskino started to make the work of the 60s group difficult.
Heiniemi: In the past, you too have been the victim of the red pen, but is there adversity in making films in today's Russia?
Khutsiev: Nowadays, when capitalism governs the position of films, it has become a more dangerous enemy than the red pen ever was. We can use the film that I'm making now as an example. I ran into financing problems with it, which caused a sudden ten month break in filming. I couldn't go on. These financing problems touch my age group in particular. I'm of the generation that has trouble talking about money in general, or work under capitalism.
Cognac and coffee is brought to the table. Khutsiev is referring with his answer to the fact that in the planned economy, every film production had to be approved by the officials. On the other hand, once you had the approval, financing was guaranteed.
The director and his interpreter toast their cups joyfully.
Hutsijev: Now we drink to you and Kaltio!
Heiniemi: Thank you! Do you think the audience will ever get bored with Hollywood-style mass productions?
Hutsijev: The viewers are already bored. So-called normal movies, which I represent and which are usually presented in festivals like this, do not make money. That's why so few of them are made in modern Russia. I definitely do not regard American film as the best in the world, despite its dominance. But of course it is the forerunner in the technological sense.
Americans are a very self-satisfied nation. They don't care much about European movie or Europe. It's enough for them that their own films are doing well in their own continent.
Neither Russian nor Soviet films lose to American or any other productions. For instance, there are our excellent historical films of 1920s and 1930s, like Peter the Great. I think it does quite well against western spectacles in the category of historical films. But this type of Russian cinema is very poorly known in the West.
Spiderman 2 was the most watched film in Finland this summer, and probably also in Russia. I wonder what audience Khutsiev is referring to when he says it is bored with Hollywood films? Perhaps we are inside a bubble here at the Sodankylä Festival. But then again, why should the director not be pleased, we just came from a showing of his film where every seat was occupied.
I wonder what "normal movies" that Khutsiev mentioned while describing his own work means precisely. It can also mean a good film... Then at least it would be the opposite of what Peter von Bagh calls "crap cinema". And all that is left in between... It is probable that normal film to me as a viewer means something different from what the director wants to refer to. Khutsiev does not mention which director's Peter the Great he values as a historical film. Later I find out that the topic has been pictured by directors Bukowetzky, Jershov and Gontsarov.
Heiniemi: The ball is in the audiences side of the court...
Khutsiev: The audience does often smell out, recognise a good film, if they get the opportunity to see it. The audience must be educated with good films.
Heiniemi: The encounter of a viewer and a good movie happens often by chance.
Khutsiev: That is true.
Perhaps it is also by chance that I saw Khutsiev's perhaps best-known film I Am Twenty (1962-1965) at the Sodankylä Festival. It became the target of political bureaucrats already before it was completed.
To the Soviet bureaucracy, the description of young people in the film offered an example of dishonourable life, and the film was only good enough as an example of how films should not be made. The lives of the main characters are carefree and impulsive, and the characters run around the streets of Moscow boyishly. A respectful distance remains between thesexes, and even though the distance to a vodka bottle is often shorter, the description of partying does not seem from today's perspective dissolute.
Heiniemi: We have just seen your film I Am Twenty. I talked with the interpreter before you arrived about how the film discusses also issues which a young, Finnish viewer doesn't see or understand.
Khutsiev: There was something you didn't understand?
Heiniemi: The film contains cultural historical aspects that did not all open themselves to me.
Khutsiev: But the film is about you, a 20-year-old!
Heiniemi: And that is why I wanted to ask that if you made this kind of description of young people now, in 2004, how would it be different, or would it really be different at all?
Khutsiev: I am so much of a different generation... I have to admit right away that I don't know what the life of young people is like in Moscow today. Of course there's a lot of healthy and interesting new youth culture there in my opinion. But I don't regard this so-called freedom as freedom at all. People live in such a way that they don't perhaps even realise how it presses them, ties and connects them with a certain model.
Our youth perhaps think that they are much more free than the previous generations. Doing what you like with your evenings, organising parties, is in fashion.
But of course we, too, partied in the 50s and 60s, whereas today's free time is produced industrially. People are pressured to use their free time in a certain way. It doesn't come from the normal phenomenon of subculture, not voluntarily. People are really free when they are free inside: when work and leisure are in balance, when you do your job well and enrich your mind.
Most of Russians, young people in particular, are the slaves of banks, firms and organisations. Many people pretend to be free members of Internet clubs. Some sit and play games all day long. What freedom is that? Definitely not natural freedom.
Of course I don't blame all young people, this is about only one, although relatively large, group of young people in Moscow. It seems like people's most important aim in life is to make as much money as possible. Some people are ready to commit crimes in order to get rich. Youth gangs rob, fight, do whatever using this so-called muscle power. They don't use their brain at all, but always hit their wea'ker. Where is the love?
And love! It has given its place to sex. It's bullshit to say there was no sex in the Soviet union, of course there was!
"I can assure you there was sex in the 70s too", the interpreter points out.
"It was perhaps in a different, more connected form than now, not as open, but of course it was there", Khutsiev continues.
Heiniemi: Uh! Yes, certainly...
But there is probably still something universal in youth which also this film reaches. In its youthfulness, it reaches me, a bit over 20-year-old viewer, despite the time difference.
Khutsiev: How old are you, may I ask?
Heiniemi: Twenty-four. (In fact, counting carefully, I'm already 25!)
Khutsiev: Unfortunately the movie had been cut, this version, in a very peculiar way. The most beautiful scenes had been edited out, for some reason. The cutting has maybe been done in Finland for a showing in a Finnish cinema it's cut very roughly. This copy is missing some scenes which are essential for the logic of the story. The summer suddenly turns into New Year... I have never seen this kind of copy, a copy that has been cut like this, of my own film. But this is how it goes...
Heiniemi: How much does that hurt?
Khutsiev: It does hurt a lot. I have constructed those scenes myself, they always have a meaning. None of the scenes in the movie are there for no good reason. What was your name again...?
Khutsiev: Aah, Elena, it's a very Finnish name.
Heiniemi: Yes it is, and also international... I understood that you wanted to offer some kind of synthesis of good life in the main character of the film now that we have already talked about the somewhat worse presentations of youth. By fighting against collective forgetfulness the main character of the film is able to cross the gap between generations, to step in the position of his dead father.
Khutsiev: Yes, that is true. That's what I've been aiming at with it.
Heiniemi: The encounter of the father and the son was impressive. The will to forget and lack of understanding was also seen in the behaviour of the other young people in the film.
Khutsiev: I wanted to show the lack of understanding too, definitely. Did you like those scenes?
Heiniemi: Yes, I did.
I would still like to ask about your relationship with rebelliousness. Is it essential in making movies and what would be your rebellion now?
Khutsiev: Unfortunately, I don't see the rebellion right now. And I don't regard I Am Twenty rebellious at all. It was merely analysed to be so back then. My film is an attempt to understand objectively... to tell a story about a normal life that is twisted by socialist realism.
I wanted to show how people really lived in Moscow, how Moscow looks authentically when it's not beautified. I don't really support films that have a certain aim. At the beginning of the film, the red army soldiers of the revolutionary period march on the market place and at the end, a change of guards at the Lenin mausoleum is shown.
"I hope that scene was still there", the interpreter says.
"Yes, yes", answers the interviewer.
Khutsiev: It doesn't describe juxtaposition, but a friendly meeting. The circle closes. The red army disappears in the past and modern times come the youth of today steps in the picture. The people of the new generation think about this history in their own way, but they also accept the deeds and views of their fathers. There isn't necessarily a gap between the generations, there are just different opinions.
A lot of films have been made about the revolution, this doesn't describe the revolution at all, this describes generations.
Heiniemi: Thank you.
Khutsiev: It was very easy talking with you, thank you, sometimes it's a bit more difficult.
The interpreter during the interview was Pentti Stranius.