This year, the great Russian actor and director Nikita Mikhalkov added an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film to his mantlepiece for Burnt By The Sun. He tells Trevor Johnston how the uncertainties of the past relate to the changes of the present.
While the rest ofthe film industry finds itself creatively and ﬁnancially ﬂoundering in post— Communist Russia. it's perhaps ironic that one of the most noted scions of the old state-run system. Nikita Mikhalkov. has made a key movie marking the turbulent changes sweeping his country — maybe even doubly so that Burnt By The Sun. the film in question. should be set on a single summer day in I936. Having won this year's Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. Mikhalkov‘s latest work looks set to gain the highest celluloid proﬁle for any Russian movie since the death of his compatriot Andrei Tarkovsky. and it‘s richly deserved by the man who stuck to his guns. resisted the blandishments of Hollywood. and came up trumps with an alternately touching and shocking portrait of human beings trying to make their way in life while an inhuman political machine whirls into action around them.
‘There's a direct connection between the film and the situation today.‘ claims Mikhalkov of the piece. ‘It's not so much a film about yesterday as a message for today and tomorrow. It's very important: bolshevism hasn't ﬁnished. it'sjust changed its suit. In l9 [7. they suggested that everything which happened before I917 would be forgotten: in I990. they suggested that everything which happened after l9l7 would be forgotten. That's the tnain sign of bolshevism: absence of memory. They don‘t care what people say about them in 25 years. they want everything now.‘
Mikhalkov himself. a leading screen actor in his homeland for almost a decade before his directorial career found its feet in the mid-70s. cuts a handsome and charismatic ﬁgure on screen as General Kotov. a military hero of the Bolshevik Revolution. now resting at home on his country dacha. relaxed in the certainty that his past deeds have assured his privileged status for the future. The times are changing however. for with the first flushes of revolutionary fervour beginning to flag. Stalin starts to maintain the regime‘s forward momentum by resorting to the violent elimination of anyone who stands in the way of progress. As the cult of the leader's personality manifests itself throughout the country. the terror begins. and even on a sunny rural estate like Kotov’s. the arrival of the enigmatic Dimitri (Oleg Menchikov. a brilliant. mercurial performance). the one-time lover of Kotov‘s young wife. comes with an air of mistrust beneath the superﬁcial bonhomie that exists between the various parties.
Burnt By The Sun: actor-director Nikita Mikhalkov and daughter Nadi
With the conﬁdence of a tnaster. Mikhalkov allows the ﬁlm to unfold with idyllic deliberation. all the while ptrncttrating the personable chat and holiday activities with potent symbols of tmease. Fireballs cross the screen from time to time. while a truck driver appears on the scene every now and their. hopelessly lost and miles away from a destination that nobody seems to have heard of. (‘ertainties. in Russia. are never what they seem. and Mikhalkov himself reckons the inspiration for the ﬁlm's approach came from watching some 40 hours worth
‘lt’s not so much a film about yesterday as a message for today and tomorrow. It’s very important: Bolshevism hasn’t
finished, it’s just changed its suit.’
of Soviet newsr'eel footage from the falls.
‘lncrediblef he reflects. resplendent today in cool linens that give him an old school air of gentlemanliness. rather like his character in the ﬁltn. ‘You‘d see sotne party conference. where (‘omrade X would be up there on the screen denouncing Comrade Y and listing all his grievous crimes against the Revolution. Everyone in the audience applauds with intense passion in their eyes. A year later. the same scene. and this time Comrade Z is on the stand. proclaiming all the heinous crimes committed by Comrade Y. the man who was the hero of the Revolution twelve months previously. Everyone in the audience applauds like crazy and you're watching this in some sort of disbelief. It‘s like something has gone “click” and the world has changed irrevocably. and I tried to put something of that in the ﬁlm.‘
The finely-judged performances and the balance
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between the superﬁcial charm of the piece and its underlying seriousness of purpose attest to Mikhalkov's reputation as an actor's director and to his skill in adapting Chekhov. most notably in the award-winning l‘).\'7 Marcello Mastroianni vehicle Dark lives. It‘s true to say that [from li’r 'l‘lit’ .S'ior' s w ritcr—producer-director-star has seen a few changes in his lifetime too.
Born into the Mikhalkov-Konchalm sky family of artists this father wrote the words to the Russian national anthem. his older brother is the film director Andrei Konchalovsky). he was a product of the esteemed Moscow l"ilm School and made a number of internationalIy-acclaimcd ﬁlms under the old Soviet system ("They might have put your lilrn on the shelf. but they always gave you the money to finish it‘). including l‘)7(i's bittersweet film—making chronicle xi Slaw Hilary and the exquisite (‘hekhov drama L'n/i/Irs/n’t/ Place For .ilt’t'lltllllt'tll l’taao. Unlike his sibling. he‘s resisted the blandishments of Hollywood (‘Russia is where I belong‘ ). stands by his previous work t‘My films were made for the culture. not for the regime') and looks forward to a time when his country begins to repair its ongoing confusions.
life is going on. Real life.‘ he declaims with a sweep of the arm. ‘()fcourse. they have the Mafia. banks going bankrupt. but they‘ve already reached the understanding that there‘s nothing to wait for from Moscow any more. They know now that they have to do something there where they are. The tnost important idea today is that idea of a small homeland — this is where I live.‘ 811an By The San opens a/ [lie [:‘(li'Irbroiu/i Film/louse on Monday 28 August and Glasgow l'i'lm 'l'la'a/re on Friday I .S'eprem/uo:
The List 25 Aug-7 Sept l995 73