original title: Rol
2013, Black & White, 121 min., Russian
CATEGORY : Drama
COUNTRIES: Russia, Belarus, Germany, Finland
FESTIVALS & AWARDS
Cinematographer : Dimitry Mass
Producers : Andrei Sigle
FESTIVALS: Moscow International Film Festival 2013, Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival 2013
DIRECTOR’S REMARKS in regard the script of «A PART TO PERFORM»
The variety of written sources dealing with the Russian revolution and Civil war frequently offer notes about some sort of actorship and playfulness seemingly incompatible with that cruel time. At that, the traits were there on both sides of the barricades. By no means that can be considered a rare phenomenon. Revolutions have always been done by “acting” personalities, but in Russia, that circumstance was complemented by the Symbolism ideology rooted in intellectual circles and proclaiming “the performance of one’s life”.
This short notice concerning the psychological and behavioral peculiarities of the period looks essential for understanding the hero and the primary reason making him attempt to perform someone else’s life. The world of symbolism inhabited by A.Block, A.Bely, V.Bryusov, N.Gumilev, to say nothing about N.Yevreinov and a lot of others was actually a part of Being revolutionized at the time from the inside as well as from the outside. The seemingly incompatible new Weltanschaaung and the aesthetics of symbolism merged, mutually transformed each other, and made the sum of the complicated artistic world of the 1920s. This is why Mr.Yevlakhov was a true man of his time, and his fate could be one belonging solely to those times and conditions,
This latter remark is, as I believe, directly connected with the image of the hero and moreover, determines it.
The topic of the suggested film is the unique experiment in acting, when art does demand “never reading, but defeat and death” (B.Pasternak). That much is clear, but, to my mind, the script is about something else… Moreover, that experiment is little but a reason to address other things, underlying the surface.
For me, the focal point of the story is the theme of two doppelgaenger, doubles, one of them being the “white” actor Yevlakhov, the other, “red” leader Plotnikov. The two, whose tragic link had gotten established at a nameless railroad station in Siberia, become inseparable. The link cannot be broken anymore. That makes the film the story of Mr.Yevlakhov’s studying the soul of another man, the story of his delving deeply into an alien world, so tempting him with its unfathomable nature. (for Mr.Yevlakhov, an actor, acting is the only way to do it, though the process could follow a different path if he had been a writer or a painter. That is essential for our understanding the hero’s nature). Actually, Mr.Yevlakhov revived Plotnikov whose life had been terminated at the station of Rytva, followed his fate up to its tragic end.
That makes it highly important to show that Mr.Plotnikov could have no other fate; Yevlakhov, a talented psychologist, had guessed the outcome correctly when he had recreated his character, and that deed of an actor demanded its sacrifices, including the life itself.
Another, equally important problem is that of the world recreated by Mr.Yevlakhov. The world in which he and his hero are doomed to co-habitate.
For me, it is perfectly clear that that the world in question was close to that described by Andrew Platonov, but no more that close. That approach allows us to provide the story with a degree of imagination and metaphorical nature. In other worlds, the closer we are to Mr.Platonov the closer we approach the poetical and philosophical evaluation of life itself, of the screen personalities and fates. Correspondingly, the scenes are to be depicted as if from within the artistic world of that great writer.
This looks a good moment to switch over to the other important idea related to the same picture of the world in which the hero existed. What Mr.Dostoyevsky had only tragically guessed or predicted, was to become Mr.Platonov’s reality, everyday life in which God had long been dead, and the man was left behind, orphaned on the empty and cold earth.
With that in mind, the title could well have been “Reflections on Dostoyevsky”, or “Raskolnikov, forty years later”, as this is precisely what actor Yevlakhov was playing. He had written that theme, the one of Raskolnikov, like someone who was well read in Dostoyevsky and understood the direct relationship between the writer’s prophecies and the realities of life. That should be emphasized with indirect philosophical associations with Dostoyevsky’s passages traceable in all main tragic episodes of the script. Moreover, the topic itself looks sophisticated enough to remind of the twisty world in which Dostoyevsky’s characters had lived.
I make it a point listing all specifics of the idea, as they seem to be of an utmost importance and to a great extent determining the artistic outlook of the film.
Visually, the movie should look like the following: shot on black-and-white film, it must be printed in color which will result in an illusion of color. The latter is to be fairly intensive (more or less like that in my “Letters of the dead man” perceived as a color movie while being in fact monochrome). That will allow for extensive use of documentary footage supplemented with the so-called post-shooting; the trick has been used by me in my two latest films and resulted in the actors being “seamlessly” submerged into the reality of the past. It does not go so much about economy (even it also is important), but primarily about the degree of veracity impossible to achieve when the events get simply reconstructed.
All in all, the entirety must be subordinated to the idea of the maximal possible likeness to the truth. Usually, that approach suggests that directors select actors on the basis of their resembling the analogs to be found on old photos. I however do not believe that the way will appear correct for this film (with the exception of secondary parts, minor episodes, etc.). I guess that the script represents unique dramatic possibilities and therefore implies the participation of first-class actors. This is why I want to invite those belonging in the “golden ten” star group. It goes without saying that the names will be famous, but the main things will be their abilities and creative potential.
In principle, such are my ideas in regard to the realization of the suggested project.
This will be a film about an actor, possibly a genius, who, following the ideas of symbolism and the “Silver Age”, decided to perform, or rather to live through, someone else’s life. He could not be too choosy about the timing of his “life performance” which coincided with the late days of the Russian Civil war and the early 1920s; during those years, such experiments were to be paid for with one’s own life, but that did not stop the actor. He lived his part to the end, towards the tragic finale of the play he had written himself.
Each age has its zeitgeist – its spirit and philosophy of life. During Russia’s era of symbolism and the Silver Age, the key idea was merging art with life. The talent to live was appreciated as much as literary or artistic abilities. A person’s life was a play, and through acting one’s life, dull mediocrity could be transformed into aesthetic tragedy. Writers penned poems, novels, and plays about their lives, and figures acted out their lives the way Nina Petrovskaya performed a tragic play of life with the literary giants Valery Bryusov and Andrei Bely.
In Russia’s Silver Age just before the country would be torn asunder by revolution, people craved the heights and depths of emotion and sought to transform themselves into “banks of experience and moments”, as Bryusov wrote. Existence was merely an uninterrupted string of improvisation on the stage of one’s life.
Russian theatre actors and directors were caught up in this zeitgeist, too. The director Nicholas Yevreinov developed the radical principle of life and theater mutually penetrating each other. The proponents of symbolism sought an actor, a genius who could merge his real life with acting and triumphantly end the crusade for the “philosopher’s stone of art.”
The Role is about a man who decides to live through somebody else’s life – to perform it as a part. But his unique experiment in acting is made when the “juice” of the Silver Age has already turned into torrents of real blood, and his aesthetic experience is doomed to be paid for with his life. Fully aware of the dangers, he nevertheless decides to go ahead and perform his last and best role.
The story begins in Siberia in 1919. A young provincial actor, Nicholas Yevlakhov, a true follower of Yevreinov’s theories, shuttles from one railroad station to another together with White Guards seeking refuge from the Red Army and their partisans. Close to the Rytva station, the Reds manage to capture General Rhodenberg’s train. Yevlakhov is among the passengers. When the station comes under attack from the Whites, the two rebels commanding the unit, Plotnikov and Spiridonov, decide to shoot all the captured officers. To cull the military officers from the civilians on board, Plotnikov lines his prisoners up and stares into their face, convinced his “revolutionary conscience” will rightly tell him who should live and who should die.
He stops in front of Yevlakhov and then moves on. Yevlakhov will live. But then he comes back and stares at the actor. Although Yevlakhov has a beard and is wearing a woman’s scarf around his neck, he looks exactly like Plotnikov. The actor sees the striking similarity, too, and wonders what fate has in store for him. But Plotnikov is interrupted before he decides. Enemy cavalry breaks through the defense perimeter. Plotnikov rushes into the battle, where he is killed. In the confusion of battle many of them, including Yevlakhov, manage to escape.
The curious encounter with Plotnikov keeps Yevlakhov up at night. What had it been – the seal of fate or just happenstance? Strongly under the influence of symbolist traditions and Yevreinov’s theories, he considers the event as his only chance to become a truly great actor. He is further tempted when he learns that although Plotnikov’s death had been witnessed by many, his body has never been recovered and buried.
Yevlakhov starts collecting information on Plotnikov, a Red leader well known in Siberia. He continues his search continued in Finland where he manages to emigrate after the Civil War. Local smugglers even help him to get hold of Plotnikov’s archives kept in a Suberian museum.
The idea of performing this unprecedented role obsesses Yevlakhov.
Yevlakhov crafts a legend and Plotnikov-Yevlakhov crosses the border, again with the help of local smugglers. The curtain rises and the performance begins.
His is a actor of genius. He manages to convince everyone, including Plotnikov’s closest friends, that he really is the legendary Siberian leader, who survived a terrible wound and suffered partial loss of memory. One step at a time, delving into his hero’s life and starting a writer’s career, Yevlakhov begins to perceive his new life as his own. When he is offered an escape route back to Finland, he refuses. He stays, ready to play out his “life” to the very end.
The tragic and inevitable end comes very soon. The men in his prison cell later recall that he was perfectly peaceful and quiet in those final moments.
He even smiled, and when the jackboots summoned him to get shot, he quietly said, “Drop the curtain!”