Vasily Sigarev: “I don’t have time to think about fame”

by Dilyara Tasbulatova, Journal “Art of Cinema” No 9, September 2012


“Living” is the second film by Vasily Sigarev. It is even more radical than “Volchok”/”Wolfy”, his controversial debut. The movie came out in Russian cinemas this Fall. The new movie has already received    one of the prestigious awards at the main festival of Russian cinema in Sochi “Kinotavr – 2012” (not the grand prize though, however, the movie quite deserves it). Also, “Living” participated in the Rotterdam Film Festival (where it obviously was not understood by European viwers). So far,  the movie acquired not only rewards but a good combination of blasphemy and praise.

This is a remarkable work: sublime, offensive, and universal while at the same time bounded to a small local city. Vasily Sigarev explores the collapse and catastrophic poverty of a Russian province. He is new but in his second movie he’s already reached undoubted heights of the mastery.
As a truly gifted playwright, Sigarev was noticed immediately. He wrote one of his most famous plays, “Plasticine” at a very young age with little life or professional experience. In his opinion, if there is a talent, it will show itself without any studies.

Watch the teaser from YouTube “

I started with a compliment, breaking the tradition of “provocative questions”. From my outsider’s perspective it seems that you as a demiurge in your movie created a new world out of nothing – poor space and a handful of characters.
Perhaps, this type of impression occurs because when I am writing I never know how my characters will behave the next moment. I’m simply coming after them, not bother them, just listen.

This is odd but understandable: suppose the hero – according to the logic of events – he knows that he will die soon, but does he “know” that he will come to life once again or be raised from the dead? Here we’re dealing with different metaphysical logic.
This is a difficulty, of course. According to the script’s plan I am, as you said, a “demiurge” and should somehow resurrect him, but how to do it logically, technically, in a dramatic way … I do not know. Of course, everything is written in the script, but how I am going to shoot it, I have no idea until the last moment …

What you’re describing sounds quite mysterious … You mean that during the shootings something leads you?
I can say that. Without this nothing is going to happen,  I’m sure! There is a whole process: you are sitting, watching your characters, because they have to start living on their own without me. They need to start to communicate, show relationships with each other without my help… Only then everything starts to breathe, move, interact. I’m just helping this process to happen.

After the movie finished, do you analyze it? Language, camera movements, frame construction, tradition, innovation …

I do it … well …but in a different way…

Without a theory?
I’m curious what others think about my movie, what film critics have to say. Someone could probably see in my movie something that I do not see. And it’s not because I’m such an intuitive simpleton … I read somewhere that Tarkovsky being intellectual, shot more intuitively, the theories came later as an awareness of what had been made.

In order for your characters to start to talk and breathe they need to be close to you? Be your neighbors,friends, countrymen?

Yes, almost certainly … I recently wrote the modern version of “Anna Karenina”. It was a terribly hard work: to me this world is not familiar, I am not into it at all … I had to write Anna Karenina’s husband using Roman Borisevich, my producer, as a prototype…
Is this why you chose not to move to Moscow?
Apparently, yes. It is not completely uncomfortable for me but just not my living space.

Are you afraid to become an accessory of establishment,mainstream director one day?

No, not at all, I do not even think about it. As soon as I finish one film, you know, there are some other ideas. When we were finishing “Volchok”/”Wolfy” I already thought about the next movie “living” … There is no time for me to think about fame, honor, establishment. My head is full of ideas, no time for other thoughts.
You are still a very young man, and I know that this time of life can be associated with specific difficulties…

Which one?
In one interview Andrew Bitov said to me that when you are young, you cannot see an authentic picture of the world, alternatively in old age, there is no physical strength to lift it. Such a paradox …

Yes! When you cannot see – it is a torment.  When I finished my “Karenina”, I hadn’t come outside my house for three months. I grew a beard. I didn’t even go to the store or take a walk. It is hard to believe! I was like a prisoner … And what a nightmare, you know. So-called “creative tortures”… how people love to mythologize them, to speak about them in a sublime voice… In fact, this is something terrible, terrible and terrible again. I just hate this state …

Are there other ways, then?
Sometimes. For example, to write “Living” was much easier.

 Really? This is a tragic story, it is very difficult to set up, to play, to inflame the passions …

Tragedy, comedy …I did not mean that. The main thing is if you have a source inside of you for something to be born, the genre has nothing to do with it.

You’re saying that, while working, you are not aware of exactly what you are doing. But then, you understood what you’ve done in Russian cinema? This is a new language, a new universality, and even a new understanding of the tragedy … with a point of enlightenment. Many critics complain about dialogs in Russian movies – scriptwriters use an artificial language, not authentic characters, they are strugling to convey the meaning because the reality always escapes, it is too disharmonious. Do you understand your, sorry for such a high complement, “genius of the place”?

I am sorry, I just do not think about this problem, and I am not interested in it, I do not need it. I’ll just continue doing what I do. New or old, a tragedy this kind or a tragedy of that kind, I am a little worried about it, honestly … The only thing I do understand about “Living” now is it’s a movie about all manifestations of human love. Love of a boy to his father, a mother to her children, a Women to a Man … It is all  – the human love, tragical, because all die …

You’ve made a big jump compared to your debut “Volchok”/ “Wolfy”, even your previous movie is great, but it was more intimate story, of course …

Yes,  I did that movie almost blindly. To the touch. I did not understand how a movie is made, everything was new.

But to make the second movie is even more difficult: could not justify the high expectations…

Yes, really. But at that moment I did not really care about it. While shooting I never thought about the consequences but just short-term problems.  I learn from practice, if even, the art of cinematography can be learned in this way. In my opinion, it is impossible. As a scriptwriter you either have a gift or don’t. Your characters might talk among themselves, or just shut up – and stop everything. My assistant director, a high professional, taught me: just shoot “talking heads” and move on. So easy. No, “talking heads” will do in cheap Russian soap operas I said to myself at that time. I will not have plans for something primitive.

In both of your movies you shoot your wife Jana Troyanova – an actress of otherworldly energy. It is difficult to work with her?

On the contrary. If for other actors I need to have time to explain the problem with Jana I do not need to explain anything, just say, read the text, and she already feels how to do it. When I write the script we always discuss everything in detail.

 The graduation from Philosophy department helps her with that?

Of course, not! It is a matter of intuition, not education.


About zinasemenova

Russian filmmaker and blogger at

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