Prior to the Manchester Screening of The Fool, we talked to Russian director Yuri Bykov about the film and his outstanding yet unconventional filmmaking career. The world of Bykov’s films is characterized by the depiction of Russian society as a cycle of greed and cowardice, where the characters are constantly faced with choices from which they cannot escape due to the compromises and obligations with others.The Fool is a tragic and moving story of one man’s stand against a society that has gone astray, a study of corruption, moral compromise and the behaviour of people in impossible situations: delicate and uncomfortable themes in contemporary Russia yet applicable to all human societies.
First of all, congratulations on your incredible film and the multiple awards it received. The Fool reflects the contemporary reality and issues of thousands of Russians. What motivated you to make this film, and does it relate in any way to your own experience?
In my opinion, The Fool reflects that part of the reality that belongs to the periphery. For the sake of justice, it ought to be said that in addition to the cities of several millions, where life generally takes place in a European style, the rest of Russia is, socially, a periphery. What inspired me to create The Fool was a feeling that eventually turned into the central idea: in my country, there is an unspoken social contract, and its deficiencies affect most of the society.
The Fool touches on many controversial and delicate problems in contemporary Russia, such as corruption and alcoholism. As a consequence of this, how was the film received in Russia? Is there a difference between its effect on Russian and international audiences?
There was, of course, a difference. Western viewers (especially emigrants from Russia) took the film as an excuse for their squeamish and dismal attitude towards a country in which “nothing changes for the better”. However, the reception of this film by the Russian audience is much warmer than it may seem to you. There is no edifying, cynical verdict about the ugliness and sickness of Russian society in The Fool. Rather, the film shows that although the world is not perfect, it is full of living, breathing people who want to sympathize. This is the important difference between The Fool and many other Russian films of a critical nature- therefore, the film is in the top 250 for Russian audiences.
Why have you dedicated this film to a cult filmmaker Alexey Balabanov?
The creation of the film coincided with the year of Aleksei Balabanov’s death, whom I respect and greatly appreciate as a person of honest and consistent convictions in line with mine.
Auteur cinema was and remains a way of personal reflection, a pedestal for vanity or a springboard into the secular life of intellectual society, ultimately depending on the goals of the author, of course.
A couple years ago, you founded the Koda film company to reduce the costs of your auteur films and gain more control over the filming process. How has your filmmaking experience changed as a consequence of this, and what do you believe to be the role of auteur cinema in contemporary Russian society?
Through the creation of my own studio, I did not just try to optimise expenses, I also wanted to achieve maximum autonomy and independence from the general film process, in which the director is merely a pawn in the producer’s hands (if the latter wants, of course). I am not only interested in creative freedom, but also in correctly choosing and applying production tools. These, no less than creativity, have a decisive role in determining the final result. The production of my new film “The Factory” differed both in the degree of responsibility and the degree of freedom in all directions. I got what I wanted: full authorial control. The role of auteur cinema in Russia is not great, because there is not much. Intellectuals’ minds are much more influenced by modern literature, painting, philosophy, and of course, the Internet. Auteur cinema was and remains a way of personal reflection, a pedestal for vanity or a springboard into the secular life of intellectual society, ultimately depending on the goals of the author, of course.
Our hero, Dima, deemed as the fool, struggles during the whole film trying to be good in a world where evil predominates. Do you believe that there is a place for good and solidary people in a society where everyone is self-centred and chooses evil?
In general, I believe in the good nature of man. Through the development of our species and civilization as a whole, this aspiration will learn to struggle with our own cowardice, which does not allow us to become truly free and strive for what is really important: spiritual development. Ultimately, fierce and fearless love is the main value achieved through courage and truth. If you do not believe in this – I do not see the point of living.
To conclude, what could you tell us about your upcoming film ‘The Factory’?
This is a film about the age-old confrontation between rich and poor, a confrontation which gives birth to heroes as well as romantics with poisoned souls and capable of everything, even self-sacrifice. This is a story about the personal truth of everyone and the general truth of all: hatred breeds only hatred, but fanatics are nobler and above pragmatics.