What is your approach to screenwriting?
These days it's considered normal to write scripts that I would hardly called a script - they are just dialogue. I don't write scripts, I write novels for cinema. It's more comfortable for me, for the cameraman, for the production designer, for the actors, and for all of us. I could just note: "Sniper Veiko shoots from a rifle", but it will be an absolutely different approach if I write: "Sniper Veiko shoots form old Austrian rifle, with optical sight rifle". Everybody will understand that they did not entrust a good gun to Veiko and this is the truth, because the Finnish army was miserable, and in 1944 they used rifles from World War I.
How did this idea come about - to have three people speaking different languages meet in a limited space?
Merely by chance, It seems interesting to me that they talk by not understanding each other, not understanding on the low, common life level, but understanding much more profoundly. Once in an Irish pub I talked to an Irishman for 2 hours. He spoke Irish, I spoke Russian. In my opinion, we understood each other very well. It is better that people speak their own language but understand each other. Besides, I like the idea of collision of this kind. It's always interesting to have a performance with three characters, it's almost classically theatrical. But I like also that all three not only speak different languages, they are also enemies. One of them, the Finnish soldier, does not consider himself to be somebody's enemy, the war is over for him, he does not feel any obligations, does not accept any responsibility, because he was sentenced to death. His compatriots chained him up to the rock, dressed him into German uniform so he could not surrender, and gave him the sniper's gun to shoot the Russians. But the Russian soldier, who was condemned by his compatriots, too, because of his "wrong" verses, is still keen on the idea of the enemy.
But your different-speaking trio manages to agree somehow Do you know why?
Because now it's known, and has been confirmed by the scientific researchers, that all people of the planet have one common gene, which means that the woman, Eve, was our common great-grandmother. And then we were spoiled, began to speak different languages, despise and torment each other, thinking that the truth belongs to us solely. But basically, all of us are bound to each other. Sami, for example, sing in the manner of the Tuva people (Siberian people) - it's called throat singing. And an interesting thing happened to their songs. We recorded Anni's singing on the disk and sent it to the composer Dmitry Pavlov, who has lived in Berlin for 10 years now. His Brazilian colleague, a singer and composer, heard this singing by chance, and imagine, they sing the same way in some district of Brazil! That's why the male voice is in our film - the Brazilian singer sings in the end of the movie.
Can you discuss the influence of the Sami culture on the film?
(The actress who plays) Anni is an unknown, which is why she is very natural. But there were some complications with her. Her attitude towards the culture of her people is very palpable, but we did not want to concentrate totally on the way away of life of one concrete Sami, because there are many types of Sami. The production designer and I tried to create a kind of mess, and took from all Sami something essential. We took nothing from Norwegian Sami, as everything is very sacred there. There, black and red colors dominate, but we wanted to create a "reduced" picture- still, like Rembrandt's pictures. The cameraman and I decided to process the Kodak film with special low-temperature to reduce the brightness of colors and reach the expressive image of paintings by Rembrandt. In the same time, I wanted to have a tough picture so the dirt under Anni's nails is visible. It was very typical for Sami in the 19th century to have silver rings on their dirty hands, as Sami peasant-women ordered silver jewelry from Norwegian, Swedish and Finnish artisans.
Did you carefully study the Sami culture, their rites, shamanism, etc. ?
I knew something, I studied something, but then I gave up and trusted my intuition. The consultants, from the Saint-Petersburg Ethnographical Museum, started to contradict each other, so I rejected consulting. The labyrinth for the fishing I constructed according to intuition-- I saw the tides of the White Sea and realized that Sami would have such a labyrinth, because it is working, useful, and functional, and there is nothing non-functional in this culture. It is funny that Europeans despise the culture of Nomads, because nomads needed no cities and no houses. Yourta (a nomad's tent) was a focus of their world, and the nomad communicated with God through its upper opening. Then he left the place and went to the new one. Needless to say that the nomad's tent and Sami dwellings were constructed in the "ecological way", as they call it now. In the wise way, in general.
Can you discuss the characters in your film?
All three characters are leads, in my mind. Anni is representative of one of the most ancient people of Europe. The Russian captain is a poet deep in his heart, and a kamikaze sniper, while Veiko, the Finnish, is a bearer of the European culture, as he has studied philology in Stockholm. But captain Kartouzov is a rough, brutal person. The enemy is enemy for him and he must be destroyed. At the same time, he is a Soviet military man writing verses. That is why the essence of his poetic soul breaks through to light.
Since your male actors are best known to audiences from your extremely popular hunter comedies, "Peculiarities of National Hunt" and "Peculiarities of National Fishing", is it true that you asked Bychkov to gain 20 KG for this role?
No, but every movie must have its own myth.
How did you find this actress, and what were your impressions of working with her?
My impressions are wonderful. As for how I found her-- Ville Haapasalo found her according to my request. We were looking for the actress among Russian Sami - there are 1,500 of them - but they took offence to me, so I chose nobody among them. Also, there are no actors among them of Annišs level. So Ville found four people through the Internet and and asked them to send promotional videos. He did not like Anni at first, but I liked her - in her video she was sitting, yawning scratching herself - it was boring for her, she did not understand what she had to do, why all this was necessary. And she is very peculiar. Have you paid attention to her walk? She walks like a little soldier--very funny. She is natural. One can see immediately what she likes, what she does not like. During filming, she just sulked if she did not like something and kept silent. Once, when it was necessary to walk barefoot in the water, I proposed to her to wear gum stockings - the water of the White Sea is very cold. But she sulked and said: "I am an actress, that's why I have to walk like my heroine!"
Wasn't "Cuckoo" shot very quickly?
Yes, we managed to film it in a month and a half. I was in a hurry. It was important for me to film in real time so that the nature would look correct for the setting-- World War II in September. The most important issue was to finish in autumn; I did not hope to catch winter scenes then. I thought we would have two short filming trips later - to Karelia, where we already worked (the main filming location of Kandalaksha town is situated in Karelia, Northwest of Russia) and to Crimea, to Kazantip Cage, where I was planning to film the Land of the Dead. This is a very beautiful place and it would be safe for Ville. But actually, it snowed for just 1 day, so we managed to shoot winter. I donšt know whose God helped us - Russian, Finnish or Sami-- but the necessity of the winter filming trip was cancelled. We found the Land of the Dead site a 100 km from Kandalaksha, where the nuclear weapon experiments were made in the 50's.
Do you know this area well?
We were looking for the filming locations, and I did not consider Kandalaksha for a long time. My colleague (Alexei Balabanov) began to film his "River" there, and they had a car crash in which the main actress perished ("River" by Balabanov is included in the official selection of the Venice International Film Festival, 2002). This tragic story influenced me. But when we decided to choose Kandalaksha I realized I am a lazy person and cannot spend an hour everyday to get to the set. That is why our main set was just 8 km from the town, and the furthest was 30 km.
Do you usually shoot several takes?
Often just one. We had a long rehearsal before this film, but the most difficult scenes proved to be the ones with the animals - the dog, the reindeers. We did not get the domestic reindeers - nobody gives those ones. We got wild ones, which graze free, and then they caught them and did various bad things to them. So special people came to the set to take care of them, but the reindeers did not want to come up to them in the beginning. Anni went to them for two days to give them the opportunity to get accustomed to her, and then they let the trainers stroke them.
Why did you decide to make a pacifist movie, when the mood is so different in Russia now?
The war is madness for me. I can't accept any kind of aggression. Once I had a big quarrel with some officer who said, "The war is a fire to warm our hands on!" So my heroine says that war is a foolish game of adult people, to whom it seems that if they take somebody's life, their own life will be longer.
How are you able to create depth and subtext while maintaining an outward simplicity?
I try to make films with several layers. So where one may see one thing, another will take a deeper look and see more. If I aim to make it simple, I mean simplicity of a different kind. This is a saga, a Northern saga. This is a simple, direct book at first sight. But note, this simplicity is deceptive. It's not simple work to shoot this kind of cinema. Even merely technically - to create the mythological space we had to take the camera and the rails up for 800 meters and move the camera, giving to the picture the feeling of air, of breath. At the same time I am, on principle, against all landscape shots - human beings must always be in the frames of my film, in order for the spectator to feel that the beauty of this world is united with this human being into one creature, and things which are done by people sometimes are monstrous. The spectator feels such things unconsciously.
Would you say "Cuckoo" is a national film?
I don't know. A lot of people say that it is not like Russian film-- maybe because there are Finnish actors speaking their language. But my editor is satisfied - she says we have to be patriots and support national festivals. Festivals are okay, but I hope and expect a lot of people to see the film in Russia. And I would prefer that the spectator leave the theater with bright tears in his eyes. The illiterate Anni is pagan living according to the rules of nature, but a lot of Christians believe paganism to be pre-morality, the savage state of the human. A lot of so-called seriously believing Christians have their own prejudices, because there is inborn gentleness and an imaginary one. And Anni for me is a bearer of human values, because it's impossible to live in a different way. No one can survive in another way in these circumstances and conditions. But the person burdened with knowledge cannot perceive this world the way it must be perceived. Anni's simple truth is love, death, birth, and children.
Anni lives with both of two men and has babies with both of them. How is she then then an example of "human values"?
It's natural for her in that she is a being of nature. To survive in the North, to feed yourself, it is necessary to work indefatigably. There is no place here for the games of the mind, for wit. This is not "the Swedish family", an invention of the advanced and satiated youth. This is love, true love, but she will never see them again. They will go in different directions the Russian will go to the Russian border, the Finnish to the Finnish one. Why will they not give a piece of happiness to each other? Of course, I do not deny knowledge, or press this way of life on anybody, but Anni's perception of the world is interesting to me.
Why did you title the film "Cuckoo"? They called the snipers-kamikaze of the Finnish War "Cuckoos", but your heroine says that she is a cuckoo. Whom did you mean?
I like the title to have several meanings. The script was titled "The Cuckoo" but it had a subtitle: "The Cuckoo, Having raised its nestling". This title reflects the unnatural situation, the contradictions that were portrayed in the film -the unnatural aspect of the war, conflicts between people that meet each other at the war, and Anni - the cuckoo that reconciled two enemies who do not know that the war is over.
In your opinion, what is the myth of film?
Why should I speak on the myth of film? When I was writing the script my heroine was named Anni. The suddenly, little Anni-Kristiina Juuso appears and asks to be called just Anni. The character's name that was concocted by me and the name of the real actress who was going to play that character was the same. I thought then that it was a sign. Then we managed to film all the necessary scenes without going to Kandalaksha twice,
and there was no necessity to go to Crimea to film The Land of Dead. Even snow--we
needed it and it snowed for one day. This was a kind sign for me, too.