Nikita Mikhalkov: «I am afraid to make films based on Dostoevsky»
Vladimir Legoyda
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“I have no interest in a person with no faith”

I once gave an interview at a press conference. I believe it was in Vologda. A man was sitting opposite me, and no matter what I said, he wrote everything down with disgust written on his face. During the interview, I mentioned a phrase by Vasily Rozanov, which I really liked: "I have no interest whatsoever in a person with no faith." After the press conference there is dinner, everyone’s drinking, and this man, apparently, too. So he comes up to me and said: “Look, I do not drink, I do not smoke, I do not lie, I do not commit perjury; I have not killed anyone, I have not been unfaithful to my wife,” and so on. Basically he told me he was a very virtuous person. “But I am not a believer. So what? Am I of no interest to you?" I did not hesitate: "Absolutely not." "But why?" I answered: “You see, if I had to go on a train with you, we would have nothing to talk about! You don't even understand what life is. Because you think your virtues are your own merit. But you shouldn’t say this about yourself: others, your family and friends, for example, must testify to who you are. You just admire yourself and say how good you are. I'm not interested in this."

"You are a member of the Central Committee chumming up with a priest"

We have been churched since childhood. A priest regularly came to us, to my mother. My father was very diplomatic, he never went against my mother. He just left home when the priest was coming. And once the Communist Party Central Committee asked him: "Well, how come you are a Central Committee member, and a priest keeps coming to your house? What a shame." And dad said with his usual humor: “Look, my wife is 10 years older than me. When Lenin died, she was already 14. How can I wean her from this?" Of course, the only thing left of them to say was: “Okay. Good".

“Do not ask God what this is for”

- Yuz Aleshkovsky once said: "Freedom is absolute trust in God." Not faith, but trust. “Into Thy hands, o Lord my God, I commit my spirit,” - this is the greatest freedom.

- Are faith and trust different things?

- These are definitely two different things. Trust is when you tell God: "Thy will be done," and it is amazingly combined with the great word “hope”. You say to Him: "Take me, I am all Yours." Remember the wonderful prayer of St. Philaret of Moscow: Lord! I do not know what to ask of You. You alone know what I need. You love me more than I know how to love myself. Father! Give Thy servant what I myself dare not ask. I do not dare to ask for a cross or comforting: I stand before You alone. My heart is open to You; You see the needs I do not see. See and do by Thy mercy ... That is all.

- But such trust is a difficult thing. After all, sometimes all sorts of bad things happen to you ... How to take it? Have you ever had such a thought: "Well, I trusted you, and You …"?

- Never. And God forbid! My mother always taught us: never ask God “What for?” Ask Him “Why?” For example, even at most difficult times with my brother, when they wanted to set us against each other, when he said harsh and sometimes unfair things about me, and I was provoked to retaliate, I said: “He can be wrong. And by saying this I know that my brother means well. God knows, maybe he is right, maybe this is so."

“Autograph sessions are penance”

- You once said that if people come up to you for autographs, you will give it to each and every person...

- Yes, because this is also a penance we have to take. An obeyance that a famous person is to take upon. I don’t like those who work all their lives to become famous and then make a face when people come up on the street and ask for an autograph: "Oops, recognized again." But if I recognized you, then I assume that you know me too. That you are not a stranger to me. And if an artist does not want people to come up to him or her, this is wrong. Firstly, because such people impair their achievements. Secondly, because they humiliate a person who will never achieve such popularity and capabilities.

Fair criticism

- You say that you take criticism quite easily, “even if it is unfair”. And it seems to me that the unfair criticism is much easier to deal with. But if the criticism is fair, is it hard for you to take it?

- It is fundamentally important to understand exactly why this criticism was addressed to you. In a fair criticism I do not see a desire to incriminate, affront, humiliate or offend me. I see a desire to either help me, or prove to me that I am wrong, or simply state this fact – if the person does not wish to improve his or her self-esteem at someone else’s expense, so to speak, I accept criticism with gratitude. Therefore, it is very important to understand the meaning behind the criticism: why it arose, where you did something wrong, what your mistake was.

For example, in "Burnt by the Sun 2" there is a very important scene for me - with a burnt-out tank soldier. And I was terrified by the fact that someone of the critics said: "Well, how can a tank soldier burn like that - his face is scorched, but his clothes are not touched." And I think: how could I have missed it?! I didn't even pay attention! And I suddenly realized that such mistakes disappoint attentive viewers, this undermines their trust. It was mainly my fault, but the whole team contributed, too.

However, there are more serious things. For example, when you are accused of making a movie for a reason. When everyone around you says: you did it on purpose, you just want money or fame. But I know exactly that this is usually said by those who, if they were in my shoes, would have made this film just with this purpose in mind. They see themselves in me.

The hard word “sorry”

- Mr. Mikhalkov, has it ever happened that you owed someone an apology but never managed to apologize?

- It happened that I realized I had to apologize, but I could not – and I convinced myself that I did not need to apologize. And I still do not know if this was right or wrong.

Children and punishments

I used to punish kids a lot. Once they came up to me saying: "We want a tortoise." - "Well, will you take care of it?" - "Of course, we will!" Okay, then a tortoise it is. The kids spent three days with it. On the fourth day I arrive at our house at three in the morning: the tortoise box is empty. I wake them up and say: "Where is the guy?" They mutter something indistinct, still sleepy. I say to them "Go look for it. Now." Until 6 am they kept looking for the tortoise with flashlights. Then they come all dirty, smeared, blubbered, bring the tortoise and put it back in a box. I say: “So maybe we should give it to someone who needs it more and will take care of it? To a pet’s corner, right?" - "Yes".

Such moments are essential, we remember them our whole life, because they are about responsibility for a living being. And of course, there is nothing more terrible than an unfair punishment.

I remember how my parents raised me. The worst thing is an unfair punishment. And I also remember when my mother offended my little son Tema, unfairly. I never dared to say anything to my mother. It was forbidden. But for the first time in my life I said then, "Mom, this is not fair, not right." Later my mother struggled to restore her relations with Tema.

"I'm afraid to make films based on Dostoevsky"

“I am afraid to make films based on Dostoevsky. I am afraid to interfere into the writer’s world. I am afraid of an overkill. He is extremelly precise in capturing all the most terrible things in a person through appearances and emotions, and for me to start filming it ... I do not compare myself to the writer, I am not talking about Dostoevsky’s greatness. I am just talking about my inner feeling.

I think his works are more than enough. It is better not to touch them any further. Because as soon as his heroes get the make-up, the face ... I do not want to criticize anyone, there are wonderful pictures based on Dostoevsky’s works, but this reification does not work for me.

Chekhov and Bunin are for me. Dostoevsky stands above them, because he is not a writer, not an artist. He is an incredible mind. He exists in his passions, his repentance and mindset. I am afraid to touch his works."