“Life is more complex”: a Russian director confronted with the contradictions of communism

(AFP) – Pointing out a system without condemning men: Andreï Kontchalovski addresses the contradictions between communist ideals and historical reality through the repression of a strike in 1962 in “Dear Comrades!”, The latest film by a filmmaker who has gone through decades of Russian history.

In this film, released Wednesday, the 84-year-old director tells of the frantic quest of a mother, a staunch Soviet, WWII veteran and local Party member, in search of her daughter, who disappeared after shooting at a mob. angry workers.

“Dear friends !” addresses “the ambivalence of life” through “a very powerful woman, who is Stalinist, very pure, (…) who believes in communism”, and the difficulty she has “to understand that life is more complex “than that, had explained the director to AFP during the presentation of the film at the Venice Film Festival last year.

The film, supported by the Russian Ministry of Culture, recreates the massacre in Novocherkassk, where on June 1, 1962, 5,000 workers took to the streets to protest against rising prices and falling wages.

The army and the KGB killed 26 people, and left 87 injured. Seven leaders of the movement were executed. All information on this repression remained secret until the end of the 1980s, shortly before the breakup of the USSR in 1991.

The film is a “fairy tale (about) characters, who are good and bad at the same time”, adds Kontchalovski, awarded several times in Cannes and Venice for other films, who has been able to show in recent years his proximity to Vladimir Poutine, but hammered that no “political consideration” presided over the choice to shoot it.

– “Very idealistic” –

“Dear comrades”, in black and white in 4/3 format, to recreate the atmosphere of the time, points out the responsibility of the Soviet authorities in the massacre, and the way in which everything was done to hide it: sunken tar the same evening to cover the pools of blood, confidentiality commitments signed on pain of death …

At the same time, the director, son of the poet Sergei Mikhalkov author of the lyrics of the USSR anthem, insists on the ambivalence of his characters. Like this KGB agent who could disobey and help the heroine in her quest.

“A lot of Communists were very idealistic, with no idea how things might turn out” in the end, continues the filmmaker, who has played hundreds of extras and non-professionals.

“Most of the people who lived under the Soviet regime believed that they were creating something very special and good for humanity,” added the lead actress, and wife of the director, Yulia Vyssotskaia in Venice.

“There were good things and terrible things. Who are we to judge? I just have to do my job as an actor,” she continued.

Andreï Kontchalovski, returned to shoot in Russia several years after an American career, has signed more than twenty feature films, including “Runaway Train”, “The sleepless nights of the postman” or “Paradise”.

“The last thirty years, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, have proven in a certain sense that the Russian mentality was not made for the free market or for capitalism,” he still believes.

Communism in Russia allowed “greed to be controlled by the state”. “The society to come will be a society where greed is under control, and suppressed. It is socialism,” he concluded.