Kirill Serebrennikov could not be in Cannes to present his film Petrov’s Fever, which competes for the Palme d’Or. It is by videoconference that we therefore spoke with the Russian filmmaker, under house arrest in Moscow since 2017. He talks to us about the conception of his film and the meaning he wanted to convey, with his vision of Russia in the center. . He also returns to his work, despite the pressure he is under from the authorities.
Franceinfo Culture: I saw your film as a dystopian science-fiction vision of Russia, where the character of Petrov would be your alter-ego, am I right?
Kirill Serebrennikov: Yes quite. But it’s your job to interpret mine, and I find all interpretations given to me correct. What I wanted to do in the film was play with time. Everything is artificial, it’s from the studio, and recreating the past, technically, is like visualizing the future, it’s a total creation. The relationship to time in Russia is very particular, it does not matter whether it is the past or the future. This is one of the words of the film. If the past of the 1960s seems more sympathetic, it is out of nostalgia, but childhood memories are also carriers of trauma, due to the fragility of childish psychology. And the back and forth past-present in the film gives the point of view of the child. The confusion between the two, and between reality and fantasy, are voluntary and meaningful.
But what we see from the past and the present are practically the same things in terms of the pressure of power on the citizens, as if nothing had changed.
Russians like to repeat Nietzche’s quote “what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger”, hence their sort of resignation which would be like a force of resistance which goes beyond the simple fact of suffering.
The film deals with the background of an influenza epidemic that echoes the current pandemic, did you write and direct before or during the Covid-19 crisis?
We started the film before the pandemic. When she declared herself, we had already started the treatment, and I was wondering how future viewers would see this film, after going through the isolation and confinement that we find in Petrov’s Fever. In addition, no character in the film wears a mask, although it has become widespread today. The connection between the film’s flu epidemic and the current pandemic is completely unrealistic.
Does the pressure Petrov feels in the film match the pressure you experience as a result of your house arrest?
I actually drew a lot of inspiration from literature, and hung on to Salnikov’s novel (The Petrovs, the flu, etc …, Éditions des Syrtes, editor’s note) because I found a lot of metaphors, poetry and strangeness there. If there is any correspondence between the film and my situation as a citizen, that was not my objective. I conformed to Salnikov, whom I prefer to Kafka from the point of view of the demolition of man by the administration. The producer of the film asked me to write the adaptation but it should not be me the director of the film. However, while writing the script, I was completely drawn into the universe of the book and could not leave it in other hands. And since the production didn’t have anyone to direct it, I decided to direct it. It was the most interesting achievement I have ever had, and a huge challenge. Because it was necessary to create a total universe. It’s the best experience that you can offer an artist, creating everything from A to Z. There was great enthusiasm from all involved during the preproduction and filming.
But it amazes me a lot that people like you, coming from outside, from another country than mine, feel that there is a correspondence between the film and my personal life. Because the film is about life in Russia, the madness specific to Russians, their sense of the absurd. This is undoubtedly the result of similarities, common points that are found all over the world. But what Petrov saw in the film did not correspond to what I saw. I wanted with this film to escape my own reality. I totally immersed myself in my imagination, in my personal madness, I wanted to put aside all my problems.
How do you manage to continue to create, to direct for the theater, for the opera or to shoot a film under the pressure you are under?
All work allows you to survive. It’s like breathing to live. It is the same for all my colleagues around the world. But in my situation, I received a lot of support from everywhere, a lot of love, a lot of letters, from Thierry Frémaux, or Olivier Py for my performance in Avignon, from German artists, from all over Europe. And I want to give them back that love they gave me. This is what helps me the most.
Do you have projects or are you currently working on a creation?
I was very taken by the preparation of Cannes. I was very happy that the film crew came up the steps to present the film. And we did the equivalent in Moscow, at the same time, with a red carpet, it was important and a beautiful evening, synchronized with what was happening in Cannes.
Is there a rumor that you will only be released from your assignment in 2023?
Let’s wait and see. Everything has an end. We have to wait, let’s be patient.