Natasha Merkulova and Aleksey Chupov, director duo behind the Venetian title “Captain Volkonogov Escaped” – in the running for a Golden Lion – thought of Jean-Paul Belmondo when creating their main character, a policeman from the USSR which suddenly fled and found itself pursued by its former colleagues. The legendary French actor, known for “Breathless” and “Pierrot le Fou”, died on September 6th.
“In one of the previous versions of the script, we even had a similar ending to ‘Breathless’. Then we changed him, but his spirit stuck, ”Chupov said. Variety in Venice after the film’s world premiere. “We grew up with his films.”
The Russian-Estonian-French co-production, although taking place in 1938, is not a faithful vision of the politically charged period, the directors opting instead for a “retro-utopia” and, as they say, reinventing the past.
“We just weren’t interested in doing a typical historical drama. I know people who like to make them, but we are not those people, ”says Chupov. “We wanted to combine different elements, mix them up and see what happens. For us it was an experience.
Loosely based on Russian fairy tales, the film sees Volkonogov – Yuriy Borisov, recently seen in the Cannes Grand Prix winner “Compartment No.6” – asking for forgiveness from the families of his past victims, after a supernatural encounter. caused concern about the state of his own soul.
“In these stories, the hero always has to do something three times to achieve his goal,” Merkulova explains. Although the duo have worked together for years and are currently busy co-directing Netflix’s “Anna K”, a contemporary reimagining of Leo Tolstoy’s iconic novel, starring Svetlana Khodchenkova and Borisov, it is usually she who takes charge of a times on the set, Variety discovered.
“It’s usually hard for the viewer to feel compassion for a villain – that’s why they need to see their entire journey. For us, the most interesting was to show this passage from a “normal person” to an executioner. How’s it going ?”
“We really believe that everyone is born good,” adds Chupov. “Everyone is born with a soul and some let them ‘sleep’ for a while. But he can still wake up, like in this case. You can spot this “Russian fairy tale” code because our film is really a parable, albeit based on sad historical events that took place in our country. “
Yet instead of focusing on the past or present situation in Russia, the directors took a more universal approach, noting that even now people are still being tortured and injured all over the world.
“Russian history forms a basis here; it is our history and it is we who know it best. But we also reach out to people in different countries because torture still exists, even though it’s really hard to believe. If someone watches our movie and later decides not to hurt another person, then that will serve their purpose, ”says Chupov, Merkulova admitting that originally the story was much more brutal.
“We realized that when you show this kind of violence, it turns into white noise. You don’t even notice it anymore. Instead, we decided to focus on the protagonist’s psychology, ”she says.
They still wanted “Captain Volkonogov Escaped” to have a bit of humor, however, with Merkulova enjoying Yorgos Lanthimos’ non-obvious comedy.
“We wanted to introduce moments of dark comedy, to give the viewer some temporary relief. In the world, in general, nothing is completely serious all the time, ”she said, with Chupov calling humor“ a great tool for tragedy ”.
“When you watch sitcoms, you always hear a laugh track. They basically tell you, “Laugh, laugh, it’s time to laugh.” When you watch dramas they tell you, “Cry, cry, this is the time to cry. We like to combine the two, because humor helps you avoid pathos. It’s like someone is pinching you really hard and giving you pain medication at the same time.
“Captain Volkonogov Escaped” was produced by Valeriy Fedorovich and Evgeniy Nikishov (Place of Power), and Aleksandr Plotnikov (LookFilm), and co-produced by Katrin Kissa (Homeless Bob Production), Charles-Evrard Tchekhoff (Kinovista) and Nadiia Zaionchkovska, with Memento International handling sales.