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Vladimir Menshov: anything of great talent is true propaganda of the country

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Vladimir Menshov: anything of great talent is true propaganda of the country


Svetlana Smetanina

Vladimir Menshov, the maker of such iconic movies asMoscow Does Not Believe in TearsandLove and Dove, turns 80 on September 17. His life is an example of a remarkably successful creative and personal destiny. It's no coincidence that this year 900 people attempted to win admission to his workshop at the Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography (aka VGIK), while enrollment is set to 30. Menshov is known as a very principled person; and he teaches his students the same thing - only a powerful person can create a truly serious film.

Vladimir Menshov. Photo credit:

As to Vladimir Menshov, he admits that it is quite uncommon for him to communicate with reporters not about his film or work, but rather about his age: “I need somehow to find the strength within and reconcile with the number that everyone mentions around me. And I can’t get used to it. 80 years old - is it about me? Good heavens! Yes, it is about me. This is something not very easy to reconcile with. But the fact that more and more people live up to such age and even longer is quite encouraging. Marlen Khutsiev, who passed away recently, lived to be 92 years old.”

Beginning of his working history did not foretell such a brilliant cinematographic career in any way. Vladimir Menshov was born in Baku, but when he was eight, his family moved to the North - to Arkhangelsk. And love to the North has remained with him for life. Three years that we lived in Arkhangelsk made the unforgettable impression on me: white nights, polar lights, snow – such an experience coming from Baku along with skis, skates. So I came into beautiful Arctic life.

After school, he worked at a mine in Vorkuta, then at a plant in Astrakhan. After that he was a sailor on a diving boat for a year. According to him, he managed to work on the ground, underground and under water - in an extremely heavy diving suit. Whilst there was only one dream - to get into the Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography.

All my classmates studied in institutes, but not me. I was told: are you crazy? Which VGIK are you talking about, which cinematography? Those are all for the privileged ones. When I was traveling to Moscow, all I knew was VGIK. And indeed, I imagined my whole life through the cinema - cinematography fascinated me. Actors were idols of that time. In particular, I really loved Nikolai Rybnikov. Spring on Zarechnaya Street, a movie with him, made an indelible impression on me, and I still remember it by heart.

I came to apply to VGIK with one of my friends from Astrakhan. He was a serious figure in amateur talent shows, performed at concerts, read Mayakovsky. He prepared himself for matriculation, and I came without even understanding that I had to read some poetry. I thought it was simply required to walk in front of the admission board and they would say whether you suit it or not. And at the first day we were just scared to step inside VGIK - we sat on the bench opposite it and watched people flitting out of it with jealousy and adoration. On the second day we went in and saw that there were lots of applicants just like us: the competition was about 200 candidates for one student position.

I made the first cut and got a place in a hostel. I lived there for a week, until the next round, and imbued with VGIKs environment. And that environment is just remarkable. There were sleepless nights filled with arguments about such lofty matters, that I could only listen from afar. Lets talk about red color in Idiot, a motion picture by Pyryev… Which color, who is Pyryev?.. But I gasped with happiness and realized that it was my world. That wasvery important for me. Because many people fail their admission test, go back to their native cities and towns and enroll to pedagogical or medical universities understanding that cinematography is not for them. But that week determined my whole life. I understood that it was interesting for me.

Vladimir Menshov and Aleksey Batalov. At the shooting of Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears. Photo credit:

However he did not get into the longed-for VGIK. And it was not till the next year when he became a student in the acting department of the Moscow Art Theater School. Nevertheless, in 1970 he completed his postgraduate study at the VGIK department of directing (the workshop of Mikhail Romm). But real success nationwide and even worldwide - came to him only at the age of forty, when Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears, an iconic motion picture, was released in 1979. By the way, the famous phrase from this film, "When you are forty, it is just beginning of life," became prophetic for the director himself. Two years later, the film was awarded the Oscar by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as the Best Foreign Film of the Year. Moreover, the director himself did not even know that his film had been sent to a prestigious competition.

Management of the Filmmakers Union took the respective decision at some secret meeting. It was motivated by the fact that the film was extremely fancied by members of the Politburo and personally by Leonid Brezhnev. They decided not to argue with him and send the picture, being sure that it was doomed to failure. And it received the Oscar. It came as abombshell.

Today Vladimir Menshov, as the chairman the Russias Oscar Committee, decides himself which Russian films will be submitted to the American award. And sometimes his position is extremely principled. Thus, in 2011 he refused to sign resolution of the committee members to submit The Citadel by Nikita Mikhalkov.

Why did I take such principled stance? That year Elena by Zvyagintsev received prize at the Cannes Film Festival. And just before our meetingFaust by Alexander Sokurov won the main award of the Venice International Film Festival. But we had to deal with a motion picture, which, lets call things by their proper names, stroke out with audiences. I asked the committee members: What can I justify your choice with? They lowered their eyes and were silent.

Besides, Vladimir Menshov is known for his principled stance regarding matters that affect him personally. Thus, in 2007, being right before the lights, he refused to present the prize to Bastards at the film award ceremony organized by MTV Russia. He explained his position in the following way: I hoped it would blow over. It did not. I would ask Pamela Anderson to give the Best Film Award to this movie, which is rather scurvy and dishonors my country. Unfortunately, I will not do it. He dropped theenvelop onto the floor and left.

He teaches the same attitude to his students who enroll to his acting and directing workshop in VGIK (this year 900 people attempted to win admission while enrollment is set to 30): I teach them certain attitude to life. If there is a powerful personality with principles, than it grows into powerful and serious cinematography. If this is not the case, no workmanship will help.

Nowadays the master and his students are making a film on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of VGIK. And there is also a story behind that.

50 years ago I was given a task to make a film on the occasion of the 50thanniversary of VGIK. I started making it, and rather interesting material was derived. But there was a conflict with Tamara Fedorovna Makarova (wife of Sergei Gerasimov, a director), who suddenly saw some mockery of her husband in it. Although there was nothing like that - there was one slightly playful phrase. But she eventually scuttled my recording. And then various masters began to recompile it. And they spoiled everything to such an extent that a decision was made - to wash off the film. Those materials would be so useful for me now! But nothing was left.

Therefore, when Vladimir Sergeyevich Malyshev, the rector of VGIK, now heard this story of mine, he said: youll be shooting for the 100thanniversary. It feels like gaining revenge. So I failed to see this summer, because vigorously got down to work

Vladimir Menshov and Vera Alentova. Photo credit:

Of course, journalists could not help asking the director when his new works should be expected this time motion pictures. As it turned out that there are plans, but no money.

Several times I expressed a desire to make a film. I even started one. It would be a film about the time before the First World War. Actors were found; beautiful costumes were sewn. But the amount was so small that I decided to shoot a part of the film - one of the central events, and then to ask for money for the whole film. This 20-minute episode still exists, but, unfortunately, we could not find money to continue working.

There was another attempt - to make a story about the Korean War in the 1950s. This is a serious page in our history that has been suppressed. We tested our strength there and the Americans became convinced of our power. The money has not been allocated yet, but I will pursue.

And a question about the secret of family happiness could not be neglected. As you know, Vladimir Menshov has been married for many years to Vera Alentova, an actress. The secret turned out to be simple and complex at the same time - great love that has been growing stronger over the years.

Being asked if he considered contemporary movies to be Russian propaganda, the director gave the following answer: Anything of great talent is true propaganda of the country. Any good movie is propaganda.

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