Q&A: Nikita Mikhalkov


One of Russia's highest-profile directors and one of the most powerful people in the nation's film industry, Nikita Mikhalkov returns to Cannes with a sequel to his Academy Award-winning "Burnt by the Sun," the World War II saga "Burnt by the Sun 2." Mikhalkov spoke with The Hollywood Reporter's Russia correspondent Vladimir Kozlov about the challenges of making Russia's most expensive film and talking to young audiences about WWII.

The Hollywood Reporter: When did you decide to make a sequel to "Burnt by the Sun"? Was there anything that triggered that decision?

Nikita Mikhalkov: I watched the excellent film "Saving Private Ryan" by Steven Spielberg. And when I exited the movie theater in Paris, I realized that for a large number of young people, World War II is basically focused on that particular episode, the Normandy Landings. I thought that it was a very limited view of WWII, and I wanted to make a movie, in which I would tell about that unknown war in the East. The first months (following Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union), were very terrible, brutal and humiliating for the entire enormous country, and that wasn't really discussed. And since the main characters of "Burnt by the Sun" were in one way or another linked to the military, I had an idea about exploring the relations between them against the background of that gigantic and horrible war.

THR: You mentioned Spielberg's movie. Were you in your film in some way arguing with him?

Mikhalkov: Absolutely not. There is one viewpoint, which is beautiful, powerful, professional and convincing in all senses. And I wanted to add another viewpoint to it, that's all. I had no desire to compete with Spielberg -- no way --or try to say that he is wrong. There is one war, which he knows and talks about, and there is another war, which I know and I talk about. It is, in a way, like the meeting (of Soviet and American troops) on the Elba (in 1945).

THR: What audiences are more important for you, domestic or international?

Mikhalkov: Domestic audiences are more important for me, especially young people. There are too many who know nearly nothing about World War II or have very superficial knowledge of it. Gradually, this war, which ended only 65 years ago, begins to be perceived nearly in the same way as the Patriotic War of 1812 or the Battle of Kulikovo (which took place in 1380).

THR: But do you expect that audiences abroad will understand the film?

Mikhalkov: There are universal things, like love of a daughter or a father, or a daughter's devotion to her father, even though he was proclaimed "an enemy of the people." Or the utter humiliation of troops that are not even being bombed but instead, spoons with holes and the words 'Ivan, go home, I'll be here soon' are being thrown at them. There are things that cannot go unnoticed by anyone who has a soul, regardless of whether it is in France, in America, in Italy, in the Czech Republic or in Russia. They are human stories.

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THR:The film's reported budget is $55 million. What was the main challenge of making Russia's most expensive film to date?

Mikhalkov: It was actually about $40 million. And the main challenge was working in a situation when a large-scale film industry is nearly non-existent, when entire film-related professions ceased to exist, when props have been destroyed. People (in the film industry) have lost the habit of working on long projects. They've become used to making music videos and commercials. ... So, it was very difficult to form a crew of people who could work on long projects.

THR: Some people believe that your film was made on order from the government and aims to promote state ideology.

Mikhalkov: There is nothing like that in it.

THR: There is a long tradition of war films in Soviet and Russian cinema. To be able to talk about the war with the younger generation, in what way should the cinematic language be different from what it is was, say, in the 1950s or 1960s?

Mikhalkov: I've never really thought about it. I'm evolving as cinema is evolving, as life is evolving. I make films the way I know how and the way I think they should be made. I don't change my vocabulary. I can pick up some new words, some contemporary slang, but my main vocabulary remains the same. On the other hand, times change, generations change, the speed of thinking changes, values change, moral principles change. The main audiences in film theaters are 18 years old and below. Are they interested in war action scenes or are they interested in events they don't know about? I don't know. But I could say what I wanted to say only the way I said it.