Vyacheslav Krishtofovich is "A Friend of the Deceased"
by Laura Phipps
After a seven-year hiatus, Ukrainian director Vyacheslav Krishtofovich
is poised for another trek through the American film scene. His fourth
feature film, “A Friend of the Deceased,” selected for Director’
Fortnight at Cannes ’97 and screened at Sundance ’98, opens in New York
next week. The film, a Franco-Ukrainian co-production distributed in
the U.S. by Sony Pictures Classics, is set in the Ukraine’s capitol,
Kiev, where Krishtofovich was born. In addition to several television
dramas, Krishtofovich also directed: “Single Woman Seeks Lifetime
Companion” (1986), “Self-Portrait of an Unknown Person” (1988), and the
renown “Adam’s Rib” (1991), which was also released in America.
“A Friend of the Deceased” traces the journey of Anatoli, a language
professor struggling to adapt to the economic and social landscape of
post-Soviet Ukrainian society. Despairing of palatable job prospects,
and discovering his wife is leaving him for another man, he lets a
mobster friend arrange to take a contract out on the other man — but
then decides to have himself rubbed out. Freshly showered and shaved,
he sits in a cafe at the appointed hour, waiting to die. When fate
intervenes and prevents the hit from taking place, Anatoli is left to
discover what life is still worth to him and why. indieWIRE spoke with
Krishtofovich recently, through a translator, over — what else — vodka
indieWIRE: I want to ask about a central issue in the film: the effects
of capitalism on personal relations. What you see happening in the
Ukraine in the past few years — do you see it as something inherent in
capitalism, or something that came from the shock of the transition?
Vyacheslav Krishtofovich: [In English:] The second. [Continues in
Russian:] Of course it is the shock of the transition. It is important
to understand that nobody wanted communism. Everybody dreamed of
freedom and of what would come after capitalism. But since time is
precious–we don’t have much time, we don’t want to think that the good
times will come in one hundred years. People who can make money, they
try to make money fast. People who cannot make money, or who do not
want to make money for some reason, they are at a crossroads. On the
one hand, they want to get away from the past, and they hope that
everything will be okay in their new lives, and on the other hand they
don’t know how to do that. Nobody wants to keep destroying everything
around them but they don’t know how to build their future, their lives.
Maybe I’m speaking very generally, and it doesn’t have much to do with
the story of the film, but I’m trying to answer your question.
iW: What do you see as your connection with Anatoli, the protagonist?
Krishtofovich: I have a standard reply to questions like this. Anatoli
is really myself, except younger and better-looking. But speaking
seriously, of course nothing like this ever happened to me. But if we
were to talk about our feelings and our souls, this is hitting very
close to home. And this is not only true about me; this is how a lot of
people feel. When we finished working on the movie, and people came to
see it, I realized I was right.
iW: I also saw “Adam’s Rib,” and I noticed that both ended with a minor
miracle: one happens to someone old and one happens to someone young.
And also, they very much revolved around the expressions of the people
witnessing this miracle.
Krishtofovich: I’m very happy that you noticed that. I don’t really
know how to answer your question. You may have noticed that both of
these ending are not simple; there’s more to them than meets the eye.
It’s very hard to determine, in both situations, what’s pro and what’s
con. Of course, the people’s reaction is very important, and that’s
very important for the movie. And the finale of the film is not really
the miracle itself, but people’s reaction to it. And it’s not only the
reaction of the characters in the movie, but also the reaction of the
audience. I’m far from thinking that I can teach the audience something
new. What I’m doing is I’m trying to pose the question, and bring the
audience to think about it together with me. What do you think is
better: when an audience watches a movie, walks out and forgets about it
in an hour — or maybe they’re left with something to ponder. I think
that approach is much more noble; it shows much more respect to the
audience. I don’t look down on my audience.
iW: How do you work with your actors; how does that process works.
Krishtofovich: My standard answer is: I try to be their friends. I love
my actors, and I feel that when a director loves his actors, they will
do anything for him, and they will do much more than plain
professionalism requires. Of course I work with them and I talk to
them about what we want to accomplish, but it’s extremely important to
trust. When an actor brings something of his own into a movie, when he
comes up with a suggestion, I agree with him, if I like it. I never had
in my experience a situation where I asked something of an actor and he
opposed it. We can argue, but this will happen in a cafe, when we
discuss the script, but when we’re working, we have no problems (knock
iW: How did the French co-production effect the film?
Krishtofovich: First of, I want to mention that I’m extremely happy that
this is a co-production. Practically, we could find financing in the
Ukraine and we could actually get that money from the state. Thanks to
our French producers, we could have as much film as we needed, the sound
was much better; technically, the opportunities were just totally
different. And of course what is most important is that the French
co-producers knew how to promote this film in the West. I strongly
doubt, if this movie was strictly Ukrainian, we would be sitting here.
And since I’m a little spoiled already, especially by “Adam’s Rib,” I
don’t really want to give up my habits.
iW: In “Friend of the Deceased,” the plot involves a fair amount of sex
and violence–there’s a prostitute, there’s a hit manbut there isn’t a
lot of sex and violence on the screen.
Krishtofovich: I don’t think there are prohibitive subjects in movies.
The other question is, what is the purpose, and how well it’s done, and
how necessary it is. When I’m watching “Pulp Fiction,” I don’t question
the violence, because this is really art. When I’m watching a movie
where violent scenes are not justified, and they are only on the whim of
the producer. . .
As far as my personal opinion when we speak of love, the most
interesting thing is not what happens technically, but what leads to
it. In the end really, what happens is the same for everybody, but what
gets us there is very personal. Don’t get me wrong; I have nothing
against the results! Maybe it’s because I never tried to do it so
openly; I never really wanted to. In art, just the same as in love,
there should always be something secret, something mysterious.
iW: As far as you can tell, what has the reaction to the film been in
Krishtofovich: [Remainder of interview in English:] I know nothing. I
just know that I got some letters from the Directors’ Guild of America
with some propositions. That’s all I know.
iW: What are your future plans?
Krishtofovich: I have some plans. I have some scripts, some ideas, I
have some discussions with my producers. I don’t know what I’ll do.
iW: In general, do you think you’ll stick with human dramas?
Krishtofovich: Yes, of course. It’s forever.
[“A Friend of the Deceased” opens in New York on May 1 at Lincoln Plaza
Cinemas and Quad Cinema. Subsequently, the film will have a full
release in major cities throughout the U.S.]
[Laura Phipps is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn.]