12 02 2013

Andrei Tarkovsky: The Collector of Dreams

by Layla Alexander-Garrett

A brisk legend of the film industry, Andrei Tarkovsky is also a rather secretive and in some ways understudied figure in the history of cinematography. His life story is filled with obstacles and strange encounters, runs away from one thing – towards another, and never ceasing, dashing creativity of Tarkovsky the director, amidst which Tarkovsky the person was yet to be seen.

This is the image that students of Film would have of the great director.

In her memoir Andrei Tarkovsky: The Collector of Dreams author Layla Alexander-Garrett brings out a very different, fresh and stunning image of Tarkovsky and how he went about his work.

What reads as a mixture of intimate memories from the past and academic extrapolations of how to make a movie, is actually a recollection of how each scene from the set of The Sacrifice was made, with author’s own notes and comments with the inclusion of rare facts to the history of the film.

While working with Andrei Tarkovsky as an on-set interpretor, Layla Alexander-Garrett kept a diary which became the foundation for the memoir. An interesting fact – the book was predicted by Tarkovsky not long before his tragic passing.

And so in this volume the infamous Tarkovsky appears not as an icon, not as the creator of Solaris, not as a persecuted unfortunte public figure. Here, he is a soul, a living person, very much human, very much real, tangible and ever charming. Here he tells jokes and shouts at his crew, apologizes and shouts again; here he is a creative spirit, unstoppable, daring and wanting more from life, not just for himself.

Five stars and a must-have in the library of every filmmaker. Contains unique photographs and testimonies.

Available in the English language from Glagoslav Publications.

Copyright Camilla Stein ©2013. All rights reserved.

BACKSTAGE with Ian Valetov

2 12 2012

Today’s special feature on CSReview is an interview with a talented and prolific author from Russia whose books have made quite a roar in his homeland throughout the recent years.

CS: Welcome to CSReview, Ian. You authored a series of novels, intriguing and peculiar, some very specific to the area they are set in, others more universal. Your name is known in and out of your country. How does it feel to be a bestselling author?

ianvaletovIan Valetov: Never really thought about it like that. See, only one of my many novels has been sold in hundreds of thousands of copies – a dark psychological apocalyptic thriller No Man’s Land. I even had trouble finding a publisher at first, which is typical for me. Then the book came out through a publishing house in St. Petersburg and sold 130,000 copies, three consequent editions. On the other hand, my other books sell well online. The market has changed, irreversibly, I think. So, maybe someday I will feel like a bestselling author, but this day hasn’t come yet.

CS: Why did you decide to write The Chronicles of the Damned?

Ian Valetov: It’s a trilogy, three books, but all together just one long story. It came to me on one of my trips to Israel. I saw an ancient citadel – Metsada – and heard what had happened there. I told my wife, someday I will write a novel about it. Back then I had no idea what I was getting myself into. In fact, this trilogy is monumental as it covers a special time in the history of the world. Had I known that I would spend four years on the computer, read thousands of pages of tens of books, talk to historians, archeologists and theologians? No, I really had no clue. In the end I created a product that doesn’t fit into any specific genre and that is as much a historic blockbuster as it is a sensitive human drama. But, I did know one thing – this novel won’t have it easy. Well, I had to tune it down a little, to modernize it, connect the ancient story to our present reality. So I came up with this professor Rubin Katz and a number of people from his circle. They had found a scroll from which it all began…

CS: Were you at any time worried about implications of this novel and how it might reflect on you?

Ian Valetov: No. I am not the first nor the last one to talk about a controversial subject, but I wrote really more about such very human things as the meaning of friendship, love and sacrifice, and the eternity. Religion is secondary in this book. This trilogy is aimed for agnostics, for those who look for answers.

CS: Some critics compare you to Dan Brown. Do you think it’s fair? Does it make it difficult for you to stand out as a unique writer?

Ian Valetov: I appreciate Dan Brown and his work, and I am not afraid of this comparison as much as it flatters me. The thing is, genre is the only commonality that unites us two. For the rest, we write about different things and look at the world’s history from a different angle. I am afraid though to ever be compared to a talentless fool…

CS: Where in The Chronicles are you, Ian Valetov, who of the characters speaks with your voice?

Ian Valetov: I do not intentionally and directly channel my own personality through my characters. I do understand their fate and their sacrifices, and I love them dearly for the depth and sincerity of their feelings. Take for instance professor Katz and his Jewish proverbs, or this serious guy Sayeed the Bedouin and his son, or Irene – professor’s assistant – and even Shultz, the member of the Legion (central to the trilogy). There’s a little bit of me in all of them…

CS: How long did it take you to complete the series? What was the source of inspiration, what difficulties you had to overcome, did you struggle with anything, maybe with yourself, when writing it?

Ian Valetov: One year went on preparing the manuscript, at the same time I was also finalizing No Man’s Land. Then those three years I spent on writing the trilogy. One year to write one novel, that’s all I have time and energy for. My inspiration comes always from the same source – I want to tell stories to people. I don’t spend time on the couch waiting for the muse… In the end of the day when my family is resting, I sit down at my desk and begin telling my stories. Not that I’ve ever had difficulties putting my works together, no, but some scenes were exhausting and sometimes even haunting, pushing me to go over a certain personal limit for the sake of authenticity. Like the mass murder scene, or that chase in the desert… In this respect it’s easier to write about today’s reality than go back into the past.

The hardest part began when the novel was completed. I discovered that I am thought of as a science fiction writer and readers expected a sequel of No Man’s Land. And then suddenly I come out with a novel quite different from anything I’ve done before… adventures, history, thrill… a religious novel as they say. Nonsense. Anyone who ever even just briefly glanced at this novel would know it has nothing to do with religion.

And, I am grateful for my own business that allows me certain independence from writing for hire. That said, there were expectations of me in this regard, to write something that’d sell, something that’d fit the success formula. I chose to differ.

CS: What is your message to the reader of your books outside Russia, what do you want us to see in your works – and what not?

Ian Valetov: I write about people. They are everywhere at all times just that – people, regardless of the country and the century, and the language they speak. I am just telling stories. My credo is to write about evergreen common to us all notions such as love, loyalty, intrigue, sacrifice. We all have much more in common that we may think. It’s just that one may prefer one beverage over another, but our mentality in its core is never that different. The language of feelings and emotions is universal. I want my reader to feel the rush to get to the end of the story and then feel sad that the story ended… What I don’t want is for my reader to be bored. There are no bad genres. Sometimes there are bad authors, but I hope I am not one of them.

CS: What are you writing now, and what are your future plans?

Ian Valetov: Right now I am working on the novel Stranger’s Dreams which is a story of confrontation between two parallel worlds and the people who got caught in the middle. I created the plot together with my wife Lesya. It’s a story about good and evil and us not always knowing which side we’d take. I’ve been married for over 25 years, and this novel will be my first cooperation with my wife.

My next novel is planned under a working title Mr. Inquisitor and is about a man who served a religious dogma all his life only to discover that the love towards his family is dearer to him. It’s a mystical fantasy novel about the role of the Church in society.

I am not yet sure what of these ideas will be fulfilled and what will remain in my files as notes. I have two new ideas for two sequels for my previous novels To Stay Alive and The Left Bank of Stix. If only I could find the time and the desire to continue. Well, it seems the work for the next four years has been cut out for me.

CS: Thank you for being with us, Ian. Very interesting stories, very interesting future plans. Wishing you to see them come true and of course we’d love to see your novels in the English language someday. That would be just awesome.

Translated from the Russian by Camilla Stein.

Copyright Camilla Stein ©2012. All rights reserved.

Ian Valetov on Amazon (Russian Edition)


14 06 2012

METRO 2033

A science fiction thriller has conquered the world as a printed book, originally written in Russian and translated into English, German, Dutch and more, and a hardcore video game by THQ. Written by a Russian author Dmitri Glukhovski, Metro 2033 is an extraordinary product of post-apocalyptic sci fi and a blend of cultural experience in a setting that has been mystified and largely unexplored.

Action in the novel spins off in the Moscow’s metro after an atomic disaster on the surface forces people underground, where a handsome protagonist fights for survival in a most bizarre scenario.

Dmitri Glukhovski succeeds in drawing into his world, now a franchise,  Glukhovski Universe, where the story kicks off immediately from the first pages. The author’s imagination reaches incredible depths, often merging with reality, and leaving his reader wonder what has just happened.

A fantastic combination of mental games and brutal physical force, Metro 2033 highlights people’s inner indestructible nobility, sheds light on the dark side of human nature and poses eternal questions that may or may not have answers.

Following in the footsteps of his infamous predecessors, Dmitri Glukhovski lives up to the expectation – his top class novel reflects beautifully on the best of Russian science fiction with an amazing tradition, celebrating an unprecedented success among international fans and critics.

Today, Metro 2033 is available worldwide, with the book’s most recent release in Benelux by Glagoslav Publications.

Copyright Camilla Stein ©2012. All rights reserved.

BACKSTAGE with Boris Dvorkin

5 06 2012

Today’s special guest on CSReview is a Russian film director Boris Dvorkin, master of documentary and non-fiction short film, talking about his film Eitaph, dedicated to internationally recognized composer of classic music Dmitry Shostakovich.

CS:  Boris, I was deeply impressed by your short film Epitaph, where every scene is emotionally charged. Why did you chose Dmitry Shostakovich for your film, what did you see in this composer, who in my opinion was just as great and extraordinary, as beaten by the authorities and the time?

Boris Dvorkin: You know, Camilla, I am not that much into Shostakovich’s music. But, the thing is, I was born and grew up in Leningrad. Both my grandmothers and my father lived through the blockade during World War II, and Shostakovich’s 7th Symphony has always been a symbol of this city for me. Despite having been living in Moscow for many years, I am still deeply in love with Leningrad. I consider myself a Leningrader, mind you, belonging not to the new St. Petersburg, but to Leningrad. My family members, war veterans, have medals where it says ‘for the defense of Leningrad’. And a little medal that I received at birth, it said ‘to the Leningrader’. It’s not the name of the leader of the revolution that I see in the city’s name, not at all. But, I digress…

The idea of the film about Shostakovich doesn’t belong to me. Once at the studio where I worked I heard of a new script set in Leningrad, and that was the main reason I signed up for this project – knowing that I will be going to Leningrad, exploring its past, the blockade, and the story of the composer in it.

The script needed work, of course, and the more work there was with the material, the more continuous interest it seemed to evoke in me. The best part of being a film director is in always learning something new. Submerged in doing what you love, you also learn what you perhaps have never known before, and alongside this wonder you’re also getting paid! This can’t be bad, you know…

My aunt is a passionate music lover, ever present at philharmonic concerts. When she found out that I am doing a film about Shostakovich, she exclaimed ‘How can you shoot such a film, you know absolutely nothing about music!’ Oh well, I don’t think a director making a film about a composer needs to have a degree in music science – this will only spoil the work, increasing a risk that instead of making a picture, director will make a scientific research into music. No, of course I wasn’t planning on filming another routine ‘326th’ film about the composer with his biography and creativity exposed as was initially suggested in the script. I wanted something unique. This is when I got help from a wonderful musician and conductor of the famous orchestra Kremlin – Misha Rakhlevsky. He told me about the 8th Quartet by Shostakovich, which the composer used to call his own life story. And so I began listening to this music. Again and again. And while listening, I imagined the picture, the film. You know what they say about composers, that they do not create music, they simply record whatever comes to them. That is, the music comes not from the man, but from another world, or worlds. Same is with poets. And, evidently, sometimes with film directors.

Slowly, but steadily I realized that I need no words, no dialogue, that the music will tell it all. Anyhow, by the time we arrive to ‘Piter’ (Leningrad), the film was already practically done.

CS: You are using documentary footage and scenes from the movie Andrey Rublev by a legendary director Andrey Tarkovsky. In my opinion this adds to the dramatic effect of Epitaph, and hence my next question – do you think the genius of Shostakovich could have existed outside history, the tragic and tough times he lived in?

Boris Dvorkin: I visualized this film by using different sources. Some of my own memories of the city, some things I knew of its history, the time, indeed, and what I learned about the composer’s life. And mostly, from what I felt while listening to his music. This is how I became inclined to use cuts from Andrey Rublev. There was something in it, a juxtaposition of the composer’s fame and the reality of his private life under Stalin regime. In a way, that scene with the clown, is the scene starring Dmitry Shostakovich himself, though not in person, – for he was, too, beaten and thrown down.

Speaking of his genius in relation to history, I think he existed outside it all together. A diamond becomes a jewel under the influence of the external force. Just that everything that happened to Shostakovich, eventually found its way into his music, and that was his genius. This is what he heard when he lived through some tough events.

Is there a hidden meaning to this? Well, the entire film is built on such hints. The important thing is for me to enable the viewer to decipher these hints, to read what I wrote, to want to read. A curious fact – Epitaph was well received outside Russia, in England, Czech Republic, in Argentina when the film was screened during the festival Mar-del Plata. Surprisingly, since our history seems to be so far away from other continents.

CS: Historic backdrop in Epitaph makes me think of something else. For instance, about humanism, the love of life. Would you agree that Shostakovich had his own course, that is to be – or to remain – a mensch despite being thrown under the wheel of the political machine?

Boris Dvorkin: You know, this skill, to remain human, is a quality of a real artist. As they say, genius and villainy are two opposites. Shostakovich did not live in isolation. He lived in the world that was around him, a complicated world, a complicated life. But, as they say, God does not give you a burden what you cannot bear. And also they say, what doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger. I discovered archived footage that even Shostakovich’s widow did not know about. That part of the film where Shostakovich is being accepted in the Communist party – very telling. That he resisted. You can see the torture in his face. His son remembers seeing father cry twice only – when his first wife died, and when he was being herded into the party.

CS: Shostakovich has a distinct signature in his music, somewhat rough and refined at the same time. Perhaps symbolic to the time he lived in, where there was room for the living soul to fly, and to be toppled into submission. Do you think the composer remained true to himself, his character, his personality and his unique music, or was he hiding, masquerading, and eventually losing himself in his own orchestra?

Boris Dvorkin: I think he would stop being a composer if he had to compromise. He remained a genius till his very last day.

CS: Do you think Shostakovich was happy? What would be his happiness, and is it realistic, attainable for anyone to be happy?

Boris Dvorkin: I don’t think he was unhappy. Remember those scenes where he listens to his own music. His face says it all. Can’t say about an artist that he is unhappy, that because God ordained him with the greatest gift – the ability to create!

Shostakovich was a very vivacious, energetic person. He loved soccer, was an active supporter. But life is not a straight line. Stuff happens. That phrase I used from one of his letters was uttered during his moments of weakness, fatigue, loneliness. Only idiots are always happy. That’s why we even have a saying about it. But, every person’s life has white and black stripes – white when things are good, black when things are bad. And of course we all want to have more of the white ones, but if we had no black ones – we would never know that what we have are the white ones. Everything is known by comparison.

CS: What do you want to tell the Western audience prior to watching your film Epitaph?

Boris Dvorkin: No, not only Western!!! Eastern, Southern, Northern… I wish them all that those 26 minutes of this film were uninterrupted. No ringing phones, no inquiring family members, no meowing cats… Every scene in this film, just like in every other real film (me hoping here that I created a real film), every detail is important. So please, be attentive. Because… and this is not a wish, but hope… like a good wine is recognized by its rich aftertaste. Same is with the film. And I hope that the aftertaste will move you to watch the film again. Have a great time watching!

CS: Thank you for being here with us, Boris, and thank you for a delightful thoughtful interview.

Translated from the Russian by Camilla Stein.

Copyright Camilla Stein ©2012. All rights reserved.

(click to watch the film)

Epitaph by Boris Dvorkin



25 03 2012


The Island was released in 2006. Directed by Pavel Lungin, a talented Russian film maker, the movie has a carefully thought through cast as an essential component to its very texture, starring Pyotr  Mamonov, for whom the role of father Anatoli is nearly autobiographical.

Smooth and delicate, The Island was filmed according to the best standards of modern cinematography. With technical aspects so well perfected, the film allows to concentrate on its main theme, its spiritual message. For viewers coming from other backgrounds than Russian Orthodox, the film opens up a door, a very wide door, into the world of intimate and authentic spirituality, unique and non-existent anywhere else outside Russia – a perfect opportunity to explore.

The plot is quite simple, and therefore so tragic. A soldier’s war crime becomes his sin, the sin that he cannot forgive himself, although he seems to be pardoned by the highest authority. The soldier becomes a monk, and a monk becomes the healer, the one for many lost souls on the vast territories of a wild and untamed country, the one for the confused and the desperate. Father Anatoli draws from his unlimited faith in God, his devotion and desire to please God through service, and his ability to see beyond the unseen, to know what is hidden from the eyes of common people. Why him, why is he chosen? There are no answers, only more questions. Aren’t we all chosen, aren’t we all recipients of the message – in different times and at different altitudes and frequencies?

People come and go, the monastery and the monks are still there, and so is the healer – at least for a while – and perhaps there’s so much to learn from many canonical books and prayers in those books, but The Island in the end makes only one point – know thyself.

Copyright Camilla Stein ©2012. All rights reserved.

The Island in IMDb

Official Trailer


21 03 2011


For Those Who Survive


A man and a woman find themselves in the middle of gruesome heartbreaking events in Russia at the dawn of the Red Revolution and its violent spin off. They love passionately and sacrificially, but history is merciless to them both; it leaves one dead and another suffering unimaginably, and carrying the pain of loss through the rest of her life.

Russian history is full of paradoxes and obscurities, and both acts of inconceivable cruelty and incredible heroism. What is important to realize here, is that regardless of whether people lived under Tsar or a Communist leader their historical truth is always in loving their homeland and preserving their dignity. And so, when the country is being divided between two powers that equally share their patriotism, a gigantic split throws the nation into a civil war where everybody is right.

Kolchak here is a charismatic figure, a person of many talents and a man of his word. He doesn’t waste time, knows exactly what he wants and where he goes. He has people’s support and earns political recognition. Two women in his life love him dearly, one is his wife, and another is his destined lover.

In this movie, released in 2008, what should have been a classic triangle, is not. Instead, there’s a conceptual metaphor where a man has to decide between his homeland from before and after, just as he has to decide between his two women. Unable to make that choice, he allows history to do it for him, and as circumstances isolate him from his wife and child, same circumstances drive Anna, his newly found love, closer. Their story develops during a political drama, a social rapture and a kind of a structural tremor that Russia will never recover from. These events break everything on their way, tear families apart, kill and scar survivors for life.

Highly emotionally charged, the movie has spectacular and very reflective photography that is carefully employed as canvas for actors’ splendid and very believable performance, making that thin matter that separates cinema and reality, disappear at times.

Based on real facts, this isn’t Russia’s first war movie to praise their imperial past, and it certainly is not the last one. Russia is getting back her uprooted heritage of which Admiral is a beautiful example.

Copyright Camilla Stein ©2011. All rights reserved.

View Admiral official trailer

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