SPECIAL:

Central Asia

©GULNARA ABIKEEVA

INTERVIEW

In spite of the Myth

(Interview with Serik Aprimov)

If Serik Aprimov says something with a straight face, it means that a trick is somewhere about. His films are the same way. He sees funny things and paradoxes in everything. But behind this ironic smile there are deep feelings and a true love of his people.

Serik Aprimov was born in 1960 in the village Aksuat. He graduated from a trade school and in the beginning of the 1980s worked as a driver in Kazakhfilm Studio. In 1984 he was accepted in VGIK, the film directors workshop of Sergey Soloviev.

It is hard to believe that The Final Stop is the thesis work for the VGIK graduation of Serik Aprimov. This film has been critically acclaimed and received the best film director award in the Molodost-89 Film Festival in Kiev. In the new Kazakh cinema this phenomenon is not an exception – we can recall The Needle by Rashid Nugmanov that came to the screens one year before and found tremendous success among viewers. The fact that neither film director had received his VGIK diploma yet didn’t prevent their colleagues from electing Rashid Nugmanov first secretary of the Film Union and naming Serik Aprimov’s The Final Stop picture of the year.

Gulnara: How did you come up with the idea for The Final Stop?

Serik: In my first year in VGIK I created an exercise scene called A Morning of a Manager of Construction Workers. The action took place in an aul – a village. The reaction to my scene was controversial. Sergey Gerasimov said that after he had seen this life on the screen he certainly knew that he didn’t want to live in a place like that. Somebody else said that the atmosphere of the village was transmitted very accurately. And one Czech student admitted that a Kazakh village was recreated so vividly that he felt he had seen it with his own eyes. At that point I realized that I was able to make people believe in something that actually didn’t exist. The paradox lies in the fact that people take my absolute invention for the documentary truth. When I shot Two Drove a Motorcycle, my thesis short film, and screened it in our workshop, Sergey Soloviyev fell silent for some time. A student said: "It’s just a documentary footage…" But Soloviyev disagreed: "It is the exact opposite of a documentary – here everything is premeditated." The same thing happened with The Final Stop – everybody said: "Just a documentary…"

Gulnara: But you are yourself pushing the viewer in this direction. Let’s recall the beginning of the film: against the background of four portraits of the main characters a typewriter prints their biographies: name, date of birth, nationality…Finally, as far as I know, there is only one professional actor in the cast, everybody else are real inhabitants of Aksuat. How else should it be taken?

Serik: Yes, I filmed the villagers in their real environment and in their daily routine. Because of that we even came under budget – there were no sets to build. Everything pedestrians, streets, houses, interiors are real; and everything that happened – conversations, interactions and relationships—seems very absurd. People do not note how much absurdity and meaninglessness we have in our daily life. Maybe because they got used to it or maybe because they choose not to note it…

Even before the picture was released, I started to receive complaints about my distortion of the image of Aksuat village. The letters stated that there were this much cows and goats and thirty PhD holders (and all of it written with commas like a list!)… Mothers-heroines (a Soviet title given to mothers of ten or more children), heroes of Socialist Labor (a Soviet award for professional achievements), the principal of my former school and others signed the letters. They started to phone my home with threats and demands to stop the film’s release.

According to some viewers, I think, I am untruthful. In reality everything is much simpler: I am denying the lie that was perpetuated during all these years. If I created a film with the same concept but about the city life of Kazakhs, people would agree, they would say: "Yes, the city corrupts people…" But Kazakhs developed their holy of holiest places – an aul [a Kazakh village] – where their traditions and morals are kept alive.

Our writers always exclaimed in a very theatrical way – My aul! It is my source of wisdom and intelligence! Of everything! I ignored this and showed the true life.

For example, we developed a fairytale about our kindhearted attitude towards women. I say – No! Women in villages have a hard life and dirty and exhausting labor. Finally, prostitution exists there…I even brought down our belief about respect of the elders. You should see how much alcohol people drink there…

Gulnara: Yes, it is understandable but don’t you think your presentation is too depressing and dark? Aksuat is your native place. Don’t you have any nice memories?

Serik: Of course, I have many rainbow-colored memories about the Aksuat where I lived until the age twelve. But I chose the different subject to my film. At the age thirteen, I left and visited my aul from time to time. During that period I learned to view that world from outside.

Gulnara: It is ironic that in the past we thought Kazakh cinema could manifest itself when a Kazakh film director would tell about Kazakh people and glamorize Kazakh aul, which contains our cultural traditions and rituals and our genetic memory. But it happened backwards -- Kazakh cinema became known when a Kazakh director brought down the myth of the Kazakh aul.

Serik: I didn’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings and my last concern was to create a socially redeeming film. It is a different time now. I take everything with a grain of salt and many of my peers feel the same way. Like any ordinary person, I am afraid to trivialize something that is important to me and this is why I try to be cool about it and to talk about it with irony.

In general, I think, there is nothing worse than a "well-directed" movie. It would be the best complement for me, if one said: "What a simple movie – anybody could’ve done it." But behind this simplicity one could feel the true depth.

Iskusstvo kino 9 (1990)


Gulnara Abikeeva, 2003

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