Kantemir Balagov And The Beanpole
Updated: Apr 5, 2020
By: Patrick Roy
Beanpole, Kantemir Balagov’s second feature film, follows the director’s previous attempts to examine the lives of marginalized people in Russia, and this time, he narrates the story of two prostitutes in the war's front, a situation which is rarely shown in war movies .
One of the critically acclaimed films premiered at the 72nd Cannes Film Festival, Beanpole does not focus on the war itself, rather, it shows us the effects that war has on people. Although there are a few flaws in the screenplay, Balagov continuously demonstrates his control over all aspects of the film, and Beanpole is a testament to the fact that we can expect great work from Balagov in the future. At the Toronto Film Festival, I had the chance to interview Balagov where we chatted about the production, the performances and the concept of history in his film.
Patrick Roy, UniversalCinema Magazine (UM) :Your first film, Closeness, was about the Jewish family and kidnapping. Now with Beanpole you are making a historical film. Why did you decide to go in this different direction?
Kantemir Balagov (KB): I don’t really pay attention to genre since I’m really just trying to tell a story about humans and poor people. It was especially important to me to show the faith of women after the war since no film in contemporary Russian cinema has talked about this subject.
UM: What was your source of the inspiration? Where did the idea for the film come from?
KB: Most of this film’s inspiration came from Svetlana Alexievich’s book The Unwomanly Face of War but really it could come from everywhere, other books and films also influence on me.
UM: How you prepared Viktoria Miroshnichenko and Vasilisa Perelygina for their roles who are both new faces for cinema?
KB: when we were casting. They read a piece from a piece of literature for the auditions, which was very important for me because the content of the piece that they were reading was horrific but I was looking for the haughtiness that really strong individuals sometimes have. They had that.
UM: Are you mostly interested in working with new actors?
KB: Yes, I think that I have a goal of finding new faces and only working with new people. What I’m looking for is internal charm in the people who I work with.
UM: I was really shaken by the scene on the beach where Iya suffocated the young child. It was very shocking.
KB: We did the scene with a child actor and made him think that we were playing and we practiced it a lot before shooting. That’s how we finally managed to film it without any additional problems. We had to shoot constantly because we never knew when she’d do something that we could actually use. That means that most of this particular scene was created by editing.
UM: When you’re working with the actors, do you have specific ideas about what is good acting or do you let them act and then you decide?
KB: Most of the time, the first five takes were perfectly alright but I was trying to be as authentic as possible in even the smallest details, like the way that she raises her arm or moves her hand. It was just a little bit too much of a perfectionist approach.
UM: The contrast between Iya and Masha is very interesting, with one of them being very tall and the other one a bit short so it’s kind of grotesque situation. Can you say anything about these aspects of shortness and tallness and how the contrast is significant for their characters?
KB: It was important to me, such as to show someone with a big, clumsy appearance but being very tender and naïve inside.
UM: The ending of the film is very telling.
KB: When we started to work on the script we paid a huge amount of attention to this particular scene because at the end we wanted to leave the impression of an unfinished story. That meant we would not address the issue of what happened to women during the war until the very end of the film. We also wanted the audience to have the impression that they cannot decide whether Masha is telling the truth or if she’s trolling the woman. We didn’t want to judge whether she has such talent or to show them in a negative light.
UM: The dynamic of the relationship between Iya and the head of the hospital is also very interesting. Apparently he used her in some cases for killing other patients. Was that something happened a lot in Russia during the war?
KB: We’ve read a lot of diaries from their time and we didn’t find stories specifically like that but we found the story of a woman who was cursing a doctor for saving her husband’s life because he became a quadriplegic.
UM: Everybody needs somebody here, do you agree?
KB: Yes, in fact my teacher, Alexander Sukorov, always taught me that a person needs another person. And this is a story about one person needing another person.
UM: Can you tell us about your relation with Sukorov?
KB: I was a student of Sukorov and studied in his workshop for years so he gave me the knowledge of the profession.
UM: The film took place during the communist regime, but you avoid the political discussions.
KB: I believe that I’m absolutely non-political. Our department even asked me to put portraits of Stalin into some shots as part of the set design to give it more authenticity but I was categorically against it. I believe that good filmmaking has to be outside of time and space.
UM: What city did you shoot the film in?
UM: Why you chose that area?
KB: We shot in Leningrad because even now you can feel the echoes of the horrible siege in the atmosphere and architecture of the city.