The Beginning of the End Oxygen Station by Ivan TYMCHENKO
2024-05-05 11:59:00

The eternal struggle of good against evil occurs again, but this time using a real event as a starting point. In a particular mix of realism and lyricism, the director tells us the hardships of a group of characters who represent the Tartar people, constantly oppressed by Russia and its political decisions.

To begin, let’s talk a little about history, without revealing much of the plot, could you place us in the political and geographical context in which the film takes place?

I will try to briefly tell you the important things. Imagine that in the 20th century, Russia occupied Ukrainian territories along with the people who lived there. The Soviet Union had a beautiful name, but the reality was different. Instead of socialism, there was terror—instead of the union, there was Russification. “Prison of Nations” is an unofficial but more accurate name. The crimes of the Soviet government could be talked about for a long time. Here I will only talk about one thing, the deportation of the Crimeans (Crimean Tatars), the indigenous people of the Crimean Peninsula. It happened overnight—15 minutes for packing, under the barrel of a Russian soldier’s rifle. Hundreds of thousands of people, women, children, men, young, and old, were crammed into freight cars and sent to different corners of the country. Many people died on the way. Those who survived started to rebuild their lives from scratch. At the time of the deportation, Mustafa Dzhemilev, the hero of our film, was less than a year old. So he received his first exile while still a child and his first imprisonment occurred at the age of 23. Then there was another, more and more. For his political views, he spent over 15 years in prisons and exiles. But the system couldn’t break him. Moreover, he became a symbol of resistance, not only for the Crimeans. In 1975, Mustafa began a political hunger strike that lasted 303 days. World radio stations reported daily on Mustafa’s health. In the 1980s, Mustafa met his future wife Safinar, and soon after their son was born. The long-awaited dream of the Crimeans—the return to their homeland—began to come true in the 1990s, with the collapse of the USSR. Hundreds of thousands of families were able to return to the peninsula. In 2013, Mustafa planned to retire and spend time with his grandchildren. However, after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, Mustafa was prohibited from entering the peninsula.

The story of the film is very ambitious; it has many characters and takes place in different countries and times. How was your work with the screenwriter to achieve such a compact plot that unites the historical facts with personal stories and, at the same time, works as a political thriller and a drama?

The film came about because of Russia’s occupation of Crimea, fueled by the lies that came with it. Many people, whether they understood the situation or not, just repeated Russian propaganda. So, we started looking for a story that would tell the truth. It didn’t take us long to find it. Mustafa Dzhemilev’s life story spoke volumes. At first, we thought of making a typical biopic with historical bits. But as we gathered materials and conducted interviews, we stumbled upon the fascinating story of Mustafa and Safinar’s meeting. It was so captivating, so different from the common. We were hooked! That’s when we knew we wanted to make a film about it. The challenge was that while our heroes were open about their public lives, their family stories were personal. We had to piece together their story bit by bit. As for the genre, it’s mainly a romantic drama with a political thriller twist. Life in the Soviet Union was tough, and the fact that stories like these happened there is quite astonishing.

The plot of the film is based on real events. However, it has some very important scenes and sequences where it plays like a dream or a fantasy. How did you make these decisions?

We’ve been working on this film for quite a while now. Frankly, I’ve started to forget some details. But having the filmmaker’s perspective in a fictional movie is a good thing, I believe. Through dreams and fantasies, we delved into the inner world of our characters, exploring their fears and dreams. And looking at the life stories of our heroes, it felt like fate played a part in their journeys.

The film looks like a great production, and it was made in collaboration between several countries. How many countries are involved in the film’s production, how was the organization between these countries, and what was the contribution of each one?

If you do not mind, I asked Svitlana Solovyova to answer this question. From the very beginning, we conceived this film as a co-production, with the film being made by an international team. The main idea was to look at the topic “through different eyes.” Work on the script began in 2016, and shooting started in 2021. The first support came from the Ukrainian Cultural Foundation, and then the Ukrainian State Film Agency joined. The shooting took place in Ukraine. Some locations were unique, for example, the Zyryanka settlement, where Mustafa was exiled. There is almost no such architecture in Ukraine, so we created it all. A separate issue was the shooting of the first scene. According to the script, the events take place in Crimea, of course, shooting on the peninsula was impossible. In 2022, Czech partners joined the project and later Slovak and Swedish partners. I’ll tell you more—the participation of the Czech side, namely Alzbeta Janackova and the Czech Film Center, revived the project. After the start of the war, we were namely in disorder. New people breathed new life into it. The partners shared post-production works. Most of the work was done by the Czech side, special thanks to the BEEP studio for the excellent sound! And of course, the wonderful music by Miyake Jun. This is one of the gems of our film.

Maybe it’s just my idea, but it seemed to me that the actor who plays Mustafa Dzhemilev looks like Andrei Tarkovsky, while the antagonist, Ehor Shalandin, looks a bit like Putin. Can you tell us a little about the casting of the film and your work with the actors?

I think it’s because Tarkovsky shares some similarities with Mustafa Dzhemilev. Shalandin (the main antagonist) in the film doesn’t just play a prosecutor, he plays the system—a ruthless, cruel system that goes towards its goal. Perhaps that’s why there’s a resemblance to Putin. As for the main characters, it was love at first sight. My love for them, of course. From the first moments of meeting Borys (Mustafa) and Khrystyna (Safinar), it was clear that we found the actors. Although Borys had a funny story, he thought he overplayed a bit at the auditions, and falsified, so he stood up, said goodbye, and left. Perhaps this honesty touched me then. And they were very organic together, as actors on the set. I can’t help but would like to mention the death of Vasyl Kukharsky (Kolya). He was killed in action last year. We met the day before he got the injury, he did not get a chance to see the movie.

Ukrainian films continue to be presented at international film festivals. What is the situation of cinema in Ukraine since the beginning of the attacks by Russia?

Most of the feature films that are now presented at festivals were shot before the start of the war. The situation is different with documentary films. The latest Oscar confirms this. Many filmmakers went to the army, some of them left the country, and some died. It’s hard to think about anything other than war. On the other hand, filming a movie about an ongoing war is even harder. It’s actually a very sad situation. I believe that cinema can be more effective than thousands of politicians, diplomats, etc. Unfortunately, we’re not using it in full.

The film begins with a long quote from the book The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus. A few days ago, Putin once again won the elections in Russia by a very high percentage, which only highlights how right you were in your choice about quoting Camus. Any comments on this?

I’m not sure if this can be called elections. Sorry. As for The Myth of Sisyphus, I can only advise you to watch the film, preferably all the way to the end: post-credit cookie.

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