Although his films are not shown in commercial movie-houses in Israel, top Russian director Aleksander Sokurov is highly appreciated by cinephiles all over the country. Since the 1990s, all of his films have been shown either at the Jerusalem Film Festival or at the Haifa Film Festival. Mother and Son (Mat i syn, 1997), Moloch (Molokh, 1999), Russian Ark (Ruski kovceg, 2002), Father and Son (Otets i syn, 2003) – are among the director’s films shown regularly on cable TV. It is therefore no wonder he received a special recognition award for his lifetime achievement from the veteran artistic director of the Haifa International Film Festival, Pnina Blayer.
Unlike his quiet films bubbling like a volcano threatening to erupt, Aleksander Sokurov (61) is a calm, modest, almost shy fellow. It was the first time that he had visited Israel. “Little Russia”, he called it with a wry smile. He is aware of the high esteem with which he is regarded here, although his unique and lyrical style is completely different from standard American movies. “I could never work in Hollywood – no producer has the courage to ask me to direct a film.”
It is his different approach to art, his poetic style and non-traditional narratives that made him so admired in Israel. In an attempt to define his lyrical style, Sokurov – who was born in Siberia and raised under the Communist regime – says: “My kind of film-making stems from the basic emotion of man. It is created by a sort of sadness and a sense of pain over a loss. An individual without yearning and longing for something, even for a memory, cannot transfer his feelings to the audience.”
Of course it also depends on the ability of the viewer to respond to Sokurov’s films: “Not all viewers accustomed to standard feature films, would be open to my style”. Sokurov rejects the idea that his film language, the use of images, symbols and references to history and culture, are the product of the Soviet regime that closed the communist filmmakers behind the Iron Curtain. “The elite of the film industry did not live in a closed bubble. We had film clubs where we saw films by Fellini, Bergman, Antonioni. On the other hand, there is no doubt that strict rules of political censorship pushed artists to find new kinds of expression. Mind you, great artists who worked under dictatorial regimes created the most striking masterpieces about the human spirit.”
Asked how he conceived his style in his early years, Sokurov began to warm up. “Unlike the younger generation, who is studying cinema from watching old movies, my style is a product of great curiosity to understand and interpret world civilization. It is expressed mainly by reading books. I started reading at a very early stage of my childhood, and it was literature over the years that shaped my cinematic expression.”
Is that what he advises young Israeli filmmakers to do? “Sure is! Let them read Chekhov, Dostoevsky, Faulkner, Shaw! Masterpieces of literature and drama stimulate the imagination and create one’s own original style. For every movie they watch – they should read ten books!”
Yehuda Stav. Israel