Ahead of time

Pavel Lungin is one of the most famous and extraordinary modern filmmakers, Cannes Film Festival winner (1990), People’s Artist of Russian Federation (2008). Each his film is a phenomenon, which never leaves the audience indifferent. He is tied up with cinema since his childhood: father – famous screenwriter Semen Lungin, and his mother, Lilianna Lungina, gave to soviet readers numerous Russian translations of French and German classics. In 1976 Pavel for the first time announced himself in filmmaking, by participating in screenwriting to the movie “This is about brother”. His dream about directing came true only in go-go 90’s: his film “Taxi-Blues” was one of the first to raise problems of restructuring period and show new formation people. We talked with Pavel Semenovich about modern filmmaking problems and profession of film director in picturesque Qabala, where he came with his spouse to rest.


Our encounter with Pavel Semenovich was completely random: out team was on shooting for “Qabala” project and we were going to return when we heard that the filmmaker is staying at Chenot Palace.

We caught him already leaving for the airport, but master kindly agreed to share with us some of his time.

Pavel Semenovich, welcome to Azerbaijan! Did you like it here in Qabala and Baku?

I liked Qabala very much – incredible nature and, the most important, excellent wellness center. I got help here in losing weight, and now I feel much better. I have been in Baku 10 years ago, when I came to the international film festival. Actually, the city has really changed since then, became even more beautiful.

Maybe you have some film projects related to Baku?

Not yet, I am open for your proposals!

You shot your movie “Taxi-blues” in 40 years. What prompted you on that?

Obviously, its time just came. It was a peak of perestroika, an opportunity came out. You know I’m a script writer by profession, I wanted to become a filmmaker, but it was hard to pass the Ministry of Culture. And if the French guys didn’t read my script and the film wasn’t a co-production, I don’t imagine how it all would have worked out… I can say that life helped itself. And a little bit of luck, of course…

You lived in France for a long time since then. But you did not become French eventually?

As you can see. I must say that French people, who invited me there, helped a lot with documents, apartment etc. They had a high interest to everything that was going on in Russia then, experiencing the collapse of communism. “Taxi-blues”, basically, became the first among“perestroika” movies: it opened all those arising conflicts, showed people with new thinking. It was easier for me to live in France, but I never made films about French people – they gave me a little money, with which I continued filming Russian movies, what I realize now was stupid…

You shouldn’t regret about what is in the past…

I don’t. I could never embrace the French spirit anyway, understand their life, however, by the way, I speak French pretty good.

Didn’t Paris feel like home?

I guess it did not. In Moscow I feel the conflicts, I can feel what bothers people …

Faces, buildings… It all makes sense here…

Of course. Especially the faces. Each one is a riddle, a code which you want to figure out so much.

Let’s talk about movie. Do you think that independent film can survive in the flow of blockbusters? You probably hear a lot this one.

You know, this is the main question for cinema. The question of future. I don’t hear it a lot, but I ask it myself often. First of all, probably because I am a president of Tarkovsky festival. We always appreciate author films, but I notice recently how mass and independent films part ways. Today most author filmmakers move to the tv shows. The positive side – to the good ones.


I recently watched first season of the American TV show “The Young Pope” starring Jude Law, it’s pretty interesting. Now I wonder, if I should wait for season two.

Most likely, no: in the last four episodes authors already didn’t know what to do – the story line disappeared and they just needed to deal with this half saint-half evil main character.

Do you think that Russian films should confront European and American films?

Why does they have to confront? It’s not boxing! It must be interesting first things first. However, we have our issues in film industry. The main one is that mass audience does not love author movies.

It must be hard to perceive them…

I’d say it this way: today most Russians do not want to think about problems – everyone just wants to live and enjoy it, that’s why they choose funny, easy movies. And Russia now produces two kinds of films. This is either high budget historic films like “Viking”, with good box office digits…

And people watch these films willingly?

Well, I don’t know. I mean, they do, of course. Maybe they curse them afterwards, but they watch… And the second popular genre, – unimaginative, cheesy comedies. Maybe they hate it too, but still watch as well. In cinemas they mostly show American films – European movies vanished from our screens a long time ago…

Do you think that there is a way to fight this somehow?

How to fight?! The Ministry of culture should be engaged in this. Such problem also appeared in France and their ministry of culture did everything possible to accustom Frenchmen to national films. We also have, for example, Cinema Foundation, who wants to help. However they only help to commercial films. Only why do they help? They are already commercial. “Mc Donald’s” does not get any financial aid from anyone…

It helps itself and in doing so, kills us…

Well yeah, and then we come here, to Qabala and cleanse ourselves from fast food’s damage…

What can you say about your extraordinary screening of Pushkin’s “Queen of Spades” – wasn’t it too risky?

Sure it was, nobody else did that before. But I often make films by taking the risks.


It was filmed great, the light setting was very interesting…

I thought that the audience would love the mix of the opera and thriller genres, the combination of Russian classics with elements of modern life. But for some reason not so many people watched the movie, it didn’t have big success. I actually noticed that cultural projects of this kind today are rejected by most people…

Let’s hope that this is a temporary issue and cinema audience in about 50 years will eventually learn to value the real art!

Sometimes I go ahead of time.

This is true, because your zodiac sign is Cancer: you are a dreamer and sensitive person…

This is probably not so good for working in filmmaking! By the way, I am also in a water sign – I float all the time.

You know, I noticed that it’s been a long time somebody shot a good movie for kids…

There is no need for them now, since there are American films and movies for children. The global infantilism is taking over now.

I am talking about truly childish, kind movies. Like, for example, “Karlsson-on-the-Roof”…

And how the “Star Wars” is not the kids movie? It also has dolls, huge dolls…

I have an impression that today cinema is just surviving…

If I may a little rephrase Nietzsche, I would say: all that is not killed, – survives!

As well as the true, smart moviegoer?

I would open little cinema clubs for true moviegoers, real movie fans. In France, for example, besides huge multi hall cinemas, there are different little old cinema places: in Latin block of Paris and other places… this is a little cosy hall with 100 person capacity maximum. And it can have only five visitors, but this is where you can watch highly artistic films, and not fundraiser movies. Because not everyone wants to watch a highly commercialized movie with a company of youngsters, drinking beer and eating popcorn… And even if this mini-cinema sells beer and popcorn, it has a completely different atmosphere. Do people go to cinema here?

Sure, people love movies here. However they also mostly go to see blockbusters, unfortunately… But now I want to distract a little from the film topic. How do you rest here, in Qabala? Did you already have a chance to see local picturesque views?

No, I did not leave the territory of hotel yet. I love staying here very much.

Would you like to shoot a film about Baku, our country?

Of course. And it has to be an exciting adventure, extraordinary human story: I do not find shooting a movie without suspense, inner tension.

All right, we don’t want to keep you from leisure anymore… Thank you for this meaningful conversation!

It was a pleasure talking to you. All the best! I’ll wait for idea for the future film!


The material was published in the 36th issue. 


Interview: Ulviya Makhmudova / Photo: Parviz Gasimzade