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Sokurov speaks
The director of Father and Son at Cannes 2003

You want homophobic? Check out the former Soviet bloc or the former Yugoslavia, where gay people still hide their sexuality, where film festivals, including those in the more liberal Czech Republic, are noticeably lacking in overtly gay and lesbian cinema. I remember being at the Sochi Film Festival on the Black Sea a few years ago and watching a Russian movie in which a gangster character bullied an effeminate man. The audience of intellectuals roared its approval.

So what is a renowned Russian filmmaker to do when repeated rumors have it that heís gay? Especially when his new movie, Father and Son, has so many scenes of men embracing and nuzzling each other? If youíre Aleksandr Sokurov (Mother and Sun, Russian Ark), not only do you deny the homo-erotic content of your movie, you also lash out at those decadent Westerners who read the film in such a queer way. Stubbornly closeted and seemingly self-loathing? Maybe thatís how Sokurov wiggles by in todayís post-Communist but still sexually reactionary Russia.

All of this came to light at one weird, volatile Sokurov press conference, that at Cannes in May 2003 following the world premiere of Father and Son. The movie takes place in a dream-like city where father (Andrei Shchetinin) and son (Aleksei Neimyshev) live in close proximity in a rooftop apartment.

The conference began low-key, with a journalist asking Sokurov why this apartment includes radios from the 1950s when the city seems to be modern-day affair, and why he shot in both St. Petersburg and Lisbon. Sokurov: "The structure of the world we offer in not restricted to any time or place, it could be 30 years ago or 50 years in the future. Relations of blood are eternal, and conflicts arise when debts are not paid to our parents. Thatís an important subject for artistic interpretation. Our movie is a starting signal for a train, a train of thoughts.

"We wanted an artistic image of a city for which anyone living anywhere can find an element that is understandable. We were in St. Petersburg for the shooting, then four days later in Lisbon. Thatís an outstanding city, though in a few years it will be wasted, laundered, a typical European city."

But why does the father look so young, not so much older than his adolescent son? "It is because the ages of the father and the son are separated by only one step of life, and each sees himself in the other. The son sees his father in the none-too-distant future and decides if he wants to be like that or not. Thereís really only one character. Thereís no father, no son, but one human soul that can look at itself in a magic crystal."

But why are father and son in such unusual physical contact, I asked, alluding to the homo-eroticism of the imagery. Sokurov was peeved. "I hear the word homo-erotic for the second time today. In Russia, itís hard to see such associations. I believe this is the outcome of the impasse facing European society, which is looking for a single element [that can be reduced] to an interpretation. Such an idea may have emerged in the spectator from the beginning of the movie, when the father holds his boy in his arms. If you watch the movie attentively, you see that the boy has nightmares that heís going to be killed, and each nightmare is more terrible. The father is afraid of these elements going through his sonís brain. Thatís why he wakes the son up, bringing the son back to life, as it were, and holds him.

"Iíd like these relations to remain infinitely warm, which should be the law. To try to distance yourself from your father should be a crime. There are many experts who hate what we are doing and fight it. Yet there is no other object here than improving the morals, making us kinder.

"Tell your friends, colleagues, to be very attentive. Donít try to put your own complexes onto the movie. Let it live! Be kind! Homo-erotic? For the movie you have seen, thereís no such low meaning. In a cruel world, nothing can be accepted but a homo-erotic view. I donít see a place for it. Iím not interested in discussing it."

AN AMBITIOUS FOUR-DAY FESTIVAL of silent comedy comes to Babson College, the Coolidge Corner, and other Boston-area venues this weekend, July 8 through 11, including unseen shorts from Mack Sennett and Harold Lloyd and a live appearance by former Little Rascal Jean Darling. Visit www.slapsticon.com for details.

Issue Date: July 9 - 15, 2004
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