Semyon Serzin: The absurd permeates our whole life

A GUIDE TO ABSURDISM: The Philosophy For Living Fully

Satirical comedy The Man from Podolsk screened at the Russian Film Week in New York

«Man from Podolsk» – Perhaps the most unusual film in its genre, included in the program of the Russian Film Week USA taking place these days in New York. The films of the program are available for streaming until January 29th. On January 26, an online Q&A session with the film director is planned «Man from Podolsk» Semyon Serzin.

Film Week in New York was jointly organized by the American Theater and Music Festival Foundation «The Cherry Orchard» (Cherry Orchard Festival Foundation) and Russian film studio «Rock».

«Man from Podolsk» – This is a comedy of the absurd, filmed by Semyon Serzin based on the play of the same name by Dmitry Danilov. The main character, journalist Nikolai Frolov, who works in Moscow and lives in Podolsk near Moscow, is detained by the station police.

What happens to him in the department further does not fit into the framework of logic and common sense. Law enforcers give the bewildered hero a picky exam on the knowledge of his hometown and conduct heartwarming conversations with him about culture and patriotism. And during the break, they are forced to sing, dance and even swim in the pool, which is incomprehensibly included in the police station complex..

Play «Man from Podolsk» staged in more than forty theaters in Russia, including by Semyon Serzin. This is the debut in filmmaking of Semyon, who has ten years of experience in stage directorial work. He – main director «Etude theater» from 2013 to 2015, founder and head of an independent theater association «Invisible theater» in St. Petersburg. In addition, Semyon – a successful, emerging actor. Horror movie screening at this New York Film Week «Mara: Side effect», where Semyon played one of the main roles. He starred in the films of Kirill Serebrennikov «Summer» and «Petrovs in the flu», and in the last picture in the title role. Movie premiere «Petrovs in the flu» was supposed to take place last spring at the Cannes Film Festival, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival was first postponed and then canceled.

Semyon Serzin was born in Murmansk in 1987. In 2011 he graduated from the St. Petersburg State Academy of Theater Arts. Has staged dozens of performances in different cities of Russia. For 12 years he lived in St. Petersburg, for the last two years he has been living in Moscow. He is married to actress Taisiya Vilkova, who has starred in films and television series a lot..

Semyon Serzin, who is in Pskov, where he is rehearsing a new production at a local theater, answered questions from the Russian Service «Voices of America» by Zoom service.

Oleg Sulkin: Semyon, you made a wonderful and very unusual film. It’s hard to believe that this is your first film as a movie director.

Semyon Serzin: Thank. Yes first.

O.S.: Even short films were not filmed?

S.S .: Not. I’m lucky. The debutant was entrusted with a full meter. This rarely happens.

O.S.: And who trusted?

S.S .: Producer Natalia Mokritskaya.

O.S.: How it happened?

S.S .: I staged a play based on this play by Dmitry Danilov at the Volkov Theater in Yaroslavl, and Natalia Mokritskaya came to the premiere performance. This is probably the most popular contemporary play in Russia now. The text is quite chamber, but the performance in Yaroslavl differs from other productions in that there is a large stage and a large, thousandth, hall.

O.S.: Whose idea – make a movie out of a play?

S.S .: In a conversation with Natalia Mokritskaya after the performance, the idea arose to work together. Playwright Dmitry Danilov also attended the premiere. We asked him if we could purchase the film rights. He answered in the affirmative. I know we were not the only ones interested in this thing. So everything came together well for us. In general, I had a feeling that I did not choose this material, but he chose me.

O.S.: When transforming a play into a script, you made big changes?

S.S .: Cinema is more substantive than performance. Theater is much more conventional than cinema, it allows the viewer to think out what he saw on stage. I had to shift the main focus. In the play, the main character of the collective person was the police, in fact, the entire police department. And in the film, I wanted to focus on the personality of Nikolai Frolov, to make it more voluminous, to get into the secret corners of his soul. Therefore, flashbacks arose, including a cassette with a home video of Nikolai’s family. But with all the changes in the text, the main theme remained unchanged..

&# 171; Man from Podolsk&# 187 ;. Courtesy photo

O.S.: How did you formulate it?

S.S .: Violence. And not the violence of one person against another, but in general the nature of violence.

O.S.: And as a viewer, I had associations with Kafka and Orwell at the same time. Violence of the state against the individual, and at the stage when the authorities are no longer afraid of anything. And she is preoccupied with breaking a person at the level of the psyche, making a zombie out of him, like the cops made a zombie out of Nikolai’s predecessor, «a man from Mytishchi». The state appears as a monster that openly mocks the individual. Do you agree with this line of thought?

Semyon Serzin: The absurd permeates our whole life

S.S .: Yes of course. But it seems to me that the author of the play, Dmitry Danilov, goes further. What you are talking about is a kind of result of violence against a person. It was important for me to show that Nikolai was initially amorphous, indifferent towards his country. He absolutely resigned himself to his dull life, which inevitably generates a chain reaction of indifference and fear. I was listening to a podcast the other day «Novaya Gazeta» about gang crimes «tsapkov» in the village of Kushchevskaya. The gang members were tied up with such powerful ties that they did not dare to argue with the leaders. One of them, in order not to commit another bloody crime, shot himself in the leg. Many people in our country live not according to the law, but according to concepts. Hence, out of a desire to show the source of this way of life, I introduced into the film the theme of the 90s, when lawlessness began to take hold in the country. Where it will lead us is not yet clear.

O.S.: In the play and film, Podolsk personifies the average dwelling of a post-Soviet person, a standard dull urban environment. The city of Uryupinsk is often used as a symbol of the Russian province. You are not embarrassed that the residents of Podolsk may be offended by such symbolization?

S.S .: It is curious that recently a lot of attention in the cinema has been given to Podolsk. In addition to our film, there was also a war film «Podolsk cadets». Yes, sometimes there is resentment in the reviews. But this is, rather, from a misunderstanding. For us Podolsk – type of consciousness is a person, not a geographic concept. You can live within the Garden Ring, but according to the mentality to be «a man from Podolsk».

&# 171; Man from Podolsk&# 187 ;. Courtesy photo

O.S.: Tell us about the casting. The familiar face of Victoria Isakova stands out in the role «lady captain», a very popular actress today. But the rest of the actors, including the leading actor, are little or unknown at all..

S.S .: I thought about the main character for a long time. And I chose Vadik Korolev, my neighbor, musician, leader of the OQJAV group. He has little acting experience, and this, I think, is good for the picture. His emotions are convincing and organic – fear, bewilderment, lethargy. Perhaps this would be the behavior of anyone who was taken to the department to answer strange, crazy questions. OQJAV also wrote music for the film, the soundtrack received an award at the festival «Kinotavr». Two more actors, one of the cops and «a man from Mytishchi» – actors of my St. Petersburg theater. Taisiya Vilkova plays Nikolai’s girlfriend, who breaks up with him at the very beginning of the picture.

O.S.: Do you think that the American viewer will understand all the purely Russian realities?

S.S .: Not sure. The French to whom we sent the film to participate in the festival, for example, did not all understand what the drama was about. Well, yes, the policeman asks Nikolai, what is the population of Podolsk, what sights are there? What, they say, is bad in such curiosity of law enforcement officers? Maybe you need to put some additional information into captions? I do not know. Sometimes it is very difficult to explain to foreigners the absurdity of Russian life, where you can fly to Vnukovo, and fly to Sheremetyevo, and you will be arranged an exit court right at the local police station.

O.S.: Yes, your film arrived in time for the current epic with Navalny and protests, like a spoon for dinner.

S.S .: Unfortunately this lunch has been going on for a very long time. The absurdity permeates our entire life. I know from my own experience. When I come across the absurdity of our being, I try to forget all this as soon as possible and not remember any more. If you constantly remember, then life becomes unbearable..

O.S.: At this week of Russian cinema, another film with your participation is shown – a horror directed by Alexei Kazakov «Mara: a side effect». And in the spring it is planned to release a new film by Kirill Serebrennikov «Petrovs in the flu», where you also play the main role. The inevitable question is: How do you combine acting and directing? Isn’t it tiring to be on one side of the camera, then on the other?

S.S .: I like both, and I don’t really understand why you need to put the question so harshly: «or or». It’s so cool to switch your perception, not to get hung up on one thing. It so happens that as an actor, I am not given a detailed or intelligible task, and then I myself «turn on the director» and I’m starting to come up with a biography and motivation. On the set «Petrovs in the flu» with Kirill Semenovich (Serebrennikov), I realized little, completely trusting his director’s vision. It was a great happiness to meet on the set with such wonderful actors as Chulpan Khamatova, Yulia Peresild, Yuri Kolokolnikov. Powerful picture! I confess that I could not fully cover the universe of Serebrennikov, so I just trusted my intuition

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