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Mysticism in war

Director Karen Shakhnazarov talks about his Oscar-nominated film, White Tiger.

Published: December 5, 2012 (Issue # 1738)



  • Shakhnazarovs new film White Tiger is Russias nominee for the Best Foreign Film at the Academy Awards.
    Photo: FOR SPT

Karen Shakhnazarovs White Tiger, aWorld War II fantasy blending history, philosophy andthe supernatural, has made it onto thelong list ofOscar 2013 nominees forBest Foreign Language Films.

Thedirector, who also heads Russias leading studio, Mosfilm, spoke about his new movie, mysticism incinema andthe struggle fora national film industry.

The Academy Awards shortlist offoreign language nominees will be announced onJan. 10, 2013.

Q: White Tiger is unlike theaverage World War II movie. Thestory ofa soldier who sets out todefeat amonstrous German tank often borders onthe mystical. Why did you choose this particular angle?

A: I got theidea froma short story byIlya Boyashov called The Tank Crewman, or theWhite Tiger. I chose it simply because I found it interesting, as I think most directors do. Thelarger than life Nazi ghost tank, theWhite Tiger, reminded me ofMelvilles Moby Dick. I think one can still argue themovie is realistic. Many scenes, like that ofGerman capitulation andthe following banquet, are based verbatim onhistorical sources. I would say thesupernatural element helps make thestory more universal. TheWhite Tiger does not merely stand forthe German military threat inthe 1940s. After all, Nazi ideology is alive andwell: Neo-Nazi movements abound, Nietzsches philosophy is still deemed respectable andtaught atuniversities. Many will argue theNietzsche-Hitler link is tenuous. Still, I think reading [Nietzsches] Antichrist makes it clear that Nazism did not appear out ofnowhere. This is where thefinale [of my film] comes from: even though Naydenovs companions convince him that war is over, he knows that he needs tostay alert.

Q: So you would agree that White Tiger harks back toa mystical tradition incinema: Tarkovsky, Fellini...

A: Fellini was probably thedirector who influenced me most. Inmy opinion, what people call mysticism comes down toa certain sense ofmystery. Theword itself is derived frommystery. I have always felt that life itself is mysterious, that rational assumptions about it are always limited. Agood work ofart should be able tocapture this. Thats why I love Fellini andBunuel.

Q: Karl Krantzkowskis Hitler also cuts anunusual figure. TheNazi dictator is often pictured as afrenzied fanatic. Inyour movie he is cold, reserved, calculating.

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