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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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Thursday, July 10


Enjoy the Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Regio Torino as they perform a free concert this evening in the Great Courtyard of the Winter Palace at 9 p.m.



Friday, July 11


Yevgeni Grishkovetz, a famous Russian author and director, will present his new book, Pain, at 7 p.m. in the Bukvoed book store at 46 Nevsky Prospekt.


Explore the mysterious Petrograd side of the city during todays English-language guided tour. The trip starts at 7:45 p.m. at Gorkovskaya metro station. The price is 250 rubles ($7).



Saturday, July 12


Russian culture will be the focus of todays Neva Rus Festival. Starting at noon, St. Petersburgs 300th Anniversary Park will be a venue for a round dance master class, hand-to-hand fighting, folk music concerts and a traditional handicraft fair.


Visit todays ShubaShorti urban flea market, where everyone can buy, change or just have for free various vintage knick-knackery, clothes and books. The event starts at noon at the Uppsala Circus at 44 Sverdlovskaya Naberezhnaya.


The 3rd International Opera for All Festival opens this evening with a free performance on Cathedral Square in the Peter and Paul fortress at 7 p.m.


The Tsunami Picnic Car Festival will allow visitors to see hundreds of exclusive cars outdoors and to watch races featuring professional drivers. The event will take place in the town of Sestroretsk at noon.


Coffee lovers will be able to try hundreds of different kinds of coffee and enjoy baristas shows as well as live music during Coffee Day in the Cultural Space Salon at 11 Bolshoi Kazachy pereulok.



Sunday, July 13


Starcon, a festival dedicated to science fiction and innovation, plans to lure visitors by exposing them to the best video games and comics as well as holding lectures on new and exciting technologies. The event will take place at Lenexpo, 103 Bolshoi prospect on Vasilievsky Island, at noon. The entrance fee is 850 rubles ($23).



Monday, July 14


More than 30 young artists will present their work including sculptures, painted skateboards and graffiti, during Boards & Paint, which will run through Aug. 3 at Loft Project Etagi, 74 Ligovsky Prospekt.



Tuesday, July 15


Be amazed by 50 life-sized moving dinosaur models at the Dinosaurs Show, the worlds largest such exhibition, which will be at Lenexpo on Vasilievsky Island until Sept. 21.



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