Mysticism in war
Director Karen Shakhnazarov talks about his Oscar-nominated film, ‘White Tiger.’
Published: December 5, 2012 (Issue # 1738)
Karen Shakhnazarov’s “White Tiger,” a World War II fantasy blending history, philosophy and the supernatural, has made it onto the long list of Oscar 2013 nominees for Best Foreign Language Films.
The director, who also heads Russia’s leading studio, Mosfilm, spoke about his new movie, mysticism in cinema and the struggle for a national film industry.
The Academy Award’s shortlist of foreign language nominees will be announced on Jan. 10, 2013.
Q: “White Tiger” is unlike the average World War II movie. The story of a soldier who sets out to defeat a monstrous German tank often borders on the mystical. Why did you choose this particular angle?
A: I got the idea from a short story by Ilya Boyashov called “The Tank Crewman, or the White Tiger.” I chose it simply because I found it interesting, as I think most directors do. The larger than life Nazi “ghost tank,” the White Tiger, reminded me of Melville’s Moby Dick. I think one can still argue the movie is realistic. Many scenes, like that of German capitulation and the following banquet, are based verbatim on historical sources. I would say the supernatural element helps make the story more universal. The White Tiger does not merely stand for the German military threat in the 1940s. After all, Nazi ideology is alive and well: Neo-Nazi movements abound, Nietzsche’s philosophy is still deemed “respectable” and taught at universities. Many will argue the Nietzsche-Hitler link is tenuous. Still, I think reading [Nietzsche’s] “Antichrist” makes it clear that Nazism did not appear out of nowhere. This is where the finale [of my film] comes from: even though Naydenov’s companions convince him that war is over, he knows that he needs to stay alert.
Q: So you would agree that “White Tiger” harks back to a “mystical” tradition in cinema: Tarkovsky, Fellini...
A: Fellini was probably the director who influenced me most. In my opinion, what people call “mysticism” comes down to a certain sense of mystery. The word itself is derived from “mystery.” I have always felt that life itself is mysterious, that rational assumptions about it are always limited. A good work of art should be able to capture this. That’s why I love Fellini and Bunuel.
Q: Karl Krantzkowski’s Hitler also cuts an unusual figure. The Nazi dictator is often pictured as a frenzied fanatic. In your movie he is cold, reserved, calculating.
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