by Vera Glagoleva Based on stage play «A Month in the Country» by I. Turgenev

пресса о фильме

"JUST BEFORE" Ralph Fiennes's interwie to Baltic Outlook (may,2014y.)

Text by Ilze Pole

Photos co urtes y of Juris Podnieks studio, © Aiga Redmane


Ralph Fiennes, British actor and director

I almost feel like I am betraying the man in the picture to the right, dressed in casual clothing, sporting a cloth bag and beard, looking like a grown-up hipster. I feel that by publishing

this picture, I will have betrayed the look by which Ralph Fiennes can still walk around

unrecognised, for the most part. Moments after he walked into a room one recent morning for his press conference in Riga, someone sitting beside me said: “You know, I wouldn’t recognise him if he walked past me on the street. Except for the eyes. Yes, the eyes... Later, during my interview with Fiennes, I felt that I should perhaps go soft on the man and not push him too hard, because it was clear that in this case, the movie star wasn’t just “a bit tired”; he was utterly exhausted. At the same time, I wanted to have an engaging exchange. In the end, we ended up having one of the most beautiful conversations that I have ever experienced and I left the dusky hotel room with a new sense of discovery.

Before the interview, I was asked to send a list of topics that I would like to talk about. It took some time for me to prepare it, because you know how it is with us journalists... We are all slightly vain. We all want to come up with the most original questions, to ask something that nobody else has asked before. We all want to have the best ever interview, and we all want to leave an impression. However, at one point I realised that there probably aren’t any questions that actor Ralph Fiennes hasn’t been asked before, so I

decided just to chill out and ask him what interests me the most. In my case, it was his affair with Russian classics. More than 15 years ago, he played Eugene Onegin in his sister’s Martha Fiennes’ movie, which was based on Alexander Pushkin’s classic novel. I still think of

this performance as one of Fiennes’ best, bearing in mind my own weakness for Onegin.

My interview with the actor is taking place a few months before the release of his upcoming movie, Two Women, which is based on A Month in the Country by Ivan Turgenev. The famous Russian author wrote this play in the late 1840s in France. It was originally titled The Student but was banned by censors in St.

Petersburg. Turgenev later made alterations and changed the title to Two Women. It was eventually approved for publication in 1854, but to avoid any additional controversy, Turgenev changed the title again to A Month in the Country. Fiennes plays Mikhail Rakitin, a friend and neighbour of Arkadi Islayev, a prosperous rural landowner. Rakitin is in love with Arkadi’s wife, Natalya, who is bored with her life and welcomes the attentions of her devoted but very resentful admirer. However, the arrival of handsome student Aleksei Beliayev turns everything on its head. Natalya falls in love with the young Aleksei, and so does her ward, Vera, the Islayevs 17-year-old foster daughter. Still in love with his neighbour Natalya, Rakitin watches helplessly as she and Vera fight for Aleksei’s affections. When Arkadi begins to have his suspicions, both Mikhail and Aleksei are obliged to leave. As other members of the household drift off to their own worlds, Natalya’s life returns back to a state of boredom…

Strangely enough, this play is sometimes referred to as a comedy. Maybe there is an element of that as well; it probably depends on how you look at things. However, it’s not going to be a

comedy this time. It will be a tense, passionate melodrama, whose protagonists don’t dare take any decisive and life-changing steps. Two Women was shot in a village in Smolensk about 600 km from Moscow, in a manor house that once belonged to the family of Russian composer Mikhail Glinka. Vera Glagoleva, the director of the movie, chose to take a very courageous step by making a film of a refined Russian classic play without relying on modern-day

computer graphics and special effects. That’s why Latvian cameraman Gints Bērziņš’main task, in the words of the director, was “to film beauty” – to film the beauty all around us and to make it plainly visible and palpable on the screen. Gentle, light and beautiful. The incredibly beautiful nature of the Russian countryside, the beautiful people, the intricate 19th-century

costumes, the ornate interiors, the smallest details. It sounds fairly simple but was actually a difficult task to accomplish. “This film is full of poetics, and Gints was able to make every

frame look poetic,” says film director Vera Glagoleva, who is well-known in Russia for her roles as a former actress and who is a member of the European Film Academy.

When asked about the shooting, cinematographer Bērziņš says half-jokingly that seeing the stars at work, including the masterful performances by the Russian actors, was enthralling

and even downright distracting. “Apart from that, film crews are similar everywhere you go. We can communicate well through our gestures, our slang and our way of speaking. We also face the same issues: at what time do we eat lunch today? Will we be able to film everything that we have planned? And then, of course, when you need the sun to shine, it becomes cloudy.”

“Every time that I decide to play a role, I follow my instinct, it’s an inner feeling,” says Ralph Fiennes. “When I met Vera and coproducer Natalya Ivanova, and when we talked about this film, I had a particular feeling about the integrity of their work. Of course, I was flattered that they had asked me to be in the film. I based my decision on a feeling in my heart.” Vera Glogoleva admits that she and her entire team were all ardently hoping that Ralph Fiennes would agree to be in the film. She had seen Fiennes performing in Moscow, when he played the main role in Anton Chekhov’s play Ivanov. “His portrayal of the protagonist was absolutely perfect,” she says. “I had never seen such a refined sense of aristocracy and nobility in any other actor.”Since the events in Fiennes’ upcoming movie take place in 19th-century Russia, the actor decided to play his role speaking in Russian, rather than in his native English. To do this, he spent two months intensively brushing up on his Russian-language skills. This spring, the actor arrived in Riga to redub some of his lines at the Juris Podnieks Studio, which collaborated in the making of the film and where the final editing was completed. He was accompanied

by French actress Sylvie Testud, who portrays Lizaveta Bogdanova, a companion to the Islayevs. Testud charmed the entire film crew with her joie de vivre, optimism and verve, and she has also played Francoise Sagan in Diane Kury’s biographical movie about the famous French writer.

The Riga studio where Fiennes and Testud dubbed their roles is named after the well-known Latvian documentary filmmaker Juris Podnieks, who drowned while scuba diving in a Latvian lake more than 20 years ago. The studio is where the film editing, sound production and image-processing is taking place for the movie. Although Fiennes already spoke his lines in Russian during the filming, he came to Riga to redub a number of scenes. “He wanted to make sure that his Russian sounded as precise as possible and did so with a deep sense of commitment,” says

Antra Cilinska, the film’s co-producer in Latvia. “It was great to work with him because he is a fantastic person and a true professional, who is extremely demanding on himself and on others. On top of that, Fiennes has a great sense of humour, is intelligent and is very interesting to talk to.”“Our studio has previously worked together with Natalya Ivanova, the lead producer for Two Women in Russia. We collaborated with her on Yevgeniy Pashkevich’s film Gulf Stream

under the Iceberg,” Cilinska continues. The Juris Podnieks Studio contributed to that film as well with cameraman Gints Bērziņš and sound editor Anrijs Krenbergs. “I’m glad that Latvian producers and studios are gaining recognition abroad and that an increasing number of joint projects are being carried out,” says Cilinska. “Latvia has some outstanding professionals in the film industry, but often we lack the funding for cooperation with other studios.”“Each time you enter into a role, you experience a slight love affair with what you are doing. It tears you apart once the filming has ended, as you have invested all of your energy, your heart, your head and your imagination. It’s hard to say goodbye when it finally finishes,” says Fiennes.

The premiere of Two Women is expected to be shown this autumn, when Fiennes will likely have started filming for the next James Bond movie, which is as yet untitled and which will be directed by Sam Mendes. This will be Fiennes’second appearance in a James Bond film.

His first was in the final scene of the previous Bond movie, Skyfall (2012, also directed by Mendes), in which he took over as Bond’s boss M from Judie Dench, who had played the role in seven movies since 1995. It is widely believed that Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, based much of M’s character on Rear Admiral John Godfrey, who was Fleming’s superior

at the British Naval Intelligence division during the Second World War. The concierge that Fiennes recently played in The Grand Budapest Hotel also bears a resemblance to a real-life person whom he met in his youth. Just before Fiennes went to study at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, he worked at a hotel in Mayfair. “There was a slightly Gustave-like waiter who ran the English tea at Brown’s, and there was a very camp Italian waiter who was a showman, his hair was swept back,” he recently told The Telegraph. “There was an adjacent room to the tearoom where all the trays of sweet cakes were laid out for him to trolley through. And I was there changing a net curtain. And I looked down at the cakes and I said, ‘oh, they look really good’. And he said, ‘It’s all sh… my friend, it’s all sh...”

A DVD of The Grand Budapest Hotel has not yet been released, but if you have a chance to see it in the cinema, then do so, especially if you are away from home and staying at a hotel. You might look slightly differently at your concierge once you return from the movie. And of course, watching TV adverts in a language that you don’t understand can also be quite interesting.

So, back to that quiet and dusky hotel room in Riga. A vase filled with lilies has just been brought in and put onto the table by a hotel attendant. I look into Fienne’s eyes for a mood check, as we call it, and prepare to ask the first question. Here is how it went.

You said that you read a lot of Russian classics in your youth. What attracts you to this type of literature?

It’s hard to make generalisations, as each book or play is an individual experience. People talk generally about Russian literature, but I’m still ignorant of so much of it. That’s why I feel

concerned about giving the impression that I’m some kind of an expert, because I’m not. I have a really limited knowledge, in fact. But you know... I found Dostoyevsky to be a very complicated and interesting writer. These issues of morality and faith and belief…

he goes into quite difficult and dangerous places. The sense of disturbance conveyed by these writers interests me. Every time I go to Russia or countries near it, people ask me if I like Russian literature. Actually, I like all kinds of literature.

And the role of Rakitin that you play in Two Women?

The answer to Rakitin I feel is in Turgenev himself. He was a very good man, a decent and sensitive man. He spent most of his life outside of Russia. There’s the quality of the expatriate in him, the quality of a man who is living away from his homeland and who has a slightly detached view of it. I think you have to look at Turgenev’s life. It would be crazy to ignore his love for Pauline Viardot and the fact that he also maintained a friendship with Viardot’s husband. I found that most useful when asking myself what was going on in Rakitin’s mind, about the complicated situations, about wanting to be close to someone and not necessarily possessing them romantically or physically (well, maybe underneath, but)... It’s interesting, that.

Look at how we make films now or how we portray love and intimacy. It’s often reduced to desire, which is a huge element, of course, but Rakitin is interesting due to the nobleness in his spirit. And also, he watches. He is a watcher. When Vera and I discussed him, we came to the same conclusion – he’s an observer. So, I think from the cut of the film that I’ve seen, he’s a very delicate character.

Rakitin could be played in many ways, I’m sure. You know I made this film Invisible Woman, where I was interested in the moment before two people kiss. The space between them before they... I think that can be the most erotic and powerful thing – the tension between two people who have an attraction. There is a scene in Two Women where Rakitin holds Natalya Petrovna to comfort her. Turgenev adds irony to the moment when Islayev comes in and sees them and thinks that... But actually it is a beautiful and bittersweet ironic moment that Turgenev created, where a man who loves a woman is actually holding her to comfort her because she desires someone else. And her husband sees it. I think that is a beautiful and painful irony on Turgenev’s part.

If I may... You look very tired. Your schedule is very tight, but you keep on going. What’s driving you forward? Where do you get the strength from?

Hmm… That’s a good question... I don’t know. I mean it’s this spirit of wanting to... No, I don’t know what it is. Why does anyone want to be an actor? Is it just because they want

to stand up in front of people? There is something to do with changing where one is looking to be part of another time, another era. The potency of an actor must be related to how the audience responds; the power of an actor must be connected directly to his effect on the audience. At

the simplest level, you are just happy to be entertaining. When I was young, I was moved and changed by some films and plays that I saw. From a young age I had the desire to be in that world. It’s a hard one, this one... It’s like you are my therapist right now. I don’t mind.

I think it’s something to do with wanting to be a part of that process. As an actor

you change, and the audience teaches you something as well. It’s not enough just to

be skilled, you have to listen. Your audience is also a part of a dialogue. As filmmakers

and directors, we now have to go through these painful things called test screenings. We did it for Invisible Woman as well. It’s quite nerve-racking, because you’ve made it, it’s your baby, your movie, and they take people off the street. Usually the viewers are selected because they look like they would be interested in watching this sort of movie. You sit them in the auditorium and they watch it. Originally I had a different ending for Invisible Woman, which I changed after the screening. I could feel from the audience near the end of the film that something

was missing, so we went back and we actually restaged the ending. The original ending was more ambiguous. I could feel that the audience wanted some closure and I responded to it. I could have ignored it, but the feeling was too strong. That’s a tiny example of what I mean when I say that we are engaged in a dialogue, and what drives me is wanting to be a part of that dialogue. Also, there is a childish delight in pretending to be someone else. Sometimes it’s quite simple.

The escape. Like children, we play-act and we escape into roles, but here in the movies we do so as grownups. It’s not really that different, maybe just a bit more sophisticated than when you are a child. In a way, it’s good to keep that childish innocence and imaginative playfulness.

There is the saying that ‘you have to take the rough with the smooth’. When it comes to directing movies, what is the ‘rough’ part of the process for you?

It’s all tough, especially when there is an opposition or obstruction by people or situations. Often you can obstruct yourself,if you’re moved or if your anxiety is too strong. There are challenges with making the days and getting the performances. The whole thing is hard, but you don’t sit on a film set going: “This is hard.” You’re excited to be creating something.

One reads about experiences where directors have been struggling. I’ve been lucky, touch wood. I’ve had an amazing team around me, I’ve been supported. Of course, there are days when performances are not there yet, when the camera angle isn’t right, when the lighting shifts; these are all day-to-day problems that you have to manage. The editing process, for example, can be very challenging, but it’s equally rewarding. Possibly the hardest thing is talking about it afterwards. People always want to know why I did something and what it means. Why should I explain? I’ve made it, now you respond!

How do you manage creative differences?

Creative differences are fine. I have had very few that I would call unsolvable. I don’t think I am a person who likes to have wars. If something goes against my instinct as an actor, I will speak against it. But if the director wants something, I’ll try to hear him or her out. Sometimes this can be useful and lead to something that neither the actor nor the director was aware of.

What movies have you recently seen and really enjoyed?

Well, of the current films that have been talked about from the last Oscar season, I’ve enjoyed Nebraskaand Inside Llewyn Davis, but the film that I’ve most enjoyed recently is a documentary about American photographer Vivian Maier, who took pictures in the sixties and seventies, privately. She never thought about exhibitions, and when she died, they discovered all these pictures that are now regarded very, very highly. She had a great eye.

 Fiennes was flying to Riga with airBaltic.