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BLACK NIGHTS 2020 First Feature Competition

Lauri Randla • Director of Goodbye Soviet Union

“We decided to make the Soviet Amélie


- We chatted to Estonian-born director Lauri Randla, who, in Goodbye Soviet Union, shows that while the past can be tragic, you can also laugh at it

Lauri Randla • Director of Goodbye Soviet Union

Shown in the First Feature Competition of Tallinn Black Nights, following its domestic premiere, Goodbye Soviet Union [+see also:
film review
interview: Lauri Randla
film profile
proves that although it's always hard to be a kid, it can be even harder during the Soviet Union, as Johannes is about to find out. Luckily, it can also be funny sometimes. We spoke to director Lauri Randla about the film.

Cineuropa: When people talk about the past, they see it all sepia-tinted. You went for bright colours instead.
Lauri Randla: When I recall my childhood, it's not grey, it's not dull, and it doesn't look like how the Soviet Union is usually portrayed in cinema. We started to wonder with my cinematographer: “Why do these films look so similar?” Then we found a book by a former expatriate who came to Estonia in the 1970s. He had Kodak film, and he photographed that world with it; he made it look bright. I also remember colours. That's when I decided: “We are going to make the Soviet Amélie!”

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So many of these memories, inspired by your own, could easily be viewed as tragic, but you seem to find joy in talking about that time.
When we started to shoot, it turned out that almost everyone had experienced that time – everyone had a Soviet joke. It touched us. I decided to use my friends' confusion when the satellite dish was brought in, when the VHS player was brought in or when they first saw bananas. They went berserk! I remember when we saw a breakfast cereal commercial – we had never even heard of breakfast cereal! You always desire what you don't have, and their comments are stuck in my mind. My grandfather had this theory that in the Soviet Union, you could only eat bananas with your eyes closed. After all, it took you half of your life to even taste one.

And yet Johannes doesn't seem to enjoy it! Working with kids can be tricky, and yet you decided to have them lead the whole story.
So many things were tricky when making this film: it's a period movie, and Estonia doesn't really look like the Soviet Union any more. I started to direct children in case-study scenarios, and I’ve done several shorts with them, so I understood what their limits are. It just takes more time to accomplish your goals. I told Nika Savolainen, who plays Johannes' mother, that no matter who we were going to cast, we would still have to train him. If you compare the boy who was on set on the first day to the one who was there on the last one, there is a huge difference.

Was it strange to relieve all these moments?
Johannes is not me; he is more of an alter ego. The first version of the screenplay was 240 pages long – many things that happen to him didn't happen to me, but to my relatives, for example. When the family is kicked out of the plant in Sillamäe, in reality it was our uncle. He was a photographer, and he took pictures of it. That story followed me around all the time. I would be stopped by the militia because they knew I didn't belong in that city, and they would remind me of that.

I decided to simplify many of my memories. In reality, I didn't have a toy car. But my neighbour did, and one day, he left it on our communal balcony. I took it; it was a grand theft auto! The militia stopped me, jokingly asking if I had a driving licence. Later, when the kid was accusing me of basically being an arsehole, my grandfather pointed out that in the Soviet Union, it's technically impossible to steal anything.

You show a peculiar family dynamic here, influenced by opposing political views. But I guess you didn't want the actors to think about real people here?
When [actress] Ülle Kaljuste came to the set, I kept reminding her that Johannes was not Lauri, so she could incorporate her own experiences into the role as well. My grandmother was in Auschwitz, so she had a very specific approach to authority – she knew exactly what they could do. It was completely different for my mother, although in real life, my father was the one hanging out with the punk rockers. He was an artist, and he wasn't at home much; I only got to know him when he moved to Finland with us in 1996. I made these characters a bit “sharper”, and this way you can understand them better. We had a two-week workshop before the shoot, and it was necessary because I’d had a break from filmmaking. I am a former pianist, and if you don't do something for a year, it's going to take you some time to get that back.

Your film should come with a disclaimer: “Some toys were harmed during this production.” The scene with Gena the Crocodile is traumatic.
Yes, but at the same time hilarious! We were laughing so hard when we burned the crocodile. At one point, I started to ask: “Are we healthy people?” Someone said: “Hey, Trump is president now. Anything goes.”

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