Philip Sotnychenko • Director of La Palisiada
“Cinema is very often built on feelings, like music and poetry”
- The Ukrainian director breaks down his film about two old friends, a police detective and a forensic psychiatrist, investigating the murder of their colleague
We chatted with Ukrainian director Philip Sotnychenko, whose film La Palisiada [+see also:
interview: Philip Sotnychenko
film profile] is taking part in the Tiger Competition at IFFR. The movie is set in Ukraine in 1996. Five months before the moratorium on the death penalty, two old friends, a police detective and a forensic psychiatrist, investigate the murder of their colleague.
Cineuropa: How exactly did the idea for La Palisiada crop up? Why did you choose this particular title?
Philip Sotnychenko: I started from the fact that, as recently as 1996, the death penalty existed in Ukraine. Then, coming away from this, I began to remember my childhood. The topic of the death penalty somehow receded into the background. It was already becoming a story not about the last execution, but about people who lived at that time and their children who are alive now.
Regarding the title, a “lapalissade” is a philological term. It is an obvious reiteration of a fact that is already clear. I decided to use the Ukrainian pronunciation of this term, as I just liked the sound of it. For me, cinema is very often built on feelings, like music and poetry. “La Palisiada!” just sounds like something that seems big – something about the police, something significant, something interesting. But the crime story turned out to be secondary, and human life turned out to be insignificant. So I decided to make the title sound majestic, but in actual fact, it’s something insignificant and not really noticeable.
Did you put any autobiographical facts or personal stories into the script?
I wrote the first draft myself, then I was helped by Alina Panasenko, who is a director and writer herself. The first part of the film – that is, the modern part – is related to my life. I put in a lot of what happens in the lives of many people there. People eat, then discuss something, and they try to find a common language among themselves. In the relationship of the young couple, of course, there are some personal elements, but it is not an autobiography. There are some observations there about what happens, I think, to a lot of people.
As for the second part, these are also the memories of a seven-year-old child, the boy who wakes up in that scene. I remember those times through the eyes of this character. Of course, the reality could be different because the child sees it his own particular way. So overall, these are childhood memories plus something from today's everyday life.
You made the short film Nail, where you used a method of documentary-like reconstruction. It was a fiction film where everything seemed like a documentary. La Palisiada also has a similar feel. Would you call it your signature style? Do you plan to work in this style in the future?
In my situation, the signature or handwriting is not something I select; it is just born. Maybe I would like to make my next film a little differently, but it still depends on a certain method of working with the cameraman and with the actors. From film to film, I work almost the same way. Because of that, it looks like one style.
Could you explain exactly what this method is? What exactly are you trying to get out of the actors?
The main thing is that you should not interfere with the actors as they are expressing themselves – you should only guide them and not get in the way of them choosing a certain angle. I'm not sure that each of them is Daniel Day-Lewis, who is considered one of the best actors and can play anything. I work with non-professionals, so the personality type is important here. I understand what he or she is capable of and will be able to convey, and I just guide. I put people who have certain characteristics in certain circumstances.
Have you ever studied the criminal process, or the work of a detective or a policeman? Did you familiarise yourself with it before filming?
I based my research on police VHS archives. One of the producers of the film, Sashko Chubko, found me some interesting tapes in the Museum of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Then I visually recreated some of the arrest scenes. First and foremost, it's cinema – like music or poetry, more in that vein. It just looks like a documentary style. It seems as though I am trying to recreate real events, but it is still a kind of fantasy on the subject.
Why did you decide to become a director? Do you consider this your calling?
I don’t know; I did not choose a particular profession. My father worked at the Kyivnaukfilm [Kyiv Science Film] documentary studio. He filmed the project Unknown Ukraine, the last one released by Kyivnaukfilm. When I was born, the studio was already on its last legs, unfortunately. In the second half of the 1990s, the studio almost did no work at all. In general, I just can't do anything else. In my childhood, I would skip school and watch movies. When my mother asked what I would be later on, my father said: “At least he watches movies.” My dad had a friend, Viktor Ostroukhov, who was a film expert. He didn't have an education in film, but he did have a huge collection of movies on DVD. Even before joining university, and during my year-long film studies, I constantly went to him. Dad sat with him in the kitchen, and I went through his entire film library, took something for myself and copied a lot of films. I remember some incredible finds! I used to love watching movies all the time, but now I watch very few and can't even finish a whole film.
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