Pavel Lungin: « The most difficult thing is to understand yourself and forgive yourself»
Vladimir Legoyda
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The English catholic Chesterton wrote that the Sacrament of Penance gives us new life and reconciles us with the world, but it doesn't achieve that in  the way practiced by the optimists and the advocates of pleasures. Joy is not dispensed for free but comes as a result of penance. Its price, in other words, is truth, or reality, if you like. We must see ourselves the way we are. When we only see what others really are, that is called      realism. Do you agree?

Yes, this is deep and true. You know, the most difficult thing is to forgive sincerely. The most difficult thing is to understand yourself and forgive yourself. I know of a lot of people who have done something for which they haven't been able to really forgive themselves or feel remorse. The Island is about the same themes because we all come round to the same thoughts and feelings. If you haven't overcome your guilt, you stay with it and rot. The great meaning of confession is that it enables us to talk it through with words, which are the language of our minds. Realism is somehow cruel and somewhat merciless, and it is for that reason that the Soviet Union invented Social Realism that glossed reality over. I myself advocate forgiveness. I've forgiven people. Who's said that a soul is Christian by definition?


Tertullian. It's true, though. If you have a soul, you can say you're in it for good, because you're going to spend your life torn between gult, forgiveness, hope, and faith in search of your own path. I think great works of art are about forgiveness. Many literature experts debate whether Raskolnikov's repentance was sincere or strong enough. Dostoyevsky, however, clearly mused about when and why you can ask for forgiveness. He had this evil eye of a realist, and kept coming back to the idea that forgiving is necessary. I think it is important. Say, marriage is a school of tolerance and forgiveness. 


Any marriage, even one that is happy or full of love, let alone difficult, is about forgiveness. Once you forget about that and opt for counting one's flaws and errors, you are going to hit a dead end. 

Was it a long time ago that you felt like asking someone for forgiveness before realizing how hard it was for you?

I have felt like that. I'd rather not talk about it if I may.


But I've done a few things without asking forgiveness for, and they've been tormenting me for years. Even though they may have happened 40 or 50 years ago. Maybe I offended someone, or felt wrongly offended, but some things should be talked about.

When we discuss forgiveness today, we can't help talking about art. You've said pertinently that art is no school of life. However, let's put it a different way: can art change you or not?

Do you mean a person who consumes art?

Yes, a person like that.

Rarely. I think such cases are few and far between. Once a young man told me that he had enrolled in a theological college after watching my film The Island. But did he change? I guess not. He remained what he had been. I think the dominant function of art is to confirm one's sentiment and to help one escape solitude. Say, a young girl chances on a book of poems by Akhmatova in a remote village. That collection helps her understand that there is something more to her than just being different, and that she's not some sort of a weirdo. The major strength of art, I think, is that it saves people from feeling lost, isolated or lonely.


We're coming over to love. Some believe that truth without love is false. Others add a nuance to that in that hard truth without love is false. Still others say that love can be trough and even cruel because when you love you don't enable bad behaviour. Which do you agree with: that truth without love is false, that hard truth without love is false, or that love can be tough or even cruel?

 I don't believe love can be cruel.

You don't believe that.

I don't. Truth without love is false, I think. That way, it turns into a whip and cruelty. I think we apply the term 'love' to so many things. We love women, god, pies and swimming. Love underlines our world and that is no coincidence. 

That's in Russian, and Greek has more than one word. 

True, there is the term 'agape', there's the sensual love and so one, but still, it all revolves around love. The thing is, the main principle of evolution is to transfer genes, and that builds into love. Why does a bird adorn its nest with pieces of glass, or a nightingale sings when it's time for love? Love is one of the main laws of the universe. Although, we're entering a digital era and there are models, I hear, who get millions of likes, millions of 'loves'. I don't know whether this is love, because it's difficult to love what is digital, not material.

Mr Lungin, I must find time to ask you this: when interviewed about a great show that you made, Fatherland, you said that what you wanted to show was that a person can be recruited through love, not money or fear. Am I right?

Absolutely. I believe that parishioners must fall in love with their priest to attend his sermons and trust him. Even spies and their handlers share a feeling of love, not necessarily physical...


But this is love which drives them. Love proves a potent driving force.

Let me ask you one other kind of love. It is my guess, thought. I think you love Dostoyevsky. 

Yes, I love him very much. 

Then here's a question: have you considered why you haven't yet adapted any of this work? 

I've always wanted to. But it's so immensely difficult to do it now.

I've been thinking about that. We've talked a lot about it with Nikita Mikhalkov. He's said that that he filed in the vein of Dostoevsky, not genuine Dostoyevsky. It's a curious thought, and I've been thinking also whether you can actually adapt Dostoyevsky, whose works may not be that good for cinema.

Few people know that Dostoyevsky wrote books to order. He was an artisan of genius. 

He made money that way.

His books all follow the same pattern. In his exile, he would dictate a hundred pages of a scene while pacing up and down the room. Take that one from The Idiot that talks about Nastasia Filipovna, the money, the cheating, Rogozhin and so on. All of which is followed by just a couple words:  'Two years passed'. On screen you'll have to explain what happened during this hiatus: He left to be with her, or she with him, or some hussar — who? where? — stole her.

Next month, time would come for Dostoyevsky to march on. Here come another hundred pages. So Dostoyevsky is difficult, although I would very much want to make an adaptation. They've adapted Demons, a fascinating work. There has been The Idiot, which also proved riveting. 

Here's what you're coming to...

It starred Yevegeny Mironov and Vladimir Mashkov. I think that if you were to adapt Dostoyevsky, you would have to make it into a series. 

I've heard you say that psychological intensity has migrated from movies to shows. 

It has, you know. People just can't stand watching a scene lasting five or even three minutes. So you've got to edit scenes like that out. Shows have been thriving, though. 

Thriving, yes. 

You see, it's the same story all over again. Humanity isn't giving up on anything. The novel is dying in sense, but the show, which is a novel in a sense, is thriving.

We'll be expecting you to get down to Dostoyevsky, Mr Lungin. 

When I lived in France, I was eager to do The Gambler. But you can only shoot it in Russia. By the way, I have a great idea about how to do a modern take on The Brothers Karamazovs. You can make it breathtakingly interesting, because Ivan is really our contemporary blogger, who … 

A blogger?



… who's chatting with the demon over his computer. Dmitry is a footballer, an athlete who's had his leg broken and has retired. Mitya is a hippie environmentalist. So they can all be projected onto our contemporary world. Smerdyakov may be a Tajik immigrant who's been treated kindly and cared for by them. 

Is Alyosha a monk?

Alyosha? Maybe he is gravitating between a monastery and environmental activism struggling to decide whether it's best to preserve nature or to serve humanity. Or should he rather serve nature? All of this brings them all together. I don't know, maybe I'll make that one yet. On the other hand, maybe people don't want a modern take on Dostoyevsky, they want him in the original. 

We can have both, can't we?

It would be fascinating to make it, yes. 

Mr Lungin, we're approaching our show's final question. Like I said, I'm going to ask you to choose between two propositions. It has nothing to do with what we've just discussed, because there was no way for me to know what we would be talking about. So if you get your hands on a script that shows Stalin as a complex character with his flaws and his virtues, would it be 'Let's shoot it' or 'Rewrite the script'?

'Rewrite the script'.



Thank you. This was Pavel Lungin, a free person.