Egor Konchalovsky – about the filming of the drama “Big House”: No need to smear black with red for an entire era

… Spacious office, flooded with sunlight. On the walls are portraits of the leader of the proletariat Lenin and the “iron” Felix Dzerzhinsky. On the table are a pile of folders with criminal cases, Dante’s book “Hell”, old, with two old bullet holes. Desk calendar 1965…

“Twice retrofilm” – that’s what the authors of “Big House” call it. The story of the heroes begins in besieged Leningrad. The denouement comes in 1965. The plot is based on real investigations by employees of the Leningrad KGB department, intertwined into a single dramaturgical spiral by the will of the scriptwriters.

One of the cases is about the ZIG-ZAG gang (Defenders of Germany’s interests – the Banner of Adolf Hitler), who collaborated with the Abwehr, which, having set up a large-scale production of fake cards, stole about 17 tons of food in a starving city. Another thing is Alexei Kruglov, the auditor of the RONO, to whom the Nazis predicted the place of the governor of Leningrad. Another investigation has already been reflected in the cinema – in 1967, in hot pursuit, the detective “Two tickets for a daytime session” came out about the director of the Leningrad Regional Wholesale and Trade Base Georgy Zuykov, who, while distributing food, bought jewelry and paintings from dying Leningraders for nothing . And finally, the case of the atrocities near Gatchina of the punitive detachment GFP-520, in the ranks of which was a prisoner of war Alexander Stroganov, nicknamed Graf, recruited by the Germans.

It was he, aged twenty years, who entered the sun-drenched office in the Big House. This moment for the modest projectionist of the Leningrad cinema, but in fact the saboteur Graf, was the beginning of his inglorious end …

The investigator’s office was filmed in one of the abandoned St. Petersburg manor palaces, the blockade room – also not in a pavilion, but in a real apartment, the walls of which probably keep the memory of 900 days of the blockade, and from this what is happening on the set acquires a special degree of truthfulness. The creators of “The Big House” achieve the quality of a big movie, although the speed is almost astronomical – sometimes 11 scenes can be filmed per shift. But the director of the film Yegor Konchalovsky is passionate about the project.

Egor Konchalovsky: It’s time to look at our history a little differently. Photo: Sergey Kuksin

Yegor, the name of the film “Big House” sounds ominous for Petersburgers. Still, in the popular mind, it is associated with the repressive activities of the state security agencies in Stalin’s time, which are located in this building on Liteiny Prospekt.

Egor Konchalovsky: Yes, for the last 30 or maybe even 40 years, the activities of the NKVD, the KGB have been reduced to the Gulag, repressions, purges, the case of doctors, and so on. Of course, all this was, and we must not forget about it. But the KGB was not exclusively a repressive body. By the way, there were also quite serious purges in the ranks of the KGB. But it was interesting for me to look at the activities of the Chekists from the other side, among whom there were quite a few really worthy people. Not necessarily impeccable, but at the same time loyal, honest, who defended besieged Leningrad from various kinds of enemies from the inside.

In general, it seems to me that we need to start looking at our history in a slightly different way. Not in the sense that everyone justifies and convinces what a wonderful life it was. But do not cross out an entire era with black paint. Yes, it must be admitted, this is the history of our country. There was one political system, then there was a revolution, a cruel, in some things inhuman phenomenon. But it was the path that ultimately led to the greatness of the country during the years of Soviet power. And to victory over Nazism. We must remind everyone over and over again that it was we who won this victory. And if we talk about the help of the so-called allies, then let’s remember that already a few months after May 1945, they quite calmly took yesterday’s SS men to work with them. So I want to talk about this era as a great one, with all its positive and negative sides.

Photo: Sergey Kuksin / RG

If we talk about security officers, it’s even hard to imagine what a temptation a state security officer faced when, during a search in an apartment, he found tons of products …

Egor Konchalovsky: And the NKVD officers were just as malnourished as other Leningraders. And those additional rations that they were given, according to our consultants, they gave to their loved ones.

There is a scene in the picture when our young hero is carrying food confiscated from criminals to the warehouse. At some point, he becomes ill from the grain spirit that filled the car – Mikhail has not eaten for several days, giving his ration to his little sister. He stopped to catch his breath. And at that moment, hungry children emerge from the ruins. Shirokov shared bread with him, fully aware of how much he was risking.

The simplest thing is to brush aside: “funnel”, “arrests”, “repressions”. And if you think about what it means to maintain order in a city in which there were fraudsters who forged food coupons, and saboteurs, and signalmen who gave conventional signs of German aviation, and, finally, notorious cannibals.

We have won this victory. Alas, this must be reminded time after time. Allies? A few months after May 45, they hired yesterday’s SS men

Well, a lot has been said about cannibals and saboteurs. But the history of the governor of Leningrad appointed by the Germans is not so well known. His self-confidence is amazing. What is worth his phrase, which he gave himself away: “If you see a car or a carriage with a swastika driving along Nevsky, then know that I am riding in them. Feel free to take off your hat and come up.”

Egor Konchalovsky: To some extent, this man is a comical character. Because he is surprisingly afraid of what lies ahead for him, but he can no longer refuse this “honor”. Another thing, how did people get such a naive illusion that they would be allowed to manage the new, Nazi Petersburg? I am convinced that people like Kruglov (in our version, his name is Kruglovsky) the Germans would have put to waste. They absolutely do not need anyone. Just like Russia itself. If the plans of the Third Reich had been realized, the surviving Soviet citizens would have been waiting for a completely different form of existence.

But people tend to experience illusions. And today we see the same…

The failed “governor”, perhaps a figure in the spirit of Gogol’s “Inspector General”. But Stroganov, nicknamed Graf, is not like that, also a real character who, as part of a punitive detachment, shot partisans. But according to Arthur Vakha, his hero has his own “truth” – Stroganov takes revenge for his repressed parents, for his stolen youth.

Egor Konchalovsky: The fact of the matter is that we don’t want to make a one-dimensional, flat movie. Some of our opponents can cause pity, sympathy, someone respect, and at some moments, even admiration.

Unfortunately, I was not on these shootings, but I heard that you played a pathologist …

Egor Konchalovsky: To be honest, I love to appear in my paintings like this irresponsibly. I am a weak artist, so I always look for a role for two or three words, so as not to spoil the scene. But nevertheless, my character gives a small thread to our heroes in the process of finding bad people.

By the way, the co-author of the script, Miroslav Stankovich, played the cannibal. And when he stayed in the apartment that I rent in St. Petersburg, we had a gloomy joke that the cannibal and the pathologist rented a small apartment on 2nd Sovetskaya, in the evenings they had something to talk about. Which is true, because we continued to work on the script during the filming.

Photo: Sergey Kuksin / RG

The main antagonists, the security officer Shirokov and the punisher Stroganov, in 1942 are played by Ilya Korobko and Nikita Volkov, and in 1965 by Boris Khvoshnyansky and Artur Vakha.

Egor Konchalovsky: I admit, they did not immediately appear on our list. The auditions lasted long enough, and when, it would seem, the cast for the main roles was formed, it had to be abandoned, because they did not agree on the dates of filming. This is really a very big problem in cinema today – to make a clear schedule with the artists. Now there are a lot of projects in launch, artists are in great demand. Often you have to compromise. I had a couple of these replacements, and, I must say, I’m glad that this is how it turned out. Especially with one little hero, Vitka Voronov. When the young actor “flew” for this role, we were terribly upset. But they found another, Miroslav Kharin, and the whole group literally fell in love with him …

Many St. Petersburg actors are filming in the Big House, not counting Khvoshnyansky and Vakha. I will name just a few – Alexander Lykov, Sergei Migitsko, Karina Razumovskaya, Kirill Polukhin, Vladimir Glazkov, who was “lucky” to play the “governor” of Leningrad.

Egor Konchalovsky: This is both organizational and economically important – after all, we shoot in St. Petersburg. But, most importantly, I wanted, sorry for the rude expression, some unhackneyed faces. Therefore, we refused the stars, not counting Vitaly Kishchenko – I really wanted to work with him. I met a lot of great actors on this project.

In the “blockade cinema” one of the most difficult moments is to pick up “authentic” faces …

Egor Konchalovsky: I mean, not well-fed?.. You know, I reviewed quite a lot of chronicles of the siege, all the time peering into the faces of Leningraders. And oddly enough, I almost never saw emaciated faces. I was told an interesting story that people came to the bathhouse, undressed and began to laugh at each other. Because the faces are normal, but the bodies are skeletons. So we decided to rely not so much on physiology as on the possibilities of makeup. And then, quite a long time ago, the time has come when artists are filming in parallel in different projects. I can’t ask an actor to lose a lot of weight, because after shooting Big House, he flies to another set, or to the theater stage. And by the way, we had to give up some of the artists, because they couldn’t even cut their hair the way we needed. Alas, the reality is, and it is unlikely that anything will change in the near future.

Source: Российская газета by

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