His enigmatic presence has dotted European screens for nearly 20 years. Dinara Drukarova’s career began in Russia, her native country, before blossoming in France, her adopted country, where we saw her with Julie Bertuccelli in 2004 in Since Otar left… with the key, a nomination for the Césars as Best Hope, then here and there at Pascal Bonitzer or Arnaud Despechin, while the series The office of legends made her the chilling Chupak, a Russian secret service official who doesn’t do feelings.
Outside French circles, let us quote the Austrian Michael Haneke or the Finn Juho Kuosmanen among those who enlisted her. Here she is, today, both in front of and behind the camera, in Great Sailora magnificently silent film about a woman who casts off, extracting herself from who knows what, to live a harsh life as a fisherwoman on an Icelandic trawler.
Drukarova, unlike her character, has volubility on her side: freely, she tells us about her enthusiasm as a filmmaker and the terrors that contemporary Russia inspires in her.
Tell the story of a woman in a man’s world
What was so strong in the novel the great sailor of Catherine Poulain so that you want to adapt it to the cinema?
I first discovered it by pure chance, in one of those planes where you get newspapers. I took Freed : on the last page, there was a photo of a face that was a force! I wasn’t sure if it was a woman or a man, it looked like Mick Jagger, with a look that caught me, pierced me, went straight to my heart.
It was Catherine Poulain. So I read her book, which was mentioned, in which she recounts her years as a fisherwoman in Alaska. The kind of story that immediately makes images rise in you. With this idea of a woman who leaves everything, who confronts herself, who places herself in front of herself in a world of men.
Why does the sea fascinate you?
Before this film, the only time I had taken a boat was to go from Marseille to Corsica, so I might as well say that I knew nothing about the sea. I was lucky enough to meet a shipowner who found a trawler who was willing to accept me on board so that I could observe the fishermen.
I discovered this seasickness which flattens you, which makes you say “I want to die!” then 5 minutes after “Why am I not dead yet?”, these smells of fish, fuel oil, wet metal, which shoot you down. And then these fishermen so concentrated, so in their world, these night birds plunging into the water, this bubbling of the foam, these buoys which wander around: I filmed all that with my iPhone and I have enough of images to make three documentaries on fishing!
We don’t know where Lili, the character you play, comes from, or what she’s fleeing from, or why she wants to work so much aboard a trawler, and she remains enigmatic throughout the film…
Mystery, the unspoken, silence, that’s what cinema prefers: I like that my imagination is allowed to wander as it pleases. Besides, as soon as I imagined something too concrete about Lili – like: she must have lost a child, a love… – it locked her in and it took away my freedom.
Dinara Drukarova in exile in Paris
This is your first feature film behind the camera. Which Russian directors have nurtured your cinephilia?
My mother took me very early, around 9 or 10 years old, to see Requiem for a Slaughter of Elem Klimov at the cinema: this film of great beauty and great violence on the Second World War marked me for life.
I also remember Little Vera by Vassili Pitchoul, the first daring film – there was nudity, mind you! – from the 80s on relations between men and women. And then Khrustaliov, my car! by Alexei Guerman, a visual and sound journey of great strangeness. Also strange, quirky, a little surreal, the films of director Kira Mouratova. Among contemporaries, I adore everything, including For lack of love, by Andrei Zviaguintsev, who lives in Paris, by the way, now too…
Feeling, at 17, 18, that the future does not exist for you, it makes you want to leave.
How did you fall into the cinema, you who were filming from the age of 12, in Leningrad (as Saint-Petersburg was then called)?
My mother had heard an announcement on the radio for a casting, so I went there with a friend. She was a teacher, my father an engineer, so I didn’t grow up in the world of cinema at all, but it attracted me, as if I felt from that age that it was a way out of the world in which I was living, that it would lead me to bigger, more interesting, richer things. Because at that time, when the Soviet Union fell, the economy fell with it.
In Saint-Petersburg, there was no famine but all the same, there was a system of rationing: after school, I stood in line in the cold for 3 hours to get a kilo of pasta. Later, I shot about one film a year, but in extremely precarious conditions. And then the film studios, the theaters, closed. Feeling, at 17, 18, that the future does not exist for you, it makes you want to leave.
Why go to France then?
I came to the Quinzaine des Réalisateurs, in Cannes, in 1997, with angels in heaven by Pavel Lungin. There, I met Pascal Aubiet who offered me to shoot in his film Gascony’s son with the condition that I learn French… in three months!
I said “No problem”: I knew it was a chance that life gave me, so yes, I learned very quickly. Then I met a boy here. After finishing my theater studies in Russia, I moved to France.
In France, Chupak, the character you play in the series The Office of Legends is scary.
She’s an agent of the FSB, the Russian secret services… We can even say that she’s Putin in a skirt, this red-haired woman ready to kill you from behind! That’s a bit like the FSB: total control, totalitarianism, fear, injustice, death…
The bitter memory of a corrupt Russia
You who no longer live there, how do you view Russia today?
I say to myself: “What a pity, what a waste”. I have a great regret in my life, it is to have voted in 1996, the first time that I could, for Boris Yeltsin. Opposite him was another candidate, Grigori Yavlinski, and I was undecided. Knowing that it was Yeltsin who then propelled Putin, I often say to myself “if only I and the others had voted differently that day!”.
Russia is a permanent descent into hell.
Today’s Russia is an evil kingdom, with corruption and violence that bring us back to the worst of the USSR, but without even the humanist idea – certainly well hidden and well disguised! – what could communism bring – sharing, the common good…
How to separate from this gangrene that invades everything?
While Russia is a beautiful country populated by beautiful people. When there are so many resources there that we could have built a nation in which the whole world would have wanted to live. Instead, it’s a permanent descent into hell.
In Compartment no. 6 by Juho Kuosmanen, Grand Prix of the Cannes Film Festival 2021, you play a bohemian Moscow lesbian. What echoes do you have of LGBTQIA+ life in Russia?
In megacities like Moscow or Saint-Petersburg, it’s pretty much fine. But as soon as you get out of it, it’s difficult. It only takes 150km to arrive in a completely different social landscape.
When I was already a teenager, Russian society considered homosexuality as a terrible disease that had to be cured and homosexuals as plague victims. That was our education. And it’s getting worse and worse: a big throwback with big hooves. Today’s Russia is the traditional family, the formatting, the church, the blinders tightly closed.
And at the same time, domestic violence is trivialized: “If he beats his wife, it’s because he loves her”, they say. If you beat your wife, you pay a simple fine, and more. So I’m glad that my children, who were born in another culture, don’t know that.
What is there of Russian, in spite of everything, in you?
Something crazy sometimes. An ability to party well. A tendency to plunge into despair – for that, we are the champions of the world. However, hitting bottom always makes you bounce back better.
Great Sailor, by Dinara Drukarova, Sam Louwyck, Björn Hlynur Haraldsson…
Dinara Drukarova, Russian actress and director: “Today’s Russia is an evil kingdom”