Alexey Uchitel, Russian director

‘Diary’ of a true threesome

Russian film’s director lobbying for oscar consideration

Wednesday, February 07, 2001

By Rebecca Redshaw

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. — Director Alexey Uchitel‘s relaxed demeanor is striking, considering he is in the midst of the whirlwind promotion for his latest film, “His Wife’s Diary.”

Uchitel, one of Russia’s most famed filmmakers, holds the title of Merited Worker of Arts in Russia. His roots in film began in documentaries more than 20 years ago, and he named his film studio “Rock,” after his most famous nonfiction work.

With “His Wife’s Diary” Russia’s submission for Oscar consideration, Uchitel is traveling the United States with his wife, Kira, who acts as his interpreter.

His movie was shown at a special screening at the Library of Congress Friday in Washington, D.C.


QUESTION: “His Wife’s Diary” is an intriguing story based on the personal life of Ivan Bunin, author of short stories such as “The Gentleman From San Francisco,” who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1933. How long had you thought of making this picture?

ALEXEY UCHITEL: This is the second of three features I hope to make with my script writer,Dunya Smirnova, about great personalities of Russia. The first, completed in 1995, was about a very famous ballet dancer, Olga Spessivtzeva. She lived in exile in the United States for 20 years, seeking asylum in New York City. It was her fate to marry first a KGB agent and then a CIA agent. The third picture I would like to make is the story of the writer Vladimir Nabokov. Unfortunately, the relatives will not give up the rights, so this picture will not be made.

Q: There were no objections from Bunin’s family?
A: There is nobody still alive.

Q: Did Vera Bunin actually keep a diary?
A: Diaries exist for Vera as well as Bunin and Galina [Bunin’s live-in mistress]. The diaries now belong to a woman in England who has published segments of their contents. We didn’t have access to these when we wrote the script, so it’s all original text.

Q: Americans love movies that say “Based on a True Story,” even if it’s not true.
A: All the facts are true. Of course, the fact that we took creative liberties is apparent in Vera’s final entry in her diary when she announces, “I am dead,” and then continues on writing.

Q: In regard to the complex sexual situations in Bunin’s house, have audiences in varying parts of the world reacted differently?
A: The audience reaction is very good, and I have a feeling it’s not because of the menage a trois but because the picture shows the feelings of loneliness, of love and loneliness. Not everyone, but very many people accept it. It’s about the tragedy of love.

Q: For 20 years, Bunin lived in southern France, and, in spite of his protestations, he seemed to thrive on the chaos and interaction of the household.
A: It was clear to me that Ivan did not want to lose his wife or his mistress. He wanted to keep both of them near him. And because of that, he lost his mistress.

Q: It was amazing he kept his wife. “His Wife’s Diary” is a big hit in Russia. How does one approach making a movie in Russia?
A: Movies of quality are usually shot with state funds. For instance, to apply we write a script and send it to the Minister of Cinematography or Minister of Culture. There, a special expert determines if they will support you or not.

Q: What if they say, “No”?
A: Theoretically, you could find private money — it could be done. If you want to make a cheap, commercial project, it’s easier to find money. But I’d rather do historical, serious movies.

Q: As you travel around the United States promoting the movie, what are your thoughts?
A: In Russia, we see many American movies. Maybe I’m naive, but I’d like American audiences to see Russian movies, too. It’s very interesting to know other nations’ traditions and ways of life. It will help us understand each other better.