Roman Bondarchuk's Volcano, which is receiving an exclusive global online premiere on MUBI, is showing from December 8 – January 6, 2019 in MUBI's Debuts series.
This script was built on a lengthy documentary study and real events.
In general, we wanted the locals to play local characters. They talk differently, move differently. The casting took place three months before the shooting. We walked around factories, clubs, fields, and watermelon plantations. Some people were afraid that their daughters were not actually cast for a movie, but for trafficking to Turkey. And this one time we had to film a shepherd for a scene, and there was this wonderful man with a cane and a grey beard. But his wife chased Tetiana—our casting director—away every time, because she was afraid that she was attracted to her husband. And the gas station man actually looked even better at the audition. When he came to the set, he looked as if he shaved for the first time in ten years and washed all the oil off his dark body.
For each story in the film you can find a basis in reality from which it grew—even for the mirage. My grandfather and grandmother, who lived in this area, saw these mirages. My great-grandmother told me that sunlight refracts in the desert and creates an optical illusion. And they said that under certain sunlight, after the rain, you can see a neighboring village, where dogs and chickens run around and people move about. This went away when they planted an artificial forest, and then in later years people cut those down in order to heat their homes. And now there are no artificial plantations, and the mirages have returned.
Documentary luck also played out in the scene with the “molecular glue.” Two of our main actors rehearsed the sale of the glue in the middle of the market. And actual customers started coming up to them and asking about the price. We made a scene in which random passers-by bought out nearly all our props. When we wanted to do another take and asked the customers to give the “glue” back, people just ran off because they didn’t believe it was a film shoot. One man shouted, “I’ve been looking for this glue since 1995, and I’m not giving anything to anyone!” After that, the whole town reeked of plastic that was melted on gas stoves, according to the instructions on the package, but it turned out that our prop makers didn’t find the actual glue and used fake plastic.
We spent a lot of time searching for locations; I think this was the biggest expedition, the greatest application of our forces, because it is a space which should work and speak. And such is Vova’s house, which we spent ages looking for, like some kind of unrealized dream for a large family that must live there and for whom it is worth sacrificing everything. But you still never finish building it. We looked at many houses, and we had two criteria: a house with a future and a house with no future. That’s how we found Vova’s house, which had a tangible sense of future. And we filmed it. I think we wanted to do everything in a more documentarian manner, but thanks to these locations—in the early days we put the footage together and realized that it was phantasmagoria. It had become so much more saturated and multi-layered. It led us itself to some point in time. Because when you see in the frame some remnants of Greek civilization, and you see a figure in the background who is not connected to this culture or time period in any way, but at the same time, it is all there, all at once, and thus is born the metaphysical.
There was a funny incident when we were driving around the area looking for a club—the ones we’d seen were all in a terrible condition. But we liked this club, although there were some black marks on the walls, and I asked why it looked so bad. The directress said, “We had a tornado here.” And I said, “Interesting—how did that happen?” She replied, “Well, we all came to work and the tornado started, it went on and on, started pulling off the slate roof tiles, pulling it into the funnel. The attendant grabbed my hand and the door, and death/the tornado was blowing, the door was shaking, and he was holding on to it with one hand, and me with the other. So it didn’t blow us away. Here’s where the slate scratched,” she said, showing us her hand, which was covered in cuts. I said, “So was anyone else hurt?” The directress: “No, just the club. But I can understand this. It was built by communists from the remains of the church, so now the heavens are taking their revenge on us.” It’s so Marquez-esque when they believe in divine revenge. Then we went to the next club in the neighboring village, and saw the slate roof was also blown open “Tornado?” I asked them. “Yes, tornado,” they replied.
“Volcano” is the name of the village in this area, where villages are not called by the names that are written on maps, but by the names of the kolkhozes, the collective farms in the Soviet Union. I like the duality of this term: there is something in the air, a tension and a volcano, just about to erupt. On the outside the hero in our story is successful—there are not many people who have such a job, car, dacha, and for whom everything is good, but it’s not quite enough. And our hero finally arrives at rock bottom but is at the same time cured of some sort of blues. That is, in this paradox there is all this reality. It is also a conversation about when reality looks scary and hopeless—it hides really important things in itself. Because of all the dangers we’ve had to live through in Ukraine in recent years, people are used to adapting, says Vova—you adapt, you live, you don’t adapt, you don’t live. This is also part of the fact that it has already become something habitual, and that you need to eradicate in yourself. It seems to me that now is the time to review this concept. You need to develop, not adapt. It’s an overarching goal—to build a new paradigm, and everything new, all these new ideas appear under pressure. Any new beginning, all life, is born from an explosion.
This introduction was based on the interviews “All New Life Is Born from an Explosion” (by Olya Sova; translation by Felix White-Thomson) and “In Watermelon Sugar” (by Victoria Khomenko).