Dmytro Sukholytkyy-Sobchuk • Director of Pamfir
“Even if we’re talking about absolute good, it always has a side effect”
- CANNES 2022: We chatted to the Ukrainian director about the origins of his feature debut, the intriguing dialect its characters use, and its possible roots in British thrillers
Pamfir [+see also:
interview: Dmytro Sukholytkyy-Sobchuk
film profile], premiering in the Cannes Directors’ Fortnight, is the feature debut by Ukrainian director Dmytro Sukholytkyy-Sobchuk, which tells the story of a Transcarpathian resident who breaks the law to help his family.
Cineuropa: How did the idea for Pamfir come about, and when did you realise that it was necessary to make a movie out of this story?
Dmytro Sukholytkyy-Sobchuk: I have retained a good habit from the first year of my studies, when our Drama teacher, Valery Mykytovych Sivak, taught us to keep diaries of our observations – that is, just write. For me, these diaries were at first physical, and then it all shifted to an electronic format. You could say that ideas accumulate there, a few observations appear and a bunch of characters take shape.
I can't say exactly when the idea came about. It was somewhere in all of those records, and at some point, it connected with the rest of the puzzle and formed as a story. The first idea was a message: I wanted to say that if there is an absolute, then this absolute always has a side effect. Even if we’re, for example, talking about absolute good, it always has a side effect. So I wanted to tell a story about a small side effect of unconditional love, and a man who is resisting and struggling in these specific circumstances. A key element for me was the question of conscience, the concept of morality for the one who chooses to do, or not to do, something. This is, in fact, a kind of agreement with one’s conscience, which is the price a person pays for such a choice.
Were there any influences from your short film Кrasna Malanka?
Yes, of course, because I collected a lot of stories in this region, for example, and saw stories firstly about [Ukrainian and Belarusian folk holiday] Malanka, and secondly, about life in the border region and some of its features. Of course, a lot of material was gathered there, and directly, Krasna Malanka helped a lot in creating the script and the story as a whole.
The film features the Bukovinian dialect, which sounds very natural. How did you manage to achieve this?
I will say that it cannot be called the Bukovinian dialect, because it is Carpathian and closer to the Hutsul dialect; Bukovina is incredibly multicultural and multifaceted. We had some very long rehearsals, and one of the main criteria was that we were looking for actors from Western Ukraine, so that they would not have to learn the language from scratch. Before going into three months of rehearsals, all of the actors read two books, one of which was Grandfather Ivanchik by Petro Shekeryk-Donykiv, and listened to audio books, such as titles by Yuriy Fedkovych. They were allowed to read Vasyl Stefanyk, but Stefanyk is a little different.
In order for these words and this pronunciation to stick, we enlisted the help of the compiler of Shekeryk-Donykiv’s book, Vasyl Zelenchuk. He is a specialist in dialect, and in fact, the actors watched videos on YouTube for a long time before going into the rehearsals, read this book, and then came to the rehearsals and talked to Vasyl live. He is an excellent linguist and understands perfectly how phonetics are built, and he explained to them how to build up their own language, right down to the construction of the sentences themselves. He is a great specialist, and he helped all of the actors, except the twins and the actor who played Nazar [Stanislav Potiak], because they were actually from that region and were basically native speakers of the dialect. So sometimes they even helped with the words and the emphasis.
Is it true that the film has a history of cooperation with the Cannes Film Festival?
Yes, it was part of the Cinéfondation residency, a wonderful place that provides accommodation in Paris for five or six months, where you have the opportunity to work on the script and arrange various events, make acquaintances within the industry, and most importantly, the key event during all of this is the presentation of the project in the CNC pavilion, in front of a large audience with producers, funds and so on – right here at the Cannes Film Festival, on the Croisette. And after that, there is an opportunity to find a French co-producer.
It seemed to me that the film had some of its origins in British thrillers like Guy Ritchie’s movies.
I never thought about that and never tried to imitate them. I don't even have a “reference”. The only thing I can say about the picture is that it flirts with multiple genres – it was also a work involving a great deal of enthusiasm. I assumed that the viewer would understand how western elements work, and I bring it to a point where I break the rules. In other words, this multi-genre framework is a maze for the viewer to follow, after they think, “I've seen it all before.” If you were to disassemble the story, if you were to sit down and retell it, it would be very simple. It can be told in four or five sentences. It was just a creative challenge, and the whole team was on board with this experiment, because that was one of the fundamental principles – the visual aspect should complement the ideological one.
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