June 12, 2013

Rotterdam Film Festival director Rutger Wolfson about Alexei Balabanov

In the hustle of Cannes we received the sad news of the passing of Alexei Balabanov. Balabanov was one of Russia’s most daring, original and headstrong directors. His films are raw, shocking even – and sometimes epic and everyday simultaneously. A true ‘Rotterdam director’ so to say, and the festival has followed him for many years.

I met Alexei when we presented the international premiere of Morphia (2009) – something I was very proud of. Before I met him, I was already impressed by his films. His charisma, dry wit and clarity only strengthened my admiration.

In the years to come, Alexei was a regular guest in Rotterdam, with new films and a project at CineMart. Always joined by his wife, costume designer of his films, and once by his son. One time he brought me a thinly blue and white striped A-shirt, worn by Russian paratroopers, who are generally considered toughest of all Russian soldiers. Very macho. And even though Alexei’s sense of humor wasn’t lost on me, I was quietly very proud he gave me that shirt.

During this year’s festival, he was in Rotterdam with his recent film Me Too. During dinner he told me this would be his last visit. I didn’t take him seriously. Yet I did take a picture of him with my phone. Nothing extraordinary, but one of the very few pictures I took this festival. In Me Too a group of men and a woman travel to an abandoned bell tower. Those who enter the bell tower go straight to heaven – if they are chosen. No one knows how it works. But it is certain that happiness awaits there. If I’ve seen it correctly, Alexei plays a small part himself: he sits on a wall near the bell tower with his arm in a cast. I don’t know how it works either. But if you’d ask me, he was chosen.

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Source: International Film Festival Rotterdam
Author: Rutger Wolfson