YIDFF 2011 International Competition
The Woman with the 5 Elephants
An Interview with Vadim Jendreyko (Director)

Weaving Films like Braids

Q: I hear you came to make this film because you were looking to shoot another on Dostoyevsky.

VJ: That’s correct. At first I wanted to shoot a narrative film related to Dostoyevsky, and I heard there was no one with more knowledge of him than this woman. That’s how I came to meet Swetlana, the main character of this film. After a few meetings, I found her to be an incredibly intriguing person. So I gave up the Dostoyevsky film, and began shooting a documentary about her. That’s how this film came about.

Q: Did you have an idea of how this film might turn out when you met Swetlana?

VJ: When I met Swetlana I felt her appeal, but I had no idea why she drew me in so much. Documentaries are like journeys. You throw a pack over your shoulder and set-off, but when you least expect if you reach a river or get your foot caught in a swamp. I had a lot of questions before making this film, and I thought I’d seek the answers along the way. Of course I had a script, but it didn’t bind me. I didn’t realize this until after I had completed the film, but it is the witness to the journey I shared with this woman.

Q: This film has several themes, but what were you thinking about when you made it?

VJ: This film has 3 elements. The first is this woman’s wisdom, and all she has to teach about Dostoyevsky and the world of literature. The second comes from her having children and grandchildren. Swetlana has a private life where she cooks and does laundry, when she changes from literary translator to housewife. The third is that this is a woman who speaks to the history of 20th Century Europe. That continent was at war for a long time, and she lived through it all. Swetlana has lived a rich life, so I thought I’d make a biography about her. All of these three elements could have been their own film. But what I felt was important was how the large issues each theme represents wove themselves into a single piece, just like the braids women weave.

Q: Despite its themes of literature and war, this film has great warmth. How do you feel having completed it?

VT: I find the finished film to be strangely relieving. I think we live in a very busy time. At night I have to respond to e-mails, and my mobile phone rings throughout the day. But when you enter Swetlana’s house you find none of these things. When I meet her I am at ease. I imagine you feel something similar when you visit the homes of your grandparents. That life is 15 years in the past, if not more. Those kinds of warm environments are disappearing. I am happy that the audience also finds this warmth in the film. It came into being like an apple falling from a tree, and I think it is an important work for the time we live in.

(Compiled by Iida Yukako)

Interviewers: Iida Yukako, Nihei Haruka / Interpreter: Hirano Kanae / Translator: Kyle Hecht
Photography: Watanabe Kazutaka / Video: Keino Yutaro / 2011-10-09