Nikita Mikhalkov, the last great russian film maker koldo almandoz   The last Russian director. Big words. I also say “Russian” – in the widest sense of the word. The Czar’s Russia. Red Russia. The Russia of Glasnost. Mikhalkov is the inheritor of Vertov’s Kino Pravda (True Cinema). But Vertov grabbed is camera, jumped onto a train and zoomed off to film the vastness of Russia whereas mikhalkov has tried to film the personality and character of the country. Nikita Mikhalkov was born in Moscow in 1945. He grew up in an artistic family. Both his grandfathers were painters and his father was writer. He was the one who wrote the words for the Russian National Anthem. His mother is a well-known poetess in Russia. Nikita studied at the VGIK (State Institute of cinematography) in Moscow and his brother’s classmates included Andrei Konchalovsky and Andrei Tartovsky.

The actor and the character
The secret to Mikhalkov’s cinema is his characters. He is a master at directing actors. mikhalkov himself has taken part as an actor in many films by both himself and by other directors. Though very demanding of those who work with him, he’s not one of those directors who sees actors as a necessary evil. He allows his actors to improvise in front of the camera: “...but I use Bergman’s method: I give the actors and technicians all the freedom the need, but only after we’ve thoroughly discussed and rehearsed everything.” Behind Mikhalkov’s tough façade is a deep knowledge of humanity. The heroes in his films are not the do-gooders ...his heroes are those who struggle against contradiction as they try to maintain some sort of dignity. The characters in Mikhalkov’s work steer well clear of the extremism of good and evil. Not everybody fighting for freedom is good, just as not all fascists are bad; not all workers believe in solidarity nor are all the military hideous bastards... Mikhalkov comes up with incoherent contradictory characters and that’s probably why we can identify with them so much.

Polemic and politics
Some of his films, made during the days of the Soviet Union, were shot in secret. He filmed them without the necessary permits by using the bits of celluloid left over from his official films. Anna (from 16-18) is one of them. In this film, Nikita the father interviews his daughter Anna on her birthday every year from the age of six until she reaches the age of eighteen in this documentary film. The film’s simplicity, sincerity (mikhalkov the father figure comes across as quite despicable at times) and the way it’s able to capture the situation in a country through the experience of one person makes it one of the most peculiar and endearing films I have ever seen.
Mikhalkov has explored the geographical features and the eventful history of his country in his films. He has always been critical. But there is also always a sense of pride as well as criticism in his films. He criticises the excesses committed by communism but he doesn’t demonise it. Though he’s not militaristic, he investigates the phenomenon of war and violence - without the hypocritical pacifism rife today. He speaks out in favour of the importance of tradition without turning his back on the modern world.
In this day and age a director’s ideology is taken into account when judging his work and this has led to some calling mikhalkov a fascist. They said the same about the Serbian director Emir Kusturica when he made Underground. Sterile moralist opinions. Every ideology needs it’s myths and monsters. The progressive left applaud Loach, Guediguian, Leon de Aranoa and the likes. The conservative right bought off Hollywood years ago. And to everybody’s loss Billy Wilder couldn’t get anybody to produce his films in the last years of his life. It’s getting harder and harder to find heterodox directors who are credibly true to themselves and their work. Time wears ideology down and changes it, prizes and awards (Mikhalkov has won an Oscar, a Palme d'Or at Cannes and a Gold Shell at San Sebastian) are auctioned more times than not but the films last forever. And Mikhalkov’s, just like the classics, never lose their strength. That’s not just a biased opinion. It’s something the list of the films he has made clearly proves.

1999 Sibirsky Tsiryulnik / The Barber of Siberia
1995 Sentimentalnoe Puteshestvie / Sentimental Journey
1994 Utomlyonnye Solntsem / Burnt by the sun
1993 Anna: 6 – 18
1992 Urga
1987 Ochi Chyomye / Dark eyes
1983 Bez Svidetelei / Without witness
1981 Rodnya / Family relations
1980 Oblomov
1978 Pyat Vecherov / Five evenings
1977 Neokonchenaya Piesa dlya Mekhanicheskogo Pianino /
An unfinished piece for player piano
1976 Raba Lyubvi / A slave of love
1974 Svoi Sredi Chuzhikh / At home among strangers
1970 Spokoynyy Den V Kontse Voyny / A quiet day at the end of the war (laburmetr.)