Unlike the Chernobyl accident, the AIDS outbreak in the USSR occurred already in the era of relative publicity, and many details of this drama were publicly discussed many times. However, a feature film, with a reconstruction of events, albeit not meticulous, has not yet been shot in Russia, and “Patient Zero” is also interesting for its pioneer status.
It can be assumed that the eighties are now not only an era for nostalgia for the press and television, from which it was impossible to break away, but also a time of ideas and moods that are very controversial from the current official bell tower. Many people then seemed to wake up and showed a resolute desire to ventilate the musty air of the Soviet hostel. Few people then thought about the consequences, but the vague future still seemed more pleasant than the eerie past and the hopelessly tight jacket of the present.
The main characters of "Patient Zero" are a scientist (Nikita Efremov), who is trying to convince the functionaries that AIDS is not a fiction, a doctor (Askar Ilyasov), who is faced with infection where no one wants to hear about it, and a journalist (Evgeny Stychkin), himself Without realizing it, turning a sensation into a combat grenade, they clearly grew out of the system that gave birth to them, but the latter, although it is bursting at the seams, nevertheless does not want to give up. This is probably not the main storyline of the series, but thanks to the dynamics of the action, everyone who remembers the eighties will, of course, guess the mood of that very time, which is turning into retro before our eyes.
However, in cinema, retro is reduced not only to the symbolism and atmosphere of the era, but also to the corresponding picture. And in the case of those eighties that are shown in the series, these are the apartments of the Soviet establishment and provincial doctors, rare foreign cars and the Soviet auto industry, hospitals and a factory canteen, and finally, a Yugoslav coat and a sheepskin coat sewn according to old patterns. We collected all this and tried to save such a set from the veil of a local history museum, which is quite common for our retro projects, and the characters from the no less typical feeling that we are watching participants in an archival fashion show.
The result, of course, is worthy of the critics taking it apart brick by brick, meticulously looking for the pros and cons. In this case, two people can take responsibility for the series at once. "Patient Zero" was filmed by the director's tandem, consisting of Sergei Trofimov and Evgeny Stychkin. In the filmography of Evgeny Stychkin, there are dozens of acting jobs and directing in the series "Contact". Trofimov, as a cinematographer, shot many popular films, including Vertinsky, Gogol, many of Timur Bekmambetov's projects, including the legendary Patrols, as well as the film Devyatayev, where he worked with Bekmambetov already as a director.
In a conversation with MK, Sergey Trofimov discussed the interiors, which are almost non-existent, the roles “in spite of” and the pressure on the viewer.
- Your directorial tandem with Evgeny Stychkin has a peculiarity. You are an experienced cameraman, Eugene is an experienced actor, but you are beginner directors. How did you work together?
- As for the tandem - it was a wise decision by the producer. As a couple, we covered all aspects of filmmaking. I am well versed in everything related to the image and editing. And Zhenya, being an outstanding artist himself, works great with actors. So we got a powerful tandem, and we sometimes think about how to repeat all this somehow. We spent a lot of time together in preparation for filming, agreeing in advance on the meaning of each scene, and in the end we acted absolutely in sync. I do not remember the case that there were disputes.
— There are a lot of historical projects in your filmography, but this was the first time you shot a film about the eighties. Do you think this is an interesting era for cinema?
- Now the eighties have already become retro, and this is always an interesting genre for the viewer. Of course, the sixties and seventies were a much more expressive time for cinema. There are costumes, and architecture, and colors, and images. The 1980s is a rather unprepossessing time visually, but the atmosphere of this decade is simply unbelievable. Especially for our country.
- True, in terms of props, the eighties were a difficult era. Many of your colleagues complained that almost all the interiors of this time were thrown away during the renovation of the nineties ...
- And there is. I know for sure that shooting the nineteenth century, or the beginning of the twentieth, or even the eighteenth is much easier. Of course, bottles, packaging and other eighties props can be made; there are few cars left, but some retro lovers still have them. The biggest problem with the interiors, there are some fragments left of them. It seems to me that in Moscow we have chosen everything that is possible. We filmed something in ready-made interiors, sometimes they came to the object of that time, and the artists modified it: they repainted the walls, changed curtains, windows, brought furniture, and so on.
With outdoor shooting a little easier. Streets, or at least fragments of them that would return to that era, can still be found. Of course, there are air conditioners everywhere, other road signs, the roads themselves are different. But something can be decorated or glossed over with the help of graphics, to finish the backgrounds.
- You were already over twenty in the eighties. How do you remember this time?
— I will not go into the history of my life, but according to the feelings that we tried to convey in the series, it was a time of great change and expectations. And, of course, it is impossible to forget that incredible flow of information in everything from politics to mysticism. Probably because of the storm in my head, people of my generation took the problem of AIDS completely lightly. Maybe we took it then for one of the myths or for political speculation. In the era of glasnost, the information space was full of rumors, gossip and horror stories, and AIDS was one of those "fried" topics.
- At one time, the AIDS epidemic was actively highlighted in the media, many witnesses of this tragedy are still alive. How accurately did you try to convey historical facts in the series?
Of course, we were not filming a documentary. The stories of our heroes are similar to what happened in the lives of the direct participants in the events, but we do not convey everything exactly. On the screen, first of all, images, not specific people. And we tried to approach the reproduction of events as ethically as possible. Still, we are talking about the tragedy of children and their parents. We talked to people who lost their children and wanted to convey their experience with the utmost respect. In any film, artistic objectives come first, but we tried to reflect the facts as accurately as possible.
- Many critics noted a very successful selection of actors. With your experience, it is probably difficult to make discoveries, and yet, can you say that during the filming someone surprised you?
- Nikita Efremov made me happy in a good way. He had an incredibly difficult role. He played a scientist who lectures everyone, tries to reason and so on. It all sounded very monotonous. We tried to come up with some flaws or complexes for this character, but then we decided that Nikita's hero would be a very solid person who achieves his goal. There were fears that it would be boring, but Nikita managed to break through it. For example, Askar Ilyasov, being an incredibly charming person, plays the same good, charming doctor, and this role is quite understandable. It was harder for Nikita, and, one might say, he managed in spite of himself.
In general, it is difficult for me to single out anyone. Ivan Dobronravov played one of the most dramatic roles - the father of a deceased child and the husband of an infected woman, and he pulled out this drama. Nikolai Schreiber did an excellent job with the role of that same zero patient. In my opinion, we had a great casting.
- There is a lot of music in the series and there is even an episode in which the ensemble performs. You once filmed a video for the "Zveri" group. Perhaps the memories came flooding back?
It was pleasant nostalgia. For the concert scene in the club, we found a Kalmyk band that did a cover of One Way Or Another by the legendary Blondie. I directly felt the atmosphere of that time and got great pleasure from shooting. In general, the choice of music was not easy. It seems that she should convey time, be familiar, but at the same time not turn into a stamp. I had to balance when choosing tracks. The original music was written by Igor Vdovin, and he also faced a difficult task. At first we tried to strengthen the script with all sorts of directorial techniques, but then we realized that no attractions, no bloated melodramas or tragedies would work here. The drama in the script works without pressure on the viewer. And in the music, too, softness should have manifested itself, some kind of Soviet shade, restrained intonation, no pathos. After all, the viewer feels when they are trying to sell something to him. We tried to just tell the story honestly.