The Never-ending Story

A Russian director recreates a city for a film-and-method-acting-project about an anti-Stalinist Nobel Prize-winning quantum physicist with philandering issues

01 October 2012
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ON THE OUTSKIRTS OF THE DRAB, industrial city of Kharkiv in northeastern Ukraine, a vast wooden box spills out of a three-storey brick building that houses The Institute, a film set that is trying hard to be a perfect replica of a 1950s-1960s Soviet city.

The Institute is the brainchild of the 37-year-old enfant terrible director, Ilya Khrzhanovsky, an unruly-mopped, bespectacled, anarchic and flamboyantly imperious scion of a film family, who has so far managed to convince enough European investors to bankroll his brutal and baroque movie project/human experiment that has been in the making since 2006.

The actors live their roles day and night, literally: the heavy serge clothes, the slop pretending to be food, the grey, suspicious, furtive drone look of the reluctant stalinista. Anybody found balking at or trying to buck the historical dynamics of this time-warp is fined 1,000 hryvnia (about $12 3.5) and often flat-out fired.

Sergey Maximshin has worked for major international newspapers and magazines including The TimesTIMENewsweekParoolLiberation and Washington Post.

Keywords: film set Ukraine photo essay The Institute Soviet 1950s 1960s