War and Cinema: Week #6: Oleksandr Steshenko, Kateryna Libkind, Pavlo Yurov, Roman Himey, and Yarema Malaschuk, In Memory of Antonina Nikolayevna on Lost Love | War and Cinema: Week #6
Wednesday, July 22—Tuesday, July 28, 2020
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Oleksandr Steshenko, Kateryna Libkind, Pavlo Yurov, Roman Himey, and Yarema Malaschuk, In Memory of Antonina Nikolayevna on Lost Love (still), 2018.

Join us on e-flux Video & Film for the online premiere of Oleksandr Steshenko, Kateryna Libkind, Pavlo Yurov, Roman Himey, and Yarema Malaschuk’s In Memory of Antonina Nikolayevna on Lost Love (2018), on view from Wednesday, July 22 through Tuesday July 28, 2020.

In Memory of Antonina Nikolayevna on Lost Love will screen as the postscript to War and Cinema, a program that focuses on the margins of filmmaking during wartime—specifically in, and about, Ukraine. On the surface, it might appear that this film, dealing with love, normalcy, and domestic violence, has nothing to do with the rest of the program, apart from the fact that it shares the same country of origin.

The film was created by a collective of artists and filmmakers as an adaptation of a script written by Oleksandr Steshenko, a Kyiv-based playwright diagnosed with Down syndrome. For years, Steshenko has been active with Kyiv’s Parostky Theater, which stages plays performed by actors with special needs. He is also an avid fan of Ukrainian and Russian family drama TV series. For his play In Memory of Antonina Nikolayevna on Lost Love Steshenko appropriates the form, language, and conventions of those TV dramas to deliver a scathing critique of a so-called normal, mentally stable society with the nuclear family at its core. The original script’s specific language and grammar, characteristic of Steshenko’s writing, have been fully preserved by the filmmakers. Importantly, the film adaptation also mobilizes soap opera aesthetics (including hiring some of the local TV stars of this genre) to fully represent the feeling of estrangement that marks Steshenko’s writing. Through this estrangement, the society of “normal humans” is revealed to function as an endless, bizarre war of all against all—an appropriate note with which to conclude this program.

In Memory of Antonina Nikolayevna on Lost Love is presented here alongside an interview between the playwright Oleksandr Steshenko and artist Kateryna Libkind. The film and interview are the sixth and final installment of War and Cinema, a program of films, video works, and interviews convened by Oleksiy Radynski, and comprising the second cycle of Artist Cinemas, a long-term, online series of film programs curated by artists for e-flux Video & Film.

War and Cinema will run for six weeks from June 17 through July 29, 2020, with each film running for one week and featuring an interview with the filmmaker(s) by Radynski and other invited guests. 

To mark the conclusion of War and Cinema, all the films that were featured in the program will be available again for a 24-hour repeat screening on the last day—on Wednesday, July 29 from 12 am till 11:59 pm EST.

Kateryna Libkind in conversation with Oleksandr Steshenko

Kateryna Libkind (KL):
The film’s online premiere will be launched on an international platform, so lots of people will read our interview.

Oleksandr Steshenko (OS):
Okay. In Belarus too?

KL:
I think so.

OS:
Good.

KL:
How are things going, Sasha?

OS:
Fifty-fifty. Fifty is okay, and the other fifty—even better. Oh, what can I say, no one appreciates. Remember your conversation with my mom? About me writing some kind of nonsense?

KL: 
How did it start—why did you decide to write?

OS: 
I experienced a situation. The woman I loved left me—Antonina Nikolayevna. It’s all her fault. Thank you to Antonina Nikolayevna for making me become a scriptwriter. 

KL: 
How did she make you become a scriptwriter?

OS: 
It’s all about my love. All for love. Because no one was in favor of us—everyone was against us. But I’m really grateful to this woman. She gave me love, friendship, kindness, caresses, and understanding. 

KL:
Had you read any film scripts before? Did you have any favorite scriptwriters?

OS: 
No. Come on, don’t get me wrong. I just want to lift your Ukrainian cinema from its knees... What’s so funny?

KL:
I'm just thinking about cinema on its knees…

OS:
Laugh all you want, but look at what they’re filming in Ukraine, excuse me… There are good scriptwriters and there are bad scriptwriters. 

KL:
Which ones are good?

OS:
The ones who write family dramas. That’s it.

KL: 
What’s most important for you in a script? What do you focus on when you write?

OS: 
All of the vital problems of society. Because life gives us different situations, I write only as long as I’m inspired. I write about what’s disturbing society, what hurts in society, what some of us in society are going through.

KL:
So what’s disturbing society?

OS:
It’s about love. Well, also: empty pockets, alcoholism, drugs, prostitution—well, different situations.

KL:
I wanted to talk to you about the film In Memory of Antonina Nikolayevna on Lost Love. When you found out that we were going to make it into a film, what did you imagine?

OS:
I expected that someone in society would understand me. 

KL:
Do you think it worked?

OS:
Yes, I think yes.

KL:
And what didn’t work? What didn’t you like?

OS:
I didn’t like the swear words.

KL:
But these were your words.

OS: 
Well yes, that was me. Well, Kate. Okay. Yes.

KL: 
Maybe there was something missing for you. If you’d been present on the film set, and if you weren’t just the scriptwriter but also directing this film, what would you have done differently?

OS:
Well if there was something missing for me, it was in this Antonina character—the female hysteria. 

KL:
In which moments?

OS: 
When she’s in the hospital.

KL: 
Then, she’s crying.

OS:
Yes, but it wasn’t enough for me. 

KL:
Didn’t you believe her?

OS:
Yes, well, (mocking Antonina’s voice), he’s dying, so let him die.

KL:
Remember when the film premiered in Kyiv and we were watching it together on a big screen?

OS:
Yes, my mom was there as well.

KL:
Yes, she was. You were really worried, I had to hold your hand so you wouldn’t run away.

OS:
Yes, yes, yes, yes, I remember, I remember. I had a reaction. I was in shock, and my mom was surprised her son could write something like this. 

KL:
What were you worried about, exactly?

OS:
Rumors. 

KL:
What kind of rumors?

OS:
That rumors will spread. About my romance with Tonya (Antonina, the film’s lead character. — Ed.)

KL:
But as far as I know, you like rumors. You like being discussed—as you say, “picked apart.”

OS: 
Well, if it is about me and my work as an actor—yes. But if it concerns my private life—no.

KL:
I see now. Immediately after the film we talked to you and your mom and you stopped worrying. 

OS:
Mom, mom... oh... it hurts to remember. Afterwards, I was afraid they’d kick me out of the theater.

KL:
Why?

OS: 
Just believe me. All of it is my autobiography. I watch and watch, and still my heart hurts. I cry, and weep, and my heart hurts, and my soul hurts.

KL:
I understand.

OS:
I can’t do anything about it.

KL:
And what makes you happy about this film?

OS:
Well, everything, everything, Kate—everything! Oh, I think you did really well, you raised such an important topic and situation [in the film]—husbands who beat their wives for adultery. If your wife cheats on you, you can talk about it, trumpet it in the mass media, write about it in the newspapers and fashion magazines, go to psychiatrists—but you should never raise your hand against your wife.

KL:
Yes. And after In Memory of Antonina Nikolayevna on Lost Love you started to write about different things. Like in your script International Doors into Ukraine (2019). 

OS:
Yes. It was about politics. I wrote about their attitudes toward us—the powers, the states.

KL:
I also know you don't want to write about political issues anymore. I remember Pasha Yurov once asked you if you want to write anything about Donetsk? But you said you didn't want to.

OS:
Because I'm scared for my people. For the people who are close to us. I'm scared.

KL:
Why exactly?

OS:
I’m scared that they will be killed, imprisoned by the state.

KL:
A lot of people discuss politics.

OS:
Kate, I understand—but here comes coronavirus, here comes the war between Russia and Ukraine. This is not mine. With regards to Lugansk and Donetsk—no. To Crimea—no. I don’t want to. 

Do you work with Belarusians?

KL:
I haven’t yet.

OS:
Will you?

KL:
I don’t know.

OS:
You should keep this in mind—collaborating with Belarusians. 

KL:
I will. I’ve got one last question, Sasha. How would you like to die? Under which circumstances?

OS:
Only on the stage. And everyone, everyone should know. The audiences of the four countries: Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, Georgia.

-
Oleksandr Steshenko is a playwright and actor who works in theater and film. As an actor, he has participated in various international theater festivals, and appeared in a number of films, including Myroslav Slaposhpytsky’s multi-award-winning The Tribe (2014). Since 2001, he acts in Parostky Theatre in Kyiv; and since 2018, he collaborates with Atelier Normale, a project by artists with or without Down syndrome.

Kateryna Libkind is an artist based in Kyiv, Ukraine. Her artistic practice engages a variety of media, including painting, video, installation, performance, and stage art. Katya is a co-founder of Atelier Normale, a project by artists with or without Down syndrome, and a member of Montage art-group. Building on processuality, borderline candidness, and an intuitive, direct emotional experience of reality, her work touches on issues of personal boundaries and conditionality of perception, and the ideas of norm, beauty, and art.

For more information, contact program@e-flux.com.

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