By Vladimir Kamimer
For some time now, a lot of Russians living in Berlin, who would otherwise be perfect candidates for long term unemployment, have had a job once again.
The magic word is Stalingrad. Now a major feature film.
In this 180-million mark movie production by Jean-Jacque Arnaud, the Russians are played by Russians. True, Arnaud pays the lowest rates in all of Europe for film extras, but at least it means that for a while all of them are in full-time employment. Their task is to storm Stalingrad, which has been reconstructed at Krampnitz near Potsdam. At least three Russian actors of my acquaintance claim to have been chosen by Arnaud for a lead part, that of the historically authentic sniper Vassily. All three had the honour of personal audition with the master, and all three have already entered the shooting days in their diaries.
As far as I can see, every casting agency in Berlin went looking for actors for Stalingrad. I got a call from one of them too. ‘Please send us a black-and-white-photo of yourself, 30 by 40 centimetres’, a female voice demanded. ‘But I’m not an actor,’ I objected. ‘So what are you?’ the voice asked in some surprise, evidently the casting agent supposed that every Russian in Berlin was an actor. ‘I’m a caretaker,’ I said in a spirit of protest. ‘Fine, ok, send us the photo anyway, black-and-white, 24 by 30 centimetres. Oh and by the way, you wouldn’t happen to know some really old Russian woman, say around ninety? I did happen to know one, but the casting agent already had her name.
The film had ben attracting a huge amount of attention even before shooting begins, and not only here. From Moscow, I recently heard word that Russian movie impresario Nikita Mikhalkov is toying with the idea of making the biggest and most expensive Russian war film of all time, in response to Arnaud’s project: The Conquest of Berlin. At present, I gather, contacts in government and army circles are being made, so that access to funding and permissions poses no problems. The plan is to reconstruct ruined Berlin in the Chechen capital, Grozny, and war veterans will be allowed to play a part. The Russian film, needless to say, cannot be quite so expensive, but the Russians have real cannon and a real civilian population that they can mow down-in other words, they have genuine realism on their side.
Excerpted from Russian Disco: Tales of Everyday Lunacy on the Streets of Berlin, by Vladimir Kaminer. First published 2002 by Ebury Press, an imprint of Random House.