POV: What inspired you to make Belarusian Waltz?
Andrzej Fidyk: A few years ago I was working in cooperation with a Norwegian human rights organization, and they had an idea to make a couple of films about countries that have problems with human rights. I started thinking about Belarus, which is still a totalitarian state. So I asked a journalist dealing with Belarusian issues for advice on finding a subject, and someone told me there is an extremely interesting guy fighting against the Lukashenko regime named Alexander Pushkin. I read some articles about him, I met him and I realized he was a great character for the film.
POV: Tell us more about Alexander Pushkin.
Fidyk: Alexander Pushkin is a Belarusian painter who lives in a small town called Bobr. He’s a natural-born performer, and he “performs” against the totalitarian regime of Belarusian President Lukashenko. Whenever he performs in this way, he is arrested, but then the police let him go. And a couple of months later, he organizes another performance.
Pushkin is a complicated man. On the one hand, he is a hero, fighting for freedom in Belarus. On the other hand, he is not as good a person as everyone wants him to be. He is charming, clever and strange, but there are also some dark sides to him. When we began shooting, I thought that he was too good to be a real character, but later, he himself took us to see his former lover, and there we saw the much darker side of him. He was a perfect character for the film.
POV: One of the film’s most fascinating moments is when we see Pushkin’s cruelty toward his former mistress and his daughter. What does that scene reveal about him in the context of the rest of the film?
Fidyk: During the rest of the film, we know Pushkin as a lone hero who is fighting against a totalitarian system. But suddenly, during that scene, we see that his big political thoughts are nothing; they don’t hold up against his personal attitudes. He has destroyed his former lover, and he doesn’t feel sorry for her at all. He never wanted to meet his daughter and acts like his daughter doesn’t exist. That scene reveals that as a man, he turned out to be a different person than he was as a political hero.
After we shot that scene, we — the film crew — were really angry with him. We asked him “How could be such a bad father? Why didn’t you ever think about your daughter?” He responded as if he didn’t really understand our questions. And part of it was because his former lover was a Russian woman, and he hated Russians. His daughter, then, is the daughter of a Russian woman to him, and that’s why he never even thinks of his daughter. Despite the fact that he had no problems having an affair with a Russian woman, he never thought he could actually be in a relationship with a Russian woman because of his own prejudices.
POV: Do you have any insight into why the Belarusian political system is still a totalitarian system?
Fidyk: The biggest tragedy of contemporary Belarus is a paradox that I still can’t understand. Belarusians know about things going on in the rest of the world; they have full contact with other countries. The citizens know that there are possibilities for democracy, but they vote for Lukashenko. They chose totalitarianism. I don’t understand it. I’m not sure anyone understands it.