proof of talent: Olga Onišenko

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olga onisenko

She is frail and looks a little bit pale, so natural in her dissimulating modesty. This is Olga Oniščenko alias Lisa from the film Granny by Lidia Bobrova. Dissimulation is just one constant aspect of her acting career and modesty she defines as just being sure of values she stands for. Nowadays it is uncommon to meet an actress who is so in touch with her own self and who so easily lets go of the inner parts of her personality in order to accomplish a character in her entirety. One can recognize the Russian soul of this actress – it is so full of passion, compassion and overwhelming generosity with which she acts and spreads her talent on stage or behind camera.

Was it difficult for you to play Lisa, the leading part in Granny?

This part was very important for me, much more than the parts in my previous films. It was like a penitence for all the sins I`ve done inasmuch as I found a way to say sorry for my sins in front of my loved ones. One feels guilty towards ones family or friends, because you live with them, you`re used to them and sometimes they are already gone and behind them remains this feeling of fault regarding everything that we could have done together but we didn`t. My character is a journalist very much in touch with reality, even with the war. She is someone very human, someone who rejects all artificialities, like posing nicely for the television with politicians. She wants to be near people and this is an ideal desire for a journalist to have. The most difficult for this journalist is that she feels like a stateless person, one who meets life and problems in a way that can be identified by other people as well. She is a woman with no family, but she is so human in relating with people and helping them. She is always there where there is a problem, like the war for instance. She is always in touch with her own emotions and has nothing else besides this.

With all the personal involvement in this film, how easy would it be for you to experience a part as powerful and important once again?

I don`t know. The most difficult thing for me was to act besides non-professional actors such as the grandmother. One has to share their fears, their emotions. Something that is also interesting with this film is that the cast had other professional actors besides me and that they had the same problem as I did. But I loved this experiment because it was so much close to me, my own life and the story of it.

In our days it is much more difficult for an actress to give her best - I`m referring to the quality of scripts …

There are not enough good scripts. Also, for instance in Russia, there are a lot of dilettantes in the film business, amateurs that came from everywhere. Most scripts lack vision. Granny is an exception, because Lidia Bobrova’s actual profession is screenwriting. When I read the script I was very impressed with the literary value of it.

I can imagine how difficult it was to make this kind of very artistic film. How did the director manage to find the money to shoot it?

It was even more difficult since the director was a woman. We had to make huge efforts to find money and because of it I think the shooting was so very pressing, a short process in which Lidia Bobrova invested her own money. It`s not a commercial film, we had a very small budget, some 300.000 dollars. There were situations in which there was only one shot to be made therefore we did not have any rehearsals before it. We shot the film in February and there was a lot of snow, so we asked ourselves what are we going to do? Are we going to stop and wait until the next year to continue? Then, however, we got lucky and we managed to finish the film.

In every transitional country it is usually very hard for culture to impose true cultural models. What is happening in Russia? Are there special problems?

What shocked me after the fall of Soviet Union was that in 1993 there were only six films made in the whole year. This is a kind of a tragedy. Today, things are getting better and the producers are more enthusiastic in investing in films. Now, the problem that we have is that the entire system of producing is not professional. Good productions do not exist anymore. Maybe the most particular problem for Russia is distribution. The former system was a centralized one for the Soviet Union. Now, however, it`s very difficult to bring Russian films to the ordinary people and they are no longer seen outside the country.

Can we talk about a new Russian cinema after the fall of the Soviet Union?

It is very difficult to talk about a new Russian cinema because I`m very nostalgic. When I`m thinking of the masters of the seventh art of the ancient era - talents like Tarkovski, but I could also give other examples – I realise that there is no great personage in the Russian cinema nowadays, one that would be as remarkable as his or her forerunners from the ancient regime.

Do you feel that today there is more prejudice concerning actresses from the producers, directors and even the public regarding rather their looks and not their talent?

For me it is very sad to follow the example set by Hollywood. It is not at all necessary for Russian cinema or other Eastern European countries to try to follow it. I don`t like all those films about criminals or gangs and I believe a real hero can be also a very ordinary person. I don`t like all those new modern heroes. I believe that a director has a very important mission. This is to communicate ideas. I just simply don`t understand what ideas can be transmitted to the public in stories about the nouveau riches or about very poor people. I believe that the we once made films on universal subjects, but now we make films about the explosions of cars and for two hours we see murders, rapes or corruption. I don`t like this type of action films. I`m very attentive to scripts that I receive and I reject castings.

Has the artistic vision or approach in making a film any chance in the future?

I`ve recently participated in a film festival on new Russian film in Warsaw. After I saw one particular film there I just cried. This film was about the nouveau riche and how they learn how to use a gun and then they become more courageous and they kill people and they get richer and richer. How can a popular actor that has the chance to choose his or her projects be doing such a film? I still believe that cinema functions as a model for the public and its attitudes. I believe that the audience rejected this film.

As an actress one has to be very sensitive and versatile, but don`t you think sometimes that reality is just consuming her energy?

I`m very happy and I thank the fate that gave me the possibility of being part of Granny, to work with Lidia Bobrova. Her vision of art is certainly common to us both. I hope my destiny will bring me some other gifts like this. I`ve travelled in Ural mountains and in Siberia to see special projections of this film. I`ve seen common people, hard-working people who bearly earn enough to live on, people whose life is very difficult. When I came back to Moscow I just have this strong feeling and I just sat for a while thinking how is it possible that in the same country where there are great problems of corruption and poverty, people from small towns can be still honest and caring about others. I`ve talked to people that I`ve met in the Urals and they told me that they had enough of commercial films or action films and they were nostalgic for human stories and films, much more in touch with human emotions. And I was so very happy because of this.

As an actress who is generous with her emotions and enjoys taking risks with every character she plays, Olga Onisenko has an important role to perform. She is helping the public get in touch with true values and to forget the shortcuts to their own selves. Versatile and yet so very sure of her own values, this Russian actress, manager of a theatre and founder of the Festival of Sankt Petersburg, is just a proof that even in the hopeless state of mind that one could have about the crazy world, art and culture will always be a fare for humanity.