Andrés Duque on Oleg y las raras artes: "A rare breed"

Oleg Nikolaevitch Karavaychuk is a 89-year old eccentric musical genius who unfortunately is not well known in the West. Venezuelan filmmaker Andrés Duque (43) pays respect to the master in the fascinating, lovingly made portrait Oleg y las raras artes.

By Anton Damen 

How much of a cultural savage am I that, before seeing this film, I'd never heard of Oleg Nikolaevitch Karavaychuk?

"He is hardly known outside Russia. Inside Russia, he is quite well known within certain circles. He has this aura of a strange guy. A lot of people hate him because he really is a nonconformist; he doesn’t want to become part of the music scene. The fact that he is not universally known has of course something to do with the fact that he was censored for a very long time, and didn’t make any records. Oleg doesn’t have a Western counterpart. There is no possible way to compare him to anything. That’s what attracted me to him. Some people think he is really a genius, and some people think he is really a clown. And I think this is precisely what makes him a true artist [laughs]."

How did a guy from Venezuela, who lives and works in Spain, come across this "madman"?

"If you look on YouTube you’ll find a video of him playing piano, with a paper bag over his head. I found that intriguing to say the least. I found out that Oleg composed the music for two films by Kira Muratova. In my opinion, she is one of the most important filmmakers ever – I have to applaud the festival for honouring her with a retrospective a couple of years ago. One of the soundtracks he made for her in the 1970s is really dear to my heart. You can find two albums by Oleg on iTunes by the way. I would suggest Waltzes & Interludes as an introduction."

Oleg strikes me as being extravagant and reclusive at the same time. Not an easy combination for the subject of a film.

"When I started research on him, and went to Russia, a lot of people were telling me that I was crazy; he would never, never accept you or accept to do a film. I found a lot of closed doors. But I'm very patient. I managed to get in touch with his producer. No, he said, he won’t do it. But after a week he called me: Andrés, are you still in Moscow? He suggested I should sit at a certain time at a certain location on a bench in the park, and he would walk by with Oleg ‘by accident’ and introduce us. A trap, if you will. As luck would have it, both I and my assistant Karina Karaeva were wearing something blue that day, as was Oleg and his companion. He immediately picked up on that, because as you see in the film he is very sensitive when it comes to clothes and material. 'Ah, what a chromatic coincidence that we are all wearing blue,' he exclaimed, 'Let us talk!' So you could say that the film happened to be made by the sheer luck of selecting the right thing from my wardrobe that morning."

Oleg y las raras artes is your third film to have its world premiere in Rotterdam. How important is IFFR to you?

"I owe everything to Rotterdam. To my own amazement they selected my debut film, which was not a very conventional film; and [they selected] my second [film] as well. The festival is an important platform and I'm sure it helps give the film an extended life. Oleg y las raras artes has already been picked up by a lot of other festivals: in the Americas, in Europa, and in Russia of course. There's also interest from two important museums. What was a different experience this time around in Rotterdam, was how the audience emotionally connected to the film. My previous films didn’t strike that specific cord. The most interesting questions I got in the Q&A afterward? Well, one audience member asked about 'she' and 'her', and was ashamed when I had to correct him that Oleg is in fact a man. Nothing to be ashamed of, as Oleg really embraces his androgynous character and his femininity. Somebody else in the public said that Oleg reminded him of Jimmy Hendrix. Which I found… interesting. But with all due respect to Jimmy, it is he who should be described as reminiscent of Oleg Karavaychuk!"

Is Oleg himself happy with the film?

"The film is a portrait, but at the same time a sort of masterclass as well. Oleg was happy that I gave him the necessary time in the film – I think that he is still under the assumption that I work for TV [laughs]. He offered to compose the soundtrack for my next film. If I will take him up on that? Of course I will!"