I.Mykolaychuk in the role of Taras Shevchenko in the film Son («Dream»).
protagonist I play in cinema I look for his spiritual
roots, for his compassion and desire to overcome his own
weaknesses, even at the terrible price of death...I wish
a film could be made in accordance with the same laws
that regulate writing of music... I wish I could make a
film that could be understood without any words, like
music... The most important, personality-shaping things
come into a person's heart before he is fifteen, while
his heart is open to God and nature and singing of the
birds and whispering of grass..."
|Cinema is just a
hundred years old but at the end of the twentieth century
it seems to have become one of the major arts. Many
people would claim it is the most popular of all the
arts. Cinema has produced its geniuses, both actors and
directors. One of the most remarkable films made in
Ukraine was «The Shadows of the Forgotten Ancestors.»
It was directed by Serhiy Paradzhanov and was released in
the mid-sixties. The film was based on a novel of the
same name, written by Mykhailo Kotsubynsky, a prominent
Ukrainian writer of the late 19th century. The film
earned a measure of international fame and received
dozens of awards. Paradzhanov could have easily become
one of the leading film directors of the second half of
the twentieth century but the Soviet authorities arrested
him on false charges and put him into prison. The real
reason of Soviet regime's disapproval was «a pronounced
nationalistic tendency» of Paradzhanov's film. One of
the leading roles in the film was played by Ivan
Mykolaychuk, then a young Ukrainian actor.
The film is a highly poetic story of love and death. The eternal theme of too great a love ending tragically in death is played against the enchantingly beautiful background of the forested Carpathian Mountains of Western Ukraine. Mykolaychuk's was a very difficult role to play as he had to fit the character of a hapless Hutsul into a romantic mould. A snow-bound Hutsul (Hutsuls are an ethnic group of Western Ukrainians) village becomes a scene of passions of love and hatred which are displayed with graphic vividness.The absurdity of petty quarrels, of black envy and of untimely death is heightened by the purity of love and pristine, majestic beauty of nature. Shortly before death the man Mykolaychuk plays dances an exceptionally moving dance of dying. One can't help admiring a great talent of the actor who managed to do it so terrifyingly convincingly.
I. Mykolaychuk in the film Zahar Berkut.
I. Mykolaychuk in the film Propala Hramota
|Yury Ilyenko, who was the director of potography in Paradzhanov's film and later became a film director in his own right, has many stories to tell about the film (which was renamed Fire Horses when it was shown in the West) and the actor who played the main role in it. Mykolaychuk had something special in him as an actor and as a person and it came out both in films and in life. Once, Ilyenko relates, when Mykolaychuk was in Bulgaria, a French film crew arrived at the studio where the shooting of the film Mykolaychuk was engaged in, was taking place. Among the Frenchmen was Jean-Paul Belmondo, a movie star, who was introduced to Mykolaychuk. Belmondo had seen Fire Horses and was in raptures over it. Not only did he like the film immensely in general he appreciated Mykolaychuk's actor's talent in particular. The Frenchman invited the Ukrainian to join him at a bar at the end of the day when the shooting was over. Belmondo refused an offer of getting an interpreter to help them conduct a conversation, saying that he and Mykolaychuk seemed to be good enough actors to be able to understand each other without a go-between, adding that if they didn't, then there was nothing to being a professional actor. They met in the bar and spent the whole evening, sipping whatever it was they had ordered and talking silently.|
|They had enjoyed each other's company greatly, feeling that they communicated to each other something extremely profound and meaningful and that they had become close friends. Ilyenko also reported another instance of «mute talking.» He was taking a walk with Mykolaychuk through the streets of a small town in the Western Ukraine and at one point he noticed a group of kids intently watching them. There was something strange about the children but what it was Ilyenko could not understand at first. Mykolaychuk looked penetratingly at them and suddenly, having realized the children were mutes and were excited by seeing famous people so close, began «talking» to them in gestures, using the sign language of the dumb. It was uncanny how Mykolaychuk was able to pick up the language so fast. The kids happily replied, also silently of course, and took Mykolaychuk to their boarding school (a specialized school for deaf and dumb) where he «talked» to the deaf schoolchildren for a long, long time, in an eerily quiet classroom.|
Mykolaychuk was born in Chortoryia, a tiny Hutsul hamlet in a Western Ukrainian area called Bukovyna, a week before the Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union of which Ukraine was then a part. It was a typical Ukrainian family, with ten children, and in his young years Mykolaychuk did not show any special talents. At the age of thirteen he started his working career as a rafter. He took logs, which were manoeuvred into position and fastened together to form rafts, down foamy, rapid mountain rivers. Rafting is something that the Hutsuls have been doing since times immemorial. Later he went to study at a medical school. He sang beautifully, played the accordion, in fact learned to play many musical instruments, including harp. Probably it was then that he realized that his ambition was to become an actor and he eventually, after some training at the Chernivtsi Drama Theatre, got himself matriculated at the Kyiv Institute of Theatrical Arts. His life took a sharp turn when after some tests at the Kyiv Dovzhenko Film Studio that the director Paradzhanov who was running as he was looking for actors to play in his film Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (Fire Horses), exclaimed: «Eurica! This Mykolaychuk is exactly what I need! His acting is superb!» After the release of the film not only did he become famous but many movie directors wanted to get him to play in their films. And he did play in many films, mostly those that continued the Ukrainian trend of poetic cinema.
The house where I. Mykolaychuk was born (the village of Chortorya).
|But at the end of the seventies the trend under the pressure from the Soviet authorities was discontinued and Mykolaychuk found himself if not exactly unemployed but being unable to do what he could do best. He turned to film directing and directed two films (Babylon XX; Such a Late and Such a Warm Autumn). In 1987, in August which turned out to be an unusually wet month that year, Ivan Mykolaychuk died of cancer.|
Ivan and Marichka Mykolaychuks.
is a man of many talents. He wrote screenplays, excellent
fiction, loved to sing Ukrainian songs and sang them in a
charming voice. In his late years he was desperately
trying to preserve his identity of a highly gifted
individual and an actor with a lyrical heart in the
stifling atmosphere of the Soviet life of the eighties.
His soul had begun to wither before his body was
afflicted with the deadly malignancy. For many years he
kept cherishing a dream of directing a film, made in the
best traditions of the Ukrainian poetic cinema but his
death put an end to this dream.
Mykolaychuk seems to have stayed all his life, very deep down in his heart, a naive boy from a small village who combined the Christian faith with very ancient pre-Christian beliefs. Hryhory Skovoroda, a remarkable Ukrainian philosopher of the 18th century, recently called by a philosophical wit «the first hippie in the Slavic lands» once said describing his own position in life: «The world has been trying hard to catch me and failed.» These words can be applied to Mykolaychuk. All his life he remained immune to the enticements, lures and temptations of a big city. He was one of those few who are tormented all their lives by the eternal questions of the purpose of our being in this Universe.
|Illustrates to article.||Reported by Andriy Vlasenko
and film critic Larysa Lemesheva