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Dau

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 14, 2015

For the past few years, Russian director Ilya Khrzhanovsky has been working on a film called Dau about Soviet physicist Lev Landau. Well, sort of. Khrzhanovsky had a huge set built in Ukraine containing a version of a mid-20th century Soviet research institute. For two years, he filmed hundreds of volunteers living on the set as though they were Soviet scientists.

Participants were required to live in period costume (the on-set tailor updated the fashions of the moment as required), to eat period food in period packaging, paid for in Soviet roubles, and to renounce all anachronisms, physical and verbal. No mobile phones, no internet, no laptops; no mention of the state of Israel before the on-set calendar reached 1948. News was supposed to be provided exclusively by the fully staffed on-set newspaper and the on-set radio station. Women were forbidden to wear modern tampons: Soviet-model cloth versions were made available.

When journalist Michael Idov visited the set in 2011 for GQ, even he had to be in character.

ROSENBERG: That’s when Khrzhanovsky appeared. Wearing strangely outdated clothing and spectacles, the director looked sort of like a young Albert Einstein. He would be giving Michael a personal tour of the set, but first Michael would have to be processed.

IDOV: Because you were not supposed to admit that the film shoot was in fact a film shoot. Instead, everyone was operating under the notion that it’s the ’50s. That day it was 1952. So I needed to be made into a 1952 version of myself. They took away my clothes. They gave me a new haircut with, like, temples shaved off and gave me an incredibly itchy period suit - including the underwear.

The one thing I was allowed to keep was my watch. I had a vintage watch from 1959 and after a pretty intense discussion they decided it was OK to let me keep this watch from the future.

ROSENBERG: Then Khrzhanovsky instructed Michael to give his freshly minted Soviet passport to a man guarding an otherwise nondescript hallway.

Makes me think of the play staged by Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character in Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York. (via @philgyford)