A singular entry in San Sebastian’s prestige New Directors section this year, Grigory Kolomytsev’s “Chupacabra” was put through its Ikusmira Berriak residency program in 2019.
“Spikes protruding from its sides, a dog-like snout, a massive jaw and large fangs, a species unknown to modern science, a bloodthirsty beast that hypnotizes its victims, bites into their necks and sucks their blood,” so runs a lurid news report, which fascinates the film’s nine-year-old protagonist Andrey, on an alleged monster, Chupacabra, which has attacked local poultry.
Beach combing for bottles beside the sea, Andrey is befriended by a stray dog, whom he takes for Chupacabra, and imagines when it is shot by local farmers that he, Andrey, may be the reincarnation of the mythical beast.
Set beside the Black Sea, whose barrage of waves and wind are caught in the soundtrack, Kolomytsev’s debut unspools a vivid portrait of the emotional confusion of childhood. Rejected by his drunkard father, rebuked by his dirt-poor mother for bringing no money to the table, Andrey is to all intents and purposes an orphan, even before his mother makes plans to send him to boarding school.
His only escape-valve is his own imagination – of getting to an offshore sunken barge replete with a treasure trove of bottles, of the dog being alive and his having at least one friend.
Variety talked to Kolomytsev in the run-up to the San Sebastian Film Festival.
Andrey’s imagining that he’s a reincarnation of Chupacabra reflects his sense of himself as a wild outcast, whom nobody loves. Could you comment?
Andrey doesn’t realize what Chupacabra is exactly, or what’s happening with himself. He gets his first mystical experience and the people around him don’t have this religious gift, but the young boy does. And it’s his sacred gem. On the other hand, it’s really complicated for kids as they discover adult life. Andrey is starting to realize that the world isn’t how kids see it. And he doesn’t accept the world that people around him have made. Moreover, he remains strong and brave in his solitude.
The film talks a lot about the confusions of childhood, here exacerbated by the impressionability of Andrey. When his older cousin Lena suggests that the person who buried a Chupacabra becomes one, he believes her. But that’s partly because he has no one, not his parents nor school friends, to put him right on this score.
My aim was to convey the unique moment when childhood passes. Andrey feels it and it’s one of the reasons for his behavior. He’s sticking to his child’s senses. He believes only in his imagination. There are so many circumstances which try to break his “faith.” Lena is only one in the village who can stand him, and she is part of the image of a true mother with the sea and the cave. That’s why her suggestion is important for Andrey.
The film’s story feels lived, grounded in a reality known to you. Is that true?
It was important for me to make a debut film about childhood. I grew up in the Russian south near the shores of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. That’s why I shot “Chupacabra” there, in my childhood places among kilometers of steppe. The image of the sea, the first love and religious sense are themes of my childhood.
Chupacabra is a fiction story, of course. Nevertheless, it talks about my experience.
One element which is at the film’s heart is its sound design, the constant barrage of waves, and billowing wind. Was this key for you and how did you work it?
Sound is remarkably close to memory for me. The most important thing in memories is not a color or smell. It is a sound. I try to hear a film’s sound first in pre-production. I could think about image and actors only when I have captured the sound in my imagination. In Chupacabra nature speaks with Andrey. I tried to convey this spiritual connection between the kid and space. The supernatural comes through reality.
Chupacabra describes a poverty trap. Andrey’s only escape seems to be his imagination….
Absolutely. But there’s something deeper. Andrey sees imperfection in the world at large. He really believes that his imagination could save the world. And this happens.