Showcasing "the most insane film shoot of all time," the mysterious and ambitious "Dau" project by director Ilya Khrzhanovsky was set to open in Paris after a Berlin rebuff. It was however postponed at the last minute.
In Berlin last October, the Dau project was to install a replica of the Berlin Wall that would have blocked an area surrounding the German capital's historic central boulevard, Unter den Linden. But authorities refused to approve the project in the tourist mecca due to security concerns.
Now the huge immersive theater project, dubbed "the Soviet Truman show" and exploring 30 years of Soviet history from 1938 to 1968, is set to be shown in Paris.
Instead of blocking an entire neighborhood, visitors to the Paris show are to be led through two neighboring theaters —Theatre du Chatelet and Theatre de la Ville — as well as at the Centre Pompidou. However, the project, planned to run from January 24 to February 17, was postponed at the last minute for technical reasons.
"The Paris police did not provide its authorization, so we had to postpone," a member of the team told press agency AFP. "A new meeting between our technicians and the prefecture will take place tomorrow (Friday)." No further details were provided.
'The most insane film shoot of all time'
The installation is to provide the outcome of the already legendary Dau film project by Russian director Ilya Khrzhanovsky, which would make its world premiere as part of the Paris show.
A decade ago, Khrzhanovsky recreated a closed Stalinist society in Kharkov, a city of 1.4 million in the east of Ukraine. Participants interrupted their own lives to spend several years living in the 12,000-square-meter fake city known as "The Institute." They were to dress and behave according to the strict rules of the community where a Soviet-era totalitarian regime was recreated.
Some 700 hours of footage were collected through the experiment; 13 feature films as well as several series were reportedly made out of the material. The Paris event will provide one of the first opportunities for the general public to discover the unique footage.
In an article for GQ magazine in 2011, journalist Michael Idov wrote that the project was rumored to be "the most expansive, complicated, all-consuming film project ever attempted." Idov depicted the director as "a mix of the lofty and the louche."
Meanwhile, the Telegraph newspaper described the project as "the most insane film shoot of all time."
Khrzhanovsky based his Dau film epic on the story of Nobel Prize-winning physicist Lev Landau, whose life was filled with stories of sexual experiments, periods of psychiatric hospitalization and a dramatic car crash.
Violence, sex — and breakfast
Part of the legend surrounding the film that ostensibly portrays The Institute inhabitants (who are actors) in their daily lives, is the inclusion of extremely violent situations said to reflect an authoritarian society.
Pornographic material was rumored to be part of the filming as well, but executive producer Martine d’Anglejan-Chatillon denied this.
"When people live together for three years in a confined space, they have lots of sex. I can report that," she told Screen Daily magazine.
This sex may sometimes have been filmed, she added, but so were scenes of "people having breakfast, people cleaning cars, people driving down the streets or cooking or all sorts of things. There is no hierarchy there in the value of their actions."
Intriguing star performers
Celebrity musicians and composers are involved in the project. Conductor Teodor Currentzis, who also played the lead role of Lev Landau in the film, is set to perform live with his orchestra in Paris. Robert del Naja of Massive Attack and Brian Eno have created acoustic installations for the show as well.
Performance artist Marina Abramovic, opera director Peter Sellars and Peruvian shaman Guillermo Arevalo Valera are also said to be among the participants in the project — along with many leading international scientists and artists.
Gerard Depardieu, Isabelle Huppert, Isabelle Adjani, Willem Dafoe, Monica Bellucci and Fanny Ardant were among the stars who recorded voice-overs for the Russian films.
Read more: Teodor Currentzis, the classical rebel
Controversial in Berlin
Beyond the fact that a more elaborate security concept would have needed to be approved in Berlin, the few details revealed in the run-up to the Dau project caused a stir in Germany.
Rebuilding the Berlin Wall to recreate a totalitarian system was viewed skeptically by critics who viewed it as a "Disneyfication" of Stalinism.
The controversy was further fueled when Berlin's Tagesspiegel newspaper reported that multimillionaire businessman and philanthropist Sergey Adoniev — who is reportedly close to Putin's circle — was a main backer of the Dau project.
The costs of the Berlin project were estimated at €6.6 million ($7.7 million).
Berlin's mayor, Michael Müller, told the Berliner Zeitung newspaper on Friday that he regretted that the Dau project could not be held in the city and said that "Maybe, if the organizers are interested, we could give it a second chance."
Visas, surveillance devices and shamans
Organizers of the Paris reincarnation hope to attract up to 50,000 visitors — who will need to acquire rather expensive tickets, called "visas," to be allowed to visit the Dau installation. A six-hour ticket will cost €35 ($40), while a 24-hour pass (€75) and unlimited tickets (€150) are also available.
Organizers said that visitors who have bought a visa for January 24 or 25 will be refunded or able to come back at a later date.
Visitors will be asked to give up their smartphones in exchange for another that will guide them through the show and "serve as a surveillance mechanism," according to organizers. Along the way, they will encounter clergymen, shamans, philosophers and scholars of different world faiths.
After Paris, the immersive show is set to move on to London.