Donatas Banionis is one of the greatest stars in the Soviet film industry. We will always remember Mr Banionis as Vaitkus in “Nobody Wanted to Die”, Ladeinikov in “Off Season”, Kelvin in “Solaris”, Goya in Conrad Wolf’s film “Goya or the Hard Path to Knowledge”, Gabriel Conroy in the Western “Armed and Very Dangerous” and finally Kletchaty in “The Adventures of Prince Florizel”.

Lithuanian actor Donatas Banionis turns 85 today.

Donatas Banionis is one of the greatest stars in the Soviet film industry. We will always remember Mr Banionis as Vaitkus in "Nobody Wanted to Die", Ladeinikov in "Off Season", Kelvin in "Solaris", Goya in Conrad Wolf's film "Goya or the Hard Path to Knowledge", Gabriel Conroy in the Western "Armed and Very Dangerous" and finally Kletchaty in "The Adventures of Prince Florizel".

He was the third member of the partnership of the Baltic heroes. The first and second members were Yuozas Budraitis and Regimantas Adomaitis respectively, actors who, because of their ethnicity, mainly played Europeans and Americans. Mr Banionis did not escape this fate, but he also played Russians, such as the intelligence agent Ladeinikov. Besides its ideological consistency, Savva Kulish's ideologically film "Off Season" was also a work of art. The actor recalls that when he met Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin, Mr Banionis asked him whether it was true that he had chosen to become an intelligence officer after seeing the film. Mr Banionis recalls that Mr Putin laughed and said, "Yes, I suppose you can say that". And no wonder: espionage with a human face has rooms for adventure, duty, and honour. Mr Banionis's hero was a flesh-and-blood person, and not a propaganda stereotype.

This is also true of his character in Andrei Tarkovsky's film "Solaris". Kelvin is a lost and desperate individual who struggles with his conscience and longing for home. Stanislav Lem, the author of the novel on which the film was based, said that the film was something entirely different from the book, something that was perhaps better. Much of the credit for this success belongs to Donatas Banionis. He could play a person crushed by the daily grind of life, but also a semi-farcical villain with devilish charm. He could play anyone and anything.

This is why he was, and continues to be, loved. In his native Lithuania, he is also remembered as one of the founders of the legendary Yuozas Miltinis dramatic theatre in Panevėžys, of which he later became the chief director. Five years ago, when asked whether he missed those days during the Soviet period, Mr Banionis, who had bitterly said after the break-up of the Soviet Union that the lack of spiritual freedom had been replaced by a lack of material freedom, replied, "I only miss my youth".

Actress and director Natalya Bondarchuk, who worked with Banionis on "Solaris", recalls "WE WOULD FIND AN OUT-OF-THE WAY PLACE AMONG THE MOVIE PROPS TO REHEARSE".
My heartfelt congratulations to Donatas. I often see him on screen, but our paths have not crossed for some time, and we have only talked over the phone. The shooting of "Solaris" was a wonderful time for all of us. I was very young, just 19, and he helped me a great deal with my part. Our director did not believe in rehearsals. Donatas was an experienced stage actor and I was a rookie, so we needed to rehearse. We would find an out-of-the way place among the movie props to rehearse. This was our secret, because in addition to not having any rehearsals, the film was shot without retakes. Kodak film was worth its weight in gold, and there were no second takes. You had to deliver everything on the first try. He had great trust in me, and that helped me very much. I wish Donatas youth in spirit. If he has any more parts, I know for sure they will be very good.


By Artyom Lipatov, Veronika Khlebnikova