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Loveless Director Andrey Zvyagintsev Talks Filmmaking in Russia

12 February 18 interview: Daniel Turner

Widely regarded as one of the world’s greatest living filmmakers, Andrey Zvyagintsev's latest film Loveless has already won the Jury Prize at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival.  Daniel Turner talked to the director whilst he was in Nottingham to discuss his path to making films, his storied career and his Oscar nominated new film.

Loveless has provoked strong emotional responses from audiences, what do you hope audiences will take away from the film?
I’m not a teacher, here to preach to viewers. I don’t really think about the lessons that people take away from watching my films. Just like any other film, Loveless is basically all the concentrated experience of somebody else’s emotions and reflections of life, which we offer to the viewer. They can sit on comfortable chairs and all of this is given to them on a plate but in a concentrated form. They can watch somebody else’s destiny, somebody else’s mistakes. Loveless, is all about how people communicate in their relationships. Of course it is then up to the individual, how they will take and use all the experiences they view and they will form whatever thoughts they want.

Where do the ideas for your films come from, do you begin with the story, characters or a single image?
The stories can come from anywhere, it can be a newspaper article or it can be one line, which is what happened with Elena. It can be anything at all; it can start with just a single event like what happened with Leviathan, which came from a man’s revolt in California and his demand for justice. It can be from literature, art or just your experience of life as a human being.


I think when you still have the energy, you still concentrate on what you are doing and making the best films


It was around 15 years ago now when you made your first feature The Return, do you feel you have changed as a filmmaker since then?
As you gain experience with every new film, and you work with new people who are specialists, you are building up on your experience and drawing on the experience of those around you. What it gives you is a peace, calm and a confidence that you can achieve something.

You have mentioned previously that the final scene of Loveless with Zhenya wearing the Russia sweatshirt, felt to you almost like a tribute to Nikolai Gogol’s Dead Souls. Are connections to other great pieces of art like that something you consider during the making of a film? Or are they subconscious and you only recognise them after the film is made?
Actually in this particular case, with this film it was subconscious because it was only when I was already there watching it, I thought gosh, it is actually like a nod to Gogol. I was surprised myself, as this has only happened during this particular film. But it is something probably that only Russian people will understand this connection with Gogol’s final lines. The reason I put her in those clothes for me was really a mundane reason, it was nothing special at all, I didn’t plan it, it was because in 2014 it was the Olympic Games in Sochi and for the next year, for all well to do young girls and women it was very prestigious to wear something you had bought in a specialist shop for Olympic sportsmen and women. It was very fashionable during that period and only later obviously the connection was made. After going to Cannes with Leviathan. I was travelling around the world a lot and every time you would go to the airport you would see all these Russian sweatshirts, and you would wonder is it the Olympic team travelling? It wasn’t it was just because it was so popular.

Loveless (2017) dir. Andrey Zvyagintsev

Have you always had a passion for cinema, or was there a certain film that sparked your love of cinema?
I was dreaming about being on the stage from the age of fourteen and when I was sixteen I went to a special drama school. It was only when I was already in Moscow as a student of the university specialising in theatre arts, I was probably 25 or 26 and I watched a film, Antonioni’s L’Avventura. It was this that gave me the first impetus to start dreaming more about creating films. It started with L’Avventura and that pushed me toward this dream and coincidentally in Moscow at that time they opened a museum of cinema with all the greatest films available to watch. This gave me the opportunity to learn about the history of cinema and about cinematography.

To an outsider the films you make feel very ingrained in Russian life and society, but they also resonate with audiences around the world. Have you ever been tempted to make a film outside of Russia?
I’ve never really thought seriously about it. If you see my films, Bergman’s films or films from Japan by Kurosawa or Ozu, it doesn’t really matter that they are steeped in that culture. If you are telling a sincere and honest story about human nature it will connect. The aim of each director is to create the best film, not the best film in the English language. We know a lot of examples of directors who were basically trying to catch some kind of success in Hollywood and they weren’t so successful. You need to know the culture and understand the deeper levels of the country, but then again I’m not saying never, obviously it is all possible and maybe in the future I will be making some sort of film in a foreign country, never say never.

The media was constantly making comparisons between Tarkovsky and myself

In recent years, a lot of famous filmmakers have gone on to teach film. Is that something you would ever consider? And what advice would you give to aspiring filmmakers?
I think when you still have the energy, you still concentrate on what you are doing and making the best films. I’ve never actually thought about creating my own school or teaching in one of the many famous schools, because what I will say is it is a huge responsibility. You are getting those aspiring filmmakers for maybe four years and you need to teach them for four years, so you actually need to know, what is the aim at the end? What are you doing with them? You need to have a methodology and how can I offer that when I’m just trying to find the right way for myself using my intuition.

You mentioned in a previous interview, that you once found a handwritten list of films by Andrei Tarkovsky and that he had placed a cross next to the name of Michelangelo Antonioni. You said that you understood that he had done so because Tarkovsky realised that Antonioni was where he came from. If you were to write a similar list today what filmmakers and films would you list and whose name would you put a cross next to?
It’s a very interesting question and a very difficult question. You know after our first award for The Return in Venice when we received the Golden Lion. Immediately the media in Venice were constantly referencing Ivan’s Childhood by Tarkovsky. The media was constantly making comparisons between Tarkovsky and myself obviously because of the same first name Andrey, both of our first films won the Golden Lion and they are both films about children or boys, and in some way the military. Then after all these comparisons at some point, you know after all those questions constantly repeating this comparison with Tarkovsky. I just promised myself that I will never ever talk about it again and basically this is my answer to you, but you see as hard as I try I’m still talking about it. Basically, no one will let me decide whose name I should put the cross next to.

Loveless is screening at Broadway Cinema until Thursday 15 February


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