Thursday, 16 March 2017

Why are European countries lining up for the new Zvyagintsev film?

Andrey Zvyagintsev, creator of the critically acclaimed Leviathan, said his new film, Loveless, set a sales record at the Berlin film market, and was bought for release by all major European countries. 

"In Berlin, deals were signed with companies from the U.K., Spain, Denmark and Finland. Rights for all European territories have been sold. What remains is to close several deals with companies from Asia and Latin America," said producer Alexander Rodnyansky at the end of the film market.

Distributors, however, have not seen a single frame of this new film by the Russian winner of the Cannes and Venice film festivals. This is because Loveless is not ready yet, and it's not clear whether Zvyagintsev will complete it by the second half of May - its world premiere is expected to be in the main competition at the Cannes Film Festival.

To clarify the situation, RBTH caught up with Zvyagintsev, who told us how the idea for his new film came about and why he's anxious about the result.

After the success of Leviathan you were going to make a big film about World War II. But you're now making a completely different movie, aren’t you?

A minor correction: I was planning a film about the War even before Leviathan. It's a long-standing idea, with a written script, and I'm ready to start filming it at any time. Unfortunately, not everything depends on my desire because the project is expensive – we're talking about $15-$18 million. It will be extremely difficult for the producer to recoup that sort of money. So, I don't yet know if this film will happen in the near future.

So what is your new film about?

It's the story of a family living through serious moments in their life, as the husband and wife split. I'd like this film to be compared to Ingmar Bergman's Scenes from a Marriage. Practically throughout the whole six episodes, 45 minutes each, all you see on screen are just the two actors - Josephson and Ullmann. And you can’t tear yourself away from the screen.

His characters are people who think and talk. She, as was fashionable in the 1960s, keeps a diary and reads out excerpts from it. Those scenes show that intelligence, the ability to analyze, civility and refinement cannot prevent a terrible catastrophe.

The idea for Loveless grew from this, and I will be honest with you - I have long been partial to that film by Bergman. Oleg Negin, who writes the scripts for all my films, discussed with me the idea of examining a marriage crisis when people who have been married for 10-12 years cannot go on living together. In the script there's an event that dispels the tangle of contradictions between the characters - their child goes missing.

At what production stage is Loveless currently?

Filming was supposed to be completed by spring 2017. Alas, Moscow weather interfered. The film takes place in Moscow, when it's warm, and so we need grass and leaves on the trees. We started filming in August and were hoping to finish by November, but it started snowing in the middle of October and the snow has remained since. So, we had to halt shooting, and we're now waiting for April in order to finish filming everything that needs to be completed.

Unfortunately, all this creates certain difficulties, and that's why I started editing even though I had never done so before the completion of filming. I always edit my films sequentially - from the first scene to the last. Since editing determines the rhythm of a film, and rhythm is the musical form of a film, I think it's a mistake to suddenly launch into the 40th minute of a film and start editing it from there. But the circumstances are such that we're forced to make this mistake. It worries me, but I think we'll cope.

After your films, the Russian actors in them become famous internationally: Nadezhda Markina was nominated for a European Film Award for her role in Elena, while Elena Lyadova, the star of Leviathan, also became a well-known face. At the same time, you rarely cast actors who have worked with you before. Is this one of your principles as a director?

I never know who will star in my films. There has been just one exception: Oleg Negin and I knew that the role of the town mayor in Leviathan would be played by Roman Madyanov.

Sometimes, I deliberately do not want to work with an actor who has been in my film before, but then life suddenly interferes. Such was the case, for example, with Konstantin Lavronenko. He acted in my first film, The Return, which unexpectedly became an international festival hit, winning the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival.

That success, of course, put a lot of pressure on me, and I wanted to make sure that with my second film I'd not be accused of repeating myself. So for the main role in my next film, Banishment, I looked for a young actor since the character is supposed to be in his early 30s. But the longer I searched, the clearer it became to me that my prejudice against Lavronenko was groundless, and when I finally invited him for an audition, it all came together - it was his part. Yet, it so happens that apart from Kostya there is just one more person whom I have cast in a big role more than once. 

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