Thursday, 29 November 2012

Andrei Zaitsev: Idlers aka The Layabouts - Бездельники (2011)

Loafers (2011)

Director: Andrei Zaitsev
Writer: Andrei Zaitsev
Stars: Anton Shagin, Andrey Shibarshin, Alexandra Tyuftey

Loafers (2011)

This is the story of a young layabout, who leads a merry and easy life. He strums his guitar, writes songs and gets drunk with his friends layabouts. A common almost routine case of betrayal makes a radical change. A poet is born.

Awards :
Guild of Historians of Cinema and Film Critics Prize Window to Europe Film Festival, Vyborg, Russia, 2011

The Layabouts is the debut feature of documentary filmmaker Andrei Zaitsev critically acclaimed for such shorts as My House (Moi dom, 2000), Gleb (2001) and Viktor Astafiev. The Merry Soldier (Viktor Astaf’ev. Veselyi soldat, 2010). The film’s screenplay is based on, or rather inspired by, the early songs of iconic Viktor Tsoi; yet it is neither a biopic—like Todd Haynes’ I am not There (2007) or Petr Buslov’s Vysotsky. Thank God I’m Alive (Vysotskii. Spasibo chto zhivoi, 2011), nor a musical—like Julie Taymor’s Across the Universe (2007), although there is a protagonist impersonating the young rock star (played by Anton Shagin) with the suggestive name Sergei Solov’ev, the director of the cult film ASSA (1987) featuring Viktor Tsoi as well as a massive soundtrack consisting of Kino’s songs from their first underground albums 45 (1982) and 46 (1983). In The Layabouts Zaitsev ultimately rejects the shackles of biographical accuracy by boldly replacing Tsoi as a historical figure with the personal image of Tsoi’s lyrical hero created in his early songs: the image of an idle and naive romantic fully immersed in the pure and purposeless experience of life as such, beyond good and evil. As Zaitsev comments, that particular sense or state of life’s intensity and authenticity is universal: it is experienced by anyone for a short period of time in youth and is expressed most adequately in Tsoi’s early lyrics (in contrast to his later, socially critical and political songs). Zaitsev’s coming-of-age drama, therefore, is not a homage to Tsoi per se but rather to life itself, which aligns it with a series of other cult movies dedicated to the ecstatic celebration of teen spirit, such as François Truffaut’s Jules and Jim (1962), Jean-Luc Godard’s Band of Outsiders (1964), Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused (1993), Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers (2003) or even Marlen Khutsiev’s I am Twenty (Mne 20 let, 1964) and Georgii Daneliia’s I Walk Around Moscow (Ia shagaiu po Moskve, 1964).

The Layabouts was made in 2008, but had to wait for its release until 2011 due to the economic recession. As a rather typical low-budget “indie” ($300,000), the film could hardly seem commercially appealing to distributors. Its eventual release, however, was facilitated by Viktor Tsoi’s approaching 50th anniversary in 2012, which significantly stirred up public interest in his personality (and thus inspired a number of hagiographic documentaries, the Kino tribute concerts, contests on the best monument to the singer, etc.), as well as Anton Shagin’s recent celebrity status gained after more mainstream films such as Valerii Todorovskii’s Hipsters (Stiliagi, 2008) and Aleksandr Mindadze’s Innocent Saturday (V subbotu, 2010), where he played the lead role. Even though The Layabouts won the prize of the Guild of Film Scholars and Film Critics at the “Window to Europe” Film Festival in Vyborg in 2011, not all critics endorsed Zaitsev’s experimentation with genre conventions and rock mythology. The film’s main paradox, which foregrounds a contemporary teenager writing Tsoi’s songs in capitalist Moscow and thus creates a temporal confusion, was taken by some critics (e.g. Lisitsina, Barabanov) as far too artificial and historically perplexing, since the slackers of the 2000s are essentially different from those in the early 80s: the former indulge in idleness because they have everything, while the latter used to do so because they had nothing. And yet, for most critics it is this hybrid superimposition of distinct temporal and spatial orders into a new “alternative present” which is nonetheless fueled by the deep nostalgia for the youth’s irretrievable immediacy of life that appears to be the strongest achievement of The Layabouts. For example, at the 13th International Festival of Independent Film “Deboshirfilm: Pure Dreams” the film received a special award precisely for this: “for the most Muscovite Korean St. Petersburg resident Tsoi.”

Reviewed by Sergey Toymentsev © 2012 in KinoKultura

Week of Russian films opens in Berlin

Russian Film Week has opened in the German capital with the film Steel Butterfly by Renat Davletyarov. The director expressed hope this insightful and profound psychological drama would "be of interest to German viewers.”

Among other films shown in Berlin are Stories by Mikhail Segal, Idlers by Andrei Zaitsev, Conversation by Sergei Komarov, Until the Night Do Us Part by Boris Khlebnikov, and others.

Russian Film Week is hosted by the German capital for the eighth time.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Renata Litvinova: Actress and Persona

Renata Litvinova

t is unlikely that Renata Litvinova in her youth was troubled by the idea expressed at the beginning of the 20th century by Aleksandr Kugel', a literature and theater critic, that “an actor's personality is more important than the roles he plays.” Litvinova's multifaceted talents—literary and cinematic—revealed themselves during those complex years when the very concept of “personality” had lost its original meaning. Those years began with the period of perestroika, when first Soviet and then Russian filmmakers started to prefer “biographies reduced to appearances,” Sergei Eisenstein used to say; when the struggle against realistic and psychological representations of human personality on-screen was first started and then resolutely won; when the representation of personality yielded to a demonstration of typological givens and acquired the traits of the aesthetics of a masquerade. And those years, which brought massive harm to domestic filmmaking, in a strange way coincided with Litvinova's presentations of herself or, more accurately, of how she wanted to see herself.

Published in "Hello!", September 2006

There have been classic moments in various periods of the history of world cinema, when directors—seeing the concealed possibilities in someone—took on the role of Pygmalions or other great sculptors, chipping away from “blocks of stone” everything that was extraneous, creating new standards of human and artistic specimens who became known as film stars. So it was with Greta Garbo, with Bette Davis, with many of Fellini's heroines, to whose “raw material” he gave character, appearance, and style. I'm not sure about feelings and ideas, but in terms of face, figure, and clothing, the director's advice was an act of creating a new personality. In just this way, Georgii Tovstonogov discovered in Tat'iana Doronina an actress with a unique intonation, with a special slowed-down plasticity, with an expressivity that he either perceived in her natural being or he subordinated or that was completely hidden in her, but all of which the actress subsequently retained in her successful roles.

Renata Litvinova

Litvinova made herself. She made herself counter to existing templates or even their absence, counter to viewers' expectations, counter to—so it would seem—those possibilities that nature had given her. She emerged from the absolute necessity to participate in mass masquerades, sharply differentiating herself from all social brands. From her very first role, she was less an assembled than an exceptional phenomenon.

Beautiful, feminine, refined, fantastical, she could have remained simply a living artifact, a disposable phenomenon for exclusive use in cinema. But her meeting with Kira Muratova proved to be a genuinely Great Event. The director saw not only the actress' fantasticality and beauty, but most of all her otherness, her absence of grounding in reality, her breathing foreignness, which set apart the invented from the living, the artificial from the fleshly. But even before her meeting with Muratova, in Dislike (Neliubov' ; dir. Valerii Rubinchik, 1991), which was based on her own script and which became an insightful assertion of her on-screen biography, the thirty-four-year-old actress revealed in part her understanding of the goal of her search for the self. In Dislike, the heroine endlessly looks at photographs, newsreels, and films featuring the American star Marilyn Monroe. The bewitching cold eroticism; the child-like sense of the world, which, it would seem, preserved forever the beauty of the face and figure, virtually unsusceptible to the aging process; the eternal infantilism attracted everyone able to perceive the harmony of form. Perhaps it was this prompt that gave Muratova the “foundation” for cultivating the on-screen personality of the actress, although this is unlikely. The prompt for Muratova was in discovering the personality's motivations, in imparting a special meaning to the Litvinova phenomenon.

Renata Litvinova

For some reason the title of Eisenstein's article, “However Odd—Khokhlova!,” comes to mind. This great actress' star appeared on the horizon at a time when filmmakers were seeking their own road, which included every conceivable bounty—from the aspiration to create a new world on-screen to all of the forms inherent in the art of acting. Khokhlova had no equals in this game. The director Lev Kuleshov granted her inconceivable freedom because he knew about the law inherent in an actor's soul; he recognized the cultural basis of personality, which precisely grasped the permissible boundaries of its own eccentric nature. For this reason, what Khokhlova accomplished remains in the history of culture as an unsurpassed example of the great Russian tradition, which runs from Gogol' and which not only tried on but also incarnated literary, theatrical, and artistic cherished traits of a national Type…

Litvinova started as a Don Quixote. Even in her very earliest films, shot on the basis of her scripts—Dislike and A Principled and Sympathetic Gaze (Printsipial'nyi i zhalostlivyi vzgliad; dir. Aleksandr Sukhochev, 1995)—Litvinova brought to the screen an image that was so unusual that it elicited consternation, bordering on irritation. Her heroines, located in a realistic space, experience every conceivable assault on their personality—the most important of which is the impossibility of love. In uncovering the absence of love—with love serving as the guardian of the meaning of life—her heroines are inevitably condemned specifically to death because of their faith that not only is love possible, but because it is the essential cure.

The theme gradually grew larger and more tragic. Litvinova is the strange outcome of a new reality, which presented itself to her directly, as if without any cinematic context. Is this accurate? After all, what has accumulated in her are the many plots and images that appeared on screen as part of the clash between the experiments of human and type-cast actors. Yet, in spite of all of the long-established rules of filmmaking, she embodied a special substance of being—cosmic loneliness, an independence from moral norms, a peculiar amazement with what she encounters in contemporary reality, and a boundless indifference to prescribed ethical values that are already shaky. Litvinova discovered this personality on her own, without second thoughts and of her own choosing. To be expelled from the real, to become the abstract embodiment of the idea of otherness, to observe what is happening not from within the events themselves, but from a space that is mysterious to people—this was the special goal and special commitment Litvinova made, sensing it and sharpening it in Kira Muratova's artistry.

More here.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Piotr Todorovsky: Riorita - Риорита (2008)

Director Piotr Todorovsky
Cast: Dmitri Ulianov, Konstantin Vorobiev, Alexei Gorbunov, Ivan Krivoruchko, Yakov Shamshin, Anatoli Gushchin

Petr Todorovskii's latest film, Riorita, contributes yet another dark chapter to the history of the Great Patriotic War as recently depicted on the Russian screen. This tale traces the fate of the Pichugovs, a salt-of-the-earth peasant family of father and three sons during the last days of the war. Three of the four are killed, undone not by the German enemy, but by the enemy within, the former Kolyma guard Barkhatov, the film's Mephistopheles.

Riorita opens at night; it is pouring rain, and the new recruits stand unprotected for the roll call. There we meet the Pichugovs: Aleksandr Gavrilovich and his sons Arsenty, Pavel, and Sergei—as well as the ingratiating Barkhatov. The picture is in color, but most of the time it may as well be in black and white, so somber are its chromatics. The trees tower above the puny men. Sunlight rarely shines upon them. Melancholy music, including the song “Riorita” occasionally punctuates the gloom.

Barkhatov carefully weaves his webs to lure the Pichugovs. The first to fall prey to Barkhatov's wiles is an easy target, Arsentii, the handsome, self-centered eldest son. The Pichugovs are suspect, having spent most of the war in the “relative safety” of occupied territory. Life didn't change for them, father Aleksandr Gavrilovich explains to the ever-inquisitive Barkhatov. They worked the fields as they always had and gave the grain to their starosta. “ Why didn't you join the partisans?”, asks Barkhatov, feigning friendly interest. It seems that the two younger sons, Pasha and Serezha, had wanted to join, but Arsentii set out after them to drag them back, presumably with his father's approval. Arsentii is completely lacking in patriotism; he has no desire to defend either otechestvo or rodina. He is incensed that the soldiers who pressed them into service gave them only five minutes to collect their things, no time for a “proper” goodbye with his beauteous younger wife Kalia, whom he loves to distraction. Arsentii monotonously whines that Kalia will leave him because they have no children. While out on a work detail, Barkhatov whispers to Arsentii that if he were wounded, he would be sent home. Barkhatov, soft and smooth as the velvet of his name, first offers to shoot Arsentii before adding, “Or you can do it yourself.” In their first encounter with the Germans (heard but not seen), Arsentii jumps into a trench, shoots himself in the hand, and flees to the rear. The nurse who is tending him quickly realizes what he has done and runs to fetch the doctor. Arsentii melts into the forest, but not for long. Captured, he is brought before a military tribunal; cowering, begging for his life, crying out for Kalia, he is executed by firing squad as his father and brothers watch, together with the rest of their company. Tears in his eyes, a sorrowful Barkhatov grasps Aleksandr Gavrilovich's hand.

Reviewed by Denise J. Youngblood © in KinoKultura

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Russian epic 'Waiting for the Sea' opens 7th Annual Rome Film Festival

Russian epic 'Waiting for the Sea' opens 7th Annual Rome Film Festival

Russian epic 'Waiting for the Sea' opens 7th Annual Rome Film Festival
The Russian epic "Waiting for the Sea” had its premiere during opening night at the 7th Rome Film Festival at the Auditorium Parco Della Musica on November 9, 2012 in Rome, Italy. "Waiting for the Sea" was directed by Bakhtyar Khudojnazarov and stars ...

Russian Film Festival 2012: 'Kokoko' review

Russian Film Festival 2012: 'Kokoko' review - Cine-Vue:


Russian Film Festival 2012: 'Kokoko' review
Dunya Smirnova's Kokoko (2012) plays out very much like a buoyant Mike Leigh film about social class and feminism - albeit with a deeply Russian sensibility - an exploration of cultural clashes within a delightfully comic framework. Big city living and ...

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Waiting for the Sea – first look review

In anticipation of the Sea (2013)

The city of Rome traces its ancestry back more than 3,000 years, to an iron-age village on the Palatine hill, though in terms of the festival calendar the place remains a stripling – overshadowed by venerable Venice and glamorous Cannes and still struggling to find its feet. Fittingly enough, the seventh edition of the Rome film festival opened in a mood of amiable chaos, like a children's birthday party, with the red carpet swaddled in protective plastic and the delegates pinballing wildly about the site, hunting treasure up steps and down walkways.

Inside a chilly, hangar-like theatre, the festival screens Bakhtiar Khudojnazarov's Waiting for the Sea, the official opening-night picture. The doors bang open to admit late arrivals and then bang open again to release those who realise they should be next door, watching something else. The screen shows lunar landscapes, dust-blown settlements, lolloping camels. Egor Beroev plays Marat, a cocksure Kazakh fisherman who returns to his hometown years after a tragedy, only to find that the sea has receded clear out of sight. A wooden jetty now points the way to an endless, undulating desert where the rotting hulls of old vessels sit marooned on the sand. The townsfolk regard Marat as a pariah, a murderer, but he swears he'll make amends and find the crew that he lost. "I'll bring them back," he vows with a swagger. "The sea doesn't kill. It returns what it takes."

Marat's big idea is to first locate his stricken boat and then drag it inch by inch towards the sea – the sort of fool's errand that would make Fitzcarraldo proud. Along the way he is aided by the camels, by a band of long-haul truckers, and by the lissome Tamara (Anastasia Mikulchina), his late wife's sister, who loves Marat even if his heart is full of cinders and even though she's far too slender and dainty to pull a boat across the badlands. Right near the end, just at the point when we think Marat might finally reach the ocean, the door bangs open yet again to admit an elderly official carrying a canister of film. He gawps comically in the gloom, purely astonished to find the festival underway and the whole place full of people.

More here.

Muratova’s Screen Tests will be screened at International Rome Film Festival

New film by Kira Muratova Eternal Return. Screen Tests will participate in the main competition of the Seventh International Rome Film Festival. This year there are 13 film participants. In Muratova’s film one and the same scene will be played out by different sets of actors, including Renata Litvinova, Sergei Makovetsky, Oleg Tabakov, Alla Demidova, Natalia Buzko, and Vitalii Linetsky.

Film’s producer Oleh Kokhan said earlier that the screenplay is based on a true story that happened to Kira Muratova when a man, with whom she studied at university came to her and began complaining about the fact that he is torn between his wife and his mistress.

The press service of the SOTA Cinema Group Company reported that the budget of the film was more than two million US dollars.

The Seventh International Rome Film Festival will take place from November 9 through 17 in the cinema complex “Auditorium” and on other venues of the Italian capital. The artistic director of the festival this year is Marco Muller (from 2004 through 2011 he was the head of the Venice Film Festival). In addition to the main competition and non-competition program, this time there will be two more sections of the fest. Thus, the section “Cinema XXI” focuses on new trends in contemporary cinema. It will be launched with an almanac Historical Center filmed by directors Aki Olavi Kaurismaki, Pedro Costa, Victor Eris, and Manuel de Oliveira. The film is dedicated to the Portuguese city of Guimaraes which was named the European Capital of Culture 2012. The head of the jury for this program will be the artist Douglas Gordon. Another program – “Italian Perspective,” consists of feature, documentary, and short films of Italian directors. The head of the jury for this program will be the screenwriter and director Francesco Bruni.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Russian Film Festival 2012: 'Me Too' review


Russian Film Festival 2012: 'Me Too' review
A metaphysical parable for the discontent felt by those under the ominous cloud of both social unrest and the crumbling European economy, Alexei Balahanov's Me Too (Ya Tozhe Khochu, 2012) is a surprisingly droll take on Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker (1979 ...

Russian Film Festival 2012: 'Me Too' review - Cine-Vue

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Russian directors discuss their latest films


The Sixth Russian Film Festival in London began on Nov. 2. Directors of movies showing at the festival gave comments about the meanings and motivations at the heart of their films. ...

Russian directors discuss their latest films

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Soviet cinema Udarnik returns to Moscow's art scene - Russia Beyond The Headlines

Soviet cinema "Udarnik" returns to Moscow's art scene - Russia Beyond The Headlines:

Soviet cinema "Udarnik" returns to Moscow's art scene
Russia Beyond The Headlines
The legendary Udarnik (“Slugger” in Russian), “will once again become one of Moscow's cultural beacons, after disappearing from the scene for almost a decade,” said entrepreneur and Russian philanthropist Chalva Breus. The ArtChronika Foundation he ...

The Russian Film Festival Highlights

Thank you kinobuff

The Russian Film Festival Highlights:
Post by Anna Fomicheva
The 6th Russian Film Festival, which showcases the latest in Russian contemporary cinema, kicked off last Friday and will be running all week (till 11 November) primarily in London, with a few screenings in Cambridge and Edinburgh. Here’s my pick of the most interesting and exciting films to look out for.
In my interview with Voice of Russia last week I emphasised that this year’s documentary selection is the real gem of the festival. So I’ll start by looking at this category. This programme was curated by Vitaly Mansky, one of the biggest names in Russian documentary filmmaking and the president of ArtDocFest. Mansky’s latest film Iconoscope, a 100 minute history of television which focuses on the lives and careers of Dan Rather and his Soviet counterpart Igor Kirillov, is also part of the programme.

Winter, Go Away! (“Зима, уходи!”, 2012)

Directed by a group of students from the Moscow documentary film school of Marina Razbezhkina and Mikhail Ugarov Winter, Go Away! is a close, intimate look at the people in the crowds of the oppositional protests that took place in Moscow last winter following the Duma elections and in the run-up to the Russian presidential election. This documentary is not interested in taking sides or giving any kind of socio-political analysis of the events. The freshness of its approach to the protests is that it focuses on the individuals, their personal motivations and spirit.

Anton’s Right Here (“Антон тут рядом”, 2012)

The debut film of Lyubov’ Arkus, the founder and editor-in-chief of Russia’s best film magazine Seance, Anton’s Right Here has been six years in the making. It follows the life of a remarkably talented autistic boy, Anton, and his mother through the trials and tribulations which so often befall Russian families dealing with autism. The film premiered at the Venice Film Festival this year to rave reviews. The film not only raises awareness of autism and its underrepresentation in Russian media and culture, but is also a philosophical essay on human empathy and ability to connect with others.

Milana (“Милана”, 2011)

Another debut film, Milana was directed by student filmmaker Madina Mustafina. This film is not an easy one to encourage people to see, as its subject matter is so harsh. It focuses on a delightful seven year-old girl, whose parents are homeless alcoholics living in a bushy area on the side of the road in Karaganda. Mustafina follows the everyday existence of this family with a remarkable ability to be invisible. Together with the very gentle cutting and transitions Mustafina employs, it is too easy to forget that we are watching a film. It is a heartbreaking story and the scenes of Milana’s mother screaming at her child are often difficult to bear. However, I urge people to see it, as it is a testimony to the power and the world-changing potential of documentary cinema.

Inside a Square Circle (“Внутри квадратного круга”, 2011)

This 20 minute documentary, directed by Valery Shevchenko, is one of the most affecting and delightful films I’ve seen this year. Each year the biggest and most important New Year’s celebration for children (known as yolka) takes place in the Moscow Kremlin. However, almost five thousand children leaving the show all at once in order to reunite with their waiting parents outside turns this rather mundane event into a real human drama, to which you can’t help but react with laughter, frustration, sadness and delight. All in 20 minutes. Don’t miss this one.

The feature film category of the festival is packed with big names, well-established in Russia and internationally. Among those are Pavel Lungin (known for The Wedding, The Island, Tsar and his latest film is The Conductor), Aleksey Balabanov (known for Brother, Brother 2, Of Freaks and Men, his latest film is Me Too), and Boris Khlebnikov (known for Roads to Koktebel, his latest film is Till Night Do Us Part).
But here are the festival films by the directors less known outside of Russia that I would like to highlight.

 Chapiteau-Show (“Шапито-шоу”, 2011)

This is without a doubt my favourite Russian film of the last few years, and is up there with the best films of the decade. Directed by Sergey Loban, this uniqe film is rather difficult to describe. Structurally, it consists of four interconnected novellas, which by the end of the second half of the film (because of its length it was divided into two parts, which are screened as two separate movies) come together as pieces of puzzle to reveal the big picture. This kind of structure is not new, but the film’s themes, humour, music and overall spirit are unlike anything you’d ever seen. In very broad terms I would describe it as postmodern kaleidoscope of cultural references, language, sounds and visuals that make up the experience of the “transitional” generation of Russians, i.e. people who were born in the 1970′s and came out of age after the collapse of the Soviet Union. This is the film that showcases to the Western audiences the Russian viewpoint they have never heard of or had any idea about. It is a must-see.
Watch the trailer here
PS “Chapiteau” is the word used in Russian to refer to a travelling circus.

Rita’s Last Tale (“Последняя сказка Риты”, 2012)

Renata Litvinova, a scriptwriter, actress and film director, is one of the most unique and talented voices in Russian contemporary culture. Everything from her acting style (see Kira Muratova’s Three Stories for the most exhilirating example), to the choice of words in her scripts and interviews, as well as the films she directs, is mesmerising, puzzling and completely irresistable. Her latest film Rita’s Last Tale is no exception. It focuses on the experiences of three women, close friends, one of whom – Rita – is dying and one of whom, played by the director herself, is the Angel of Death who prepares Rita for her last journey. Typically for Litvinova the film unfolds somewhere on the border of life and death and is set in a surreal unrecognisible world that loosely resembles Russia.
Watch trailer here
This article has also been published on Russian Art and Culture

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Elena: Depicting social decay

Elena: Depicting social decay

Russian prominent film director Andrei Zvyagintsev talks about his 'Elena', which is now shown in several cinemas in the UK and explains to RBTH why he decided to film a parable about decaying social links.

RBTH: What internal impulses led to the creation of Elena?
Andrei Zvyagintsev: If you call the wish to accept an external challenge in the shape of an offer from a foreign producer an internal impulse, then that would not be enough. An internal impulse is something that matures quietly over a long time. It may never translate itself into a statement, though it may mature and translate itself into a film.

Director Andrei Zvyagintsev is most famous for three movies: The Return, which won the Golden Lion Award at the Venice Film Festival in 2003; The Banishment, which was nominated for the Palme d'Or in Cannes in 2007; and Elena, which won the Special Jury Prize in Cannes last year.
I remember well the moment when, holding the finished script in my hands, I glanced at a screen at an airport and there was a newsflash, just a few words and a number that told the story of two people: “Businesswoman from Moscow suburb commissions murder of husband for 40,000 roubles”. And it hit me then that the story of Elena is the story of the whole of society, the decaying social links, of violations to everyday life.
RBTH: How did the project evolve? I understand that the film was originally to be in English?
A.Z.: It started with a generous offer from an English producer with an ambitious project to bring together four English-language feature films and four directors from all over the world. He called it Project Apocalypse and offered us great leeway, financially and creatively. Having accepted the offer, my friend and co-writer Oleg Negin and I soon realised it should be not a disaster film with thousands of deaths, but an intimate story of a lost soul that people do not notice.
It didn’t work out as an English project and I looked for Russian finance. Before long I met producer Aleksander Rodnyansky and quickly built a rapport. We were on fire the day after he read the script. The text hardly changed when we transferred the action to Russia. Only Russian names, minutiae, some social nuances and slang appeared. The rest was as it was when first read by our English producer.

RBTH: What did you and your cinematographer, Mikhail Krichman, set out to achieve, artistically speaking?
A.Z.: Nothing new. The tasks are always the same: to harmonize the visual sequences with the pace of the film. The challenge is always the same: to make sure no parts stick out, they are all in harmony and no element overshadows the another so a concentrated statement is achieved.
RBTH: The characters in the film, especially the husband, have prompted conflicting interpretations. Is he the victim or the instigator of the drama?
A.Z.: We are all victims of one and the same drama. We are at once the cause and consequence of all our woes. Would he have become a victim if Elena were different and she had made a different choice? No. So, to pigeonhole people like that is simplistic. It’s only in a court of law that a person can be a plaintiff or a respondent, but never both at the same time.
RBTH: Some perceived the portrayal of a lower-class family as a side swipe at poor people on behalf of the right-wing liberal bourgeoisie. Was it?
A.Z.: It is a pity many people tend to see things in terms of rich and poor; the bourgeoisie and the common people. I am amazed critics identify this as the core of the film, ignoring what to me is the main message. It is the story of the heroine’s inner state of her fall. It has become so commonplace that we have become inured to it. “Well, she killed him, so what? We want you to comment on the class divisions in Russian society.”