“Injustice reigns across the whole world” – Russian director
The man behind the award-winning saga The Return – Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev - has a reputation for intellectual rigor and a taste for drama.
He admits, though, that he sometimes can also be caught watching movies like King Kong and Titanic.
Should we expect a blockbuster from such a “serious man” as the man behind “The Banishment”, Zvyagintsev, one day?
“I don’t have a clue how to make a blockbuster! It has to be something grandiose, powerful and impressive. Take Peter Jackson, who made Lord of the Rings and King Kong. Man, he’s an incredibly talented person! Although the first thirty minutes of King Kong is absolute rubbish featuring horrible acting performance, as soon as King Kong turns up, you forget about everything else! Or take Titanic. It’s also beyond my ken. I remember the other day telling somebody that it’s an outstanding film about a victim, showing that there’s no love without sacrifice.”
A professional actor, Zvyagintsev recites a funny joke. “What would happen if Bruce Willis replaced Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic? He would save everyone…”
Why are Americans obsessed with happy endings?
“We have the same situation over here and are driven by happy endings as much as them. ‘I’ve had a hard day at work, stop getting on my nerves with your dramas. Give me a happy ending instead of your drama!’ – that’s what most people would say. ‘Give us some hope and a little light at the end of the tunnel.’ We are not much different from American movie goers,” the director replies.
Earlier this year Zvyagintsev has become the winner of a Sundance/NHK International Filmmakers Award granted to unconventional directors from Europe, America and Asia.
The international jury praised Zvyagintsev’s new project he’s currently working on – a new family drama called “Elena”, which received a $100,000 grant.
Meanwhile, one of Zvyagintsev’s previous creations was a short piece in the anthology film project “New York, I Love You”. Did he enjoy shooting there?
“Well, there’s this common myth about traffic jams in New York. One day we were in a hurry and a taxi driver told us, ‘Sorry for the traffic!’ I said, ‘You call this traffic? Come to Moscow and try to get from the city center to the airport. You’ll have an idea what real traffic is. Yours is nothing to write home about.’ It also seemed to me that New York is a very well-organized city. I liked the structure, the straightforwardness of the streets that has the precision of a bullet. I was really impressed by the amplitude and magnitude of the Big Apple.”
Americans are often accused of ignorance and bad taste. At the same time, one can’t deny the number of cutting-edge filmmakers working there. Now, look at Russia – the country of intellectuals and rich culture. Where are our Spielbergs and Eisensteins, then?
“When you mention words like ‘idiocy’, ‘stupidity’, and so on – just look around – these features are in abundance in any country. Russia and America are no exception. Maybe there are more filmmakers in America because their industry is much more mature and fully-fledged than ours. Although there were hard moments in American film making history too, they have never gone through total collapse…”
Can he imagine a time when foreign producers will fight for the right to invest into Russian film now that the film industry has more or less overcome the hard times?
“It’s hard to say yet. We are not very reliable partners in the eyes of western businessmen. I know it myself that they are afraid to share affairs with us, at least they are cautious about it. In the mean time, we continue making replicas of Hollywood movies and many people have tried to convince me that that’s the way to do it to keep our film industry afloat. Well, maybe they are right. But I still think that only if we make something different and unconventional, we could work it out. Audiences overseas are looking for arthouse productions, not the copycats of mainstream Hollywood blockbusters and popcorn movies. If we keep on trailing along at the back of this film train making low quality clones of Hollywood movies, nobody will watch our films.”
Zvyagintsev’s debut drama, “The Return”, was a runaway success in Russia and overseas to the point where he was invited to the Kremlin by then-President Putin. Doesn’t he think that, unlike sporting achievements, cinematic victories are underestimated in Russia? That people are not proud of national cinema?
“People are proud of the victory of our national football team, when it suddenly wins, because it generates mass interest. Film is a completely different matter, especially arthouse cinema. According to our film expert Kirill Razlogov, only from five to seven percent of people across the world are into intellectual, serious cinema. Above all, people consume television, soap operas and popcorn summer films. So I think there is simply nobody there to show off their pride, or maybe their number is so small that we simply fail to notice them.”
How has the role of television changed in Russia and overseas in recent years? Many have admitted that they are scared to switch on TV showing crime and violence 24/7, but they are hooked…
“The thing is, it couldn’t be any more terrifying. We got used to it to the point where it doesn’t emotionally affects us any longer. To tell the truth I don’t watch TV. Thank goodness, there’s something wrong with my antenna, so I hear nothing but some noise and I’m very happy about it! I’m not even tempted to watch TV.”
Still, he must have heard about the case of Roman Polanski. Should an artist be judged by the same laws and morals as everyone else? What’s Zvyagintsev’s take on it?
“It’s the million dollar question. It’s not about who he is. First and foremost, he’s a human being, no different than any other. Why is he special?”
He has made several outstanding movies – doesn’t he deserve special privileges?
“Privileges? In fact, it’s more complicated than you think. It’s not about whether he deserves some privileges or not. If we are talking about a law-based state which protects the rights of all citizens with the help of Roman Civil Law, then anyone must be eligible to be taken to a court of justice. Be it the president, a bohemian artist or anyone else, it doesn’t matter. No breaks should be given to anyone in this case…Otherwise, a feeling of terrible injustice emerges in society. You say that if my name is Vasya Ivanov and I’m a locksmith I cannot allow myself something that an artist can? It drives a wedge in society. Talking about Polanski, I cannot understand one thing: it’s been 30 years since the crime happened – there has already been an out of court settlement and everything has been agreed upon with everybody. But, no, the law has to reign again. And in this case I’m wondering: does it have to? Even after Polanski paid the victim her financial settlement which they’ve agreed upon? I don’t know how Themis should act in these circumstances – render justice regardless of the faces? Meanwhile, we also have the law of the jungle. If you have power, money and oil – nobody will bring you to court. I think the situation is more or less the same everywhere. Although you can see some exceptions – like American justice, which suddenly decided to go after Polanski in Switzerland. Injustice reigns across the whole world, that’s obvious. So when justice suddenly begins to take hold in this or that part of the world, it’s just ridiculous. And I think the Polanski case is a circus act. He’s already paid for what he’s done – why all this show?”
Sounds pretty much like a rhetorical question.
Valeria Paikova, RT