Director Andrey Zvyagintsev and Producer Alexander Rodnyansky Talk “Loveless”

LOVELESS director Andrey Zvyagintsev. Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

I grew up watching films made in the Soviet Union. I know well the Russian Cinema, and recognize its full capacity. With a right timing and desire, wonderful pieces are created by Russian filmmakers. Knowing all of that, I am quite critical of every film that comes from the aforementioned country. In fact, I can’t remember when was the last time I praised a Russian film. “Loveless” by Andrey Zvyagintsev is a true eye-opener for me – refreshing and satisfying. I must admit, it is a whole different level of intelligent and powerful. Yes, if those words come from me, that means Zvyagintsev did an amazing job by bringing up a masterpiece to life.

Zhenya (Maryana Spivak) and Boris (Aleksey Rozin) are married but only on paper. If they are given a legal chance to kill one another, they’d do it in an instant. None of them can tolerate the other’s presence in the same room. Alyosha (Matvey Novikov) is their child who is caught in between the upcoming storm. Both parents do not want to share the responsibility, and none of them wants to take care of him after their divorce. During their vicious fights, they don’t even notice how their 12-year-old son disappears without any trace. But even that moment, which seems can reunite them, pushes the couple even further apart from each other.

During Toronto International Film Festival I had the great pleasure to meet director Andrey Zvyagintsev and producer Alexander Rodnyanskiy to discuss “Loveless” – the film that clearly shows what can happen to a family which loses its values.

MOVIEMOVESME:  Could you please talk about how the idea of creating “Loveless” came to you and what circumstances led to it?

Andrey Zvyagintsev:  We had this idea – a pretty big one – to create a remake of Bergman’s “Scenes from a Marriage”. It was in 2011, right after I finished the film “Elena”. So, Alexander and I started discussing whether it would be possible at all to bring that idea to life. The idea was supported with enthusiasm, so we started looking for the possibilities to acquire the rights. It was in 2015 that we started the production of “Loveless”, thus, it took almost four years to get a positive response from one of the four right-holders. And I remember, when we started “Loveless”, we had to speak with four right owners, we had received responses from the three of them, but there was a problem with the fourth one. And the irony was that we had already launched “Loveless” and then we were in the process already, and then suddenly we got the response.

Alexander Rodnyansky: I just want to say something about Andrey’s films. Bergman saw his first film “The Return”. And he liked it. So, in Sweden, they already knew that Bergman liked his film. Later, he was invited to Faro island, where Bergman lived and where currently his Museum and his Fund are situated. Thus, it was logical for Andrey to consider turning to one of Bergman’s most famous works.
I just want to add that, because Andrey is too probably shy to speak about it.

Andrey Zvyagintsev: All these four years while we were thinking about this project, we managed to film “Leviathan”, so we were also tossing different ideas that could be similar to “Scenes from a Marriage”, if not a remake. So, a story about a catastrophe of a family that after 12-13 years of living together suddenly feel the emptiness in their marital relationship.
Then, it so happened that in the summer of 2015, Oleg read an article about a volunteer movement – a volunteer association and was impressed by their story. It is a tragic story about a girl who died, and the movement was named  after her name – Liza Alert. So, suddenly two ideas – to motives came to one. Immediately, we realized this could turn into a powerful statement.

 So, he called me to sit down and brainstorm together. I realized that there was some inner anxiety there. He gave a general outline of the idea, and it was clear that we had found the key to this story. And I would say it was good luck that it took so long with obtaining the rights for the remake. Because for a director and a writer, rewriting someone’s work, adapting it to a new reality, it’s a tough form. Because Bergman’s work is amazing. So, very seen we wrote a three-page synopsis, based on which Alexander was able to launch the project into production.
As Oleg was writing the scenario, together with the Director of Photography and the Art Director we were scouting for locations, as we knew exactly what we were looking for. It was difficult to get in touch with the representatives of Liza Alert organization, as they were really busy with a lot of work.

So at the initial stage we used information that we found online.  Later, when they realized this was a big deal and we were making a feature film telling about their work, they joined us and started consulting us in every point that was needed.

MOVIEMOVESME: I think every film has its so-called ‘visit card’ – a scene that defined that film. In “Loveless”, for me it was the scene where Zhenya and Boris are discussing their son’s future but it feels like he was something meaningless – already an absent thing. That dialogue and the performance of the actors was powerful. So I wonder how you built that scene?

Andrey Zvyagintsev: We have been casting actors for the film for several months. And that scene was one of the key scenes, as it immediately revealed the potential of both actors. So, we knew it in a great detail – every word of it and what meaning was put behind it. And then when we started filming the scene I was already getting anxious to get over with it and move on.
In the script, she was sitting at the table, then in the middle of it took a cigarette and walked out into the balcony. We tried that during rehearsals but it ruined the dynamics of the whole scene. So, we put that idea aside. And although it is a long scene, we knew it would hold the static state. We just needed to give her a reason to leave the kitchen. So that in the editing we could then show the boy listening to this conversation. And it needed to be unexpected. So we decided she could go to the bathroom, and then she turns around and suddenly sees the boy.
So that’s how that scene was created – by making mistakes, thinking something then changing the initial idea. Then during rehearsals, you suddenly realize that some piece of the dialogue is not working as it should. But the actors were ready for the scene, as they had rehearsed it many times with different partners.

 Now, as we talk, I start remembering some feelings about that scene. At a very early stage, we took out the quarrel from that scene. In an early draft she was reacting very sharply to his remarks. Then we tried that scene very blend – imitating complete disinterest, since she is provoking him. So the more indifferent, the mort effect it has. Imagine, after 12 years of fights in a marriage, there was no point in arguing, just instead of throwing fires and errors at him, she could pretend that she was totally indifferent.

MOVIEMOVESME: Andrey, you always pick interesting and very deep subjects  for your films. I wonder why you always choose difficult, heavy family themes?

Andrey Zvyagintsev:  This is quite a difficult question for me. The subject matter, the theme is the last thing that comes to mind when you are doing a creative work. Because this is not a strategy choice, not a challenge you choose to undertake. In other words, this is not a rational development from one film to next. This is rather an irrational process. There was never a decision to choose family subjects, it just happened.
As to the desire to remake a Bergman film, it was only because I read the script and it was a powerful thing. And it is a pity that a lot of people, especially in Russia have not seen Bergman’s film and do not know about it. Meanwhile, it is a very important inner look – to see the inner family relationships. About building the relationships with the closest people, talking to them. The difficulty was that his film talks about Swedish intelligent, high class family in the 70s. The film shows six evening and there are two portraits in the shot who just talk and talk about their relationships. That is completely different environments and different people.

So, I do not have a direct answer to your question. The idea comes to you, you do not choose it. It comes based on your own life experiences. A relationship between a man and a woman is difficult. It is hard to live together and it concerns everyone. That is why everyone is interested in this subject. And the scene that we have just talked about talked about this collapse of the relationships and we know it is only the tip of the iceberg.

MOVIEMOVESME: Alexander, how about you as a producer? What do you look for in a film when you make a decision to produce it?

Alexander Rodnyansky: For me, everything is very simple. I have two answers to your question. Firstly, I believe that cinema has a function of a therapy. There is the cinema for the sake of entertainment, and there is this type of cinema that can give answers to questions that occur to us today to every thinking contemporary person.  Where we are? Who we are? What’s going on with the world? Who is next to me? What is happening to us? And trying to give answers, cinema can change or help them in some way to cope with challenges of life.
And the second, important part plays the author. I believe in the power of the author. And today, there are not that many authors who have their own individual voice and who can answer those questions or deeply penetrate into a person’s emotions. So, when it comes to Andrey’s work, this is the answer to the question why I am always involved in his projects.


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