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Andrey Zvyagintsev • Director

“You need to look in the opposite direction to see what’s on the other side”


- Qumra Master Andrey Zvyagintsev chatted to us in Doha about his work and whether it reflects Russian society

Andrey Zvyagintsev  • Director
Andrey Zvyagintsev during his Qumra Master Class

One of the Masters at the fourth edition of Qumra – which ran from 9-14 March in Doha, Qatar – was acclaimed Russian filmmaker Andrey Zvyagintsev, who also held one of Qumra’s Master Classes on 13 March. With his latest film, Loveless [+see also:
film review
interview: Andrey Zvyagintsev
film profile
, serving as a useful starting point, we had a chance to meet him and have a quick but thorough discussion on his work, how it reflects Russian society, his hopes for change and the significance of love.

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Cineuropa: There is a feeling that your work reflects a world that lacks love, particularly with Loveless, but also going back to your previous films. There is a feeling of cruelty and the absence of empathy, especially for Russia and Russians.
Andrey Zvyagintsev:
I don’t see the absence of love being a common ground for my work. On the contrary, and if we are talking in particular about Loveless, sometimes it is necessary to look in the opposite direction to see what’s on the other side, and that is exactly what I tried to accomplish with this film. It is exactly like when you are using a bow and you have to pull the bowstring in the opposite direction to that in which the arrow should fly. So I needed to paint this bigger picture that runs contrary to what the film seems to be about. I believe that it was a success, especially in Russia, because we had remarks from viewers who, immediately after the screening of Loveless, reached for their phones to call their families and their loved ones to make sure that they were alright. Loveless is basically a film about love. It is extremely important not just to look at the output on the screen, but also to actually feel the reflection that you get in your mind and in your heart from that film.

Can we assume that this concept of love has a greater significance also on a socio-political level, and not just on a personal one?
I would not like to extrapolate this to a political level. It would be extremely ambitious for me to represent a population of 145 million people, because Russia is very diverse, very big and extremely polarised, especially on the social level. So with my films, I cannot judge what is happening; I only project my personal point of view. Since I’m not a journalist who just tries to commentate objectively on events – even though sometimes the media are now highly subjective in conveying information – I rather try to express myself as an artist who is engaged in a completely different task. Through my intense point of view, I try to amplify the messages I need to transmit and focus on the crux of the problem. What I’m trying to accomplish creatively is to magnify a partial but very specific event and, through doing this, to observe the bigger issue. But of course, this cannot be used as the testimony of an entire society.

So do you still have hope that there will be change?
Russia is a country with a huge number of people who are filled with love and, so to speak, openness and creative forces. They feel that this is their purpose and want to make changes on a social level. Loveless is also a film about growing civil self-consciousness and responsibility, which is a response to this complete indifference shown by the people in power and the state institutions. People are now taking it upon themselves and acting accordingly. For example, the group of volunteers in the film is a manifestation of the powerful waves of love and creativity that come crashing against the powerless police; they are creating a social conscience.

Could we then assume that Loveless is also a depiction of this generation that is experiencing this heightened social awareness today in Russia?
It would be immature to use my film as a kind of illustration or portrait of the country; it is more my attempt to enable the viewer to reflect upon him or herself. There is no need to focus on Russia or look for parallels with the subject matter. I talk primarily about human nature, regardless of whether everything is happening in a prosperous European democracy, or in a totalitarian political or religious society. This is just a testimony. Yes, it is a Russian film by a Russian filmmaker, with a Russian cast and crew and in the Russian language, but it is really about human nature at large, I hope!

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