Every few years the international film community discovers a new director whose films win prizes at festivals and new fans around the world. Andrey Zvyagintsev first attracted attention with The Return in 2002, followed by The Banishment in 2007 and Elena in 2011. The director’s fourth feature Leviathan was one of the most celebrated and controversial films of 2014 and given the current belligerence of the Russian state, Zvyagintsev’s oblique commentaries on Russian society have begun to attract attention in the news media. What makes these films so compelling and distinctive?
This day school introduced Zvyagintsev as an unusual figure in contemporary cinema who worked for many years as an actor before directing an episode of a television drama series aged 36 in 2000. The move into feature films was rapid and The Return’s award of the Golden Lion in Venice was a reminder of another début win by Tarkovsky’s Ivan’s Childhood in 1962.
Zvyagintsev’s film’s have attracted audiences for three main reasons and these were the focus of the Day School:
- The stories resonate because of strong characters and universal themes (often with Biblical allusions) – which can also be interpreted in specific Russian contexts.
- Some fruitful collaborations with talented filmmakers to produce a powerful aesthetic appeal in terms of cinematography, music and sound and use of settings and landscape.
- A dedication to the ‘art’ of cinema and an obvious debt to several of the giants of art cinema such as Andrei Tarkovsky as well as an affinity with other contemporary art directors such as Nuri Bilge Ceylan.
The day included a complete screening of Zvyagintsev’s third feature Elena plus discussion-based sessions with extracts from the other three films and complementary material from Tarkovsky and Ceylan.