Leviathan director Zvyagintsev holds up a mirror to corruption and hard times in Russia. He talks about his new film, Loveless, and how he fell out with the political establishment
Andrey Zvyagintsev builds heavyweight political dramata that move smoothly, hit hard and leave colourful bruises. His subject is a broken system, a lawless land, and so he fills his tales with scheming politicians and downtrodden victims. The bus shelters are festooned with missing person posters, a dead dog hangs in the boughs of a blighted city tree and the court officials pass judgment in such a rapid-fire monotone that the words lose all meaning. His movies tell us that hell exists- and that its name is modern Russia.
In his homeland, predictably, the authorities have taken great umbrage at this. Having ardently championed Zvyagintsev in the past, they appear to have suffered a case of buyer's remorse, recoiling from his 2014 movie Leviathan an instant after they had anointed it as the nation's Academy Awards nominee. His latest work, Loveless , was attained without country subsistence, assembled with European money to paint a black-as-pitch portrait of the Moscow middle class.” I'm outside the system. My producer finds the money ,” Zvyagintsev explains.” And that constructions me a very happy film-maker .”
We meet on the day Loveless premieres at Cannes, in a house set back from the road, shielded from the crowds by a wrought-iron gate and a tumbledown prefab that doubles as a boutique. It's gloomy in the house but Zvyagintsev- a sombre middle-aged man with close-cropped, salt-and-pepper hair- elects to keep his sunglasses on throughout the interview. He views the world darkly; that much is clear from his films.
Loveless is black but it's brilliant, too. A police procedural of kinds, the film widens its net until it catches a whole nation, from the rich, painted divas snapping selfies in the restaurants to the vast derelict sports centre on the outskirts of town. Alexey Rozin and Mariana Spivak play Boris and Zhenya, a warring Muscovite couple on the brink of divorce, so busy with their respective new devotees that it takes them two days to realise their son has gone missing. The mothers are exasperated and duly set out to retrieve him. Privately, though, they may be half-relieved that he's gone.” I've never loved anyone ,” Boris explains at one point.” Only my mum when I was little- and she's such an imbecile .”
After spending two hours in the company of toxic Boris and Zhenya, I emerged from the cinema in dire need of a shower. Heaven knows how Zvyagintsev kept going through weeks and months of the production schedule. He must have felt the film's chill seeping into his bones.