×

Cannes: Director Sergei Loznitsa Talks ‘A Gentle Creature’

The Kiev-raised, Berlin-based helmer-writer Sergei Loznitsa (“My Joy,” “In the Fog”) returns to the Cannes competition for the third time in a row with his latest feature, “A Gentle Creature.”

What inspired the storyline?

I was inspired by Dostoyevsky’s short story “Krotkaya” [“A Gentle Creature”]. It’s about a relationship between a torturer and his victim, who, in Dostoyevsky’s story, happen to be a husband and a wife. One could consider “A Gentle Creature” as a second part of a diptych [the first being “My Joy”]. My intention was to study the mythology of the Russian [ex-Soviet] society, the cultural context, the mentality of the people who inhabit this surreal territory.

You’ve mentioned before that your years traveling through provincial Russia while working for the St. Petersburg Documentary Studios inspired “My Joy.” Did those travels also influence “A Gentle Creature?”

Yes, of course. It [was] during these journeys that I felt the spirit of the country and of its people. It was a profound experience and it will stay with me forever, and will continue to inspire my work.

This is the second film [after “In the Fog”] that you’ve shot in Daugavpils and in the Latgale region of Latvia. What sort of energy do you find there?

This territory is close to the border with Russia. It’s a very interesting mix of characters and nationalities. There are a lot of ethnic Belorussians, Russians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Jews. … Very good for casting. Also, the landscapes are very similar to the ones in central Russia. There is a certain tension that always exists in the border territories. A certain savage spirit, which I find very fascinating.

Is it difficult to mix the amateur and professional actors?

The film is about a prison, and there is a prison in the city of Daugavpils where we were shooting. About 70% of people, who I cast for various parts in the film, have had direct experience of prison — either as inmates, or as guards, relatives of the criminals, etc. There was one gentleman who spent a total of 37 years in prison. He was one of the most polite, charming and enthusiastic actors on my set. We also cast some staff members from the prison itself. For example, all the prison guards in the film are played by real guards. Our main concern throughout the shoot was to keep the ex-convicts from different gangs and different “orders” apart, and not to put them in the same scene, in order to maintain the hierarchy. Otherwise, we were told, things could have gotten out of control.

Do you work on your fiction and documentary projects simultaneously? Do you have a preference between the two? And what’s next?

No preference. I’m passionate both about fiction and about documentary. And yes — I work all the time. The next fiction project is called “Donbass.” It’s a contemporary story taking place in Ukraine. If everything goes according to the plan, we begin the preparations in September or October.

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Bob IgerSimon Weisenthal Gala honoring Bob

    Bob Iger Would Have Combined Disney With Apple if Steve Jobs Were Still Alive

    Disney and Apple are both launching their own streaming services come November, but Disney CEO Bob Iger says the two companies weren’t always on competing paths. In an excerpt from his autobiography published Wednesday in “Vanity Fair,” Iger revealed that Disney and Apple likely would have merged if Steve Jobs hadn’t died in 2011. “I [...]

  • Aaron Janus Lionsgate

    Lionsgate Hires 'A Quiet Place' Producer Aaron Janus as Senior VP of Production

    Lionsgate has hired Aaron Janus as its new senior vice president of production and promoted Meredith Wieck to the post of vice president of production.  Prior to Lionsgate, Janus served as Platinum Dunes’ head of development, where he oversaw filmmakers Brad Fuller, Andrew Form and Michael Bane. There, he brought in “A Quiet Place,” on [...]

  • Ang Lee Reveals First Look at

    Ang Lee on 'Gemini Man' and De-Aging Will Smith

    On paper, Ang Lee’s “Gemini Man” is a standard-issue, shoot ’em up with Will Smith playing a deadly assassin who must battle a younger clone of himself. The explosions and gun battles aren’t what drew Lee to the project, even if they’re the reason that most people will show up at theaters when it opens [...]

  • Hopper Reserve

    Dennis Hopper's Dying Wish: His Own Strain of Marijuana

    Even as celebrity brands are starting to flood the emerging Cannabis market, Hopper Reserve stands out. The brand was launched by Marin Hopper, Dennis Hopper’s daughter from his marriage to Brooke Hayward. Hopper Reserve is a gram of California indoor-grown flower, two packs of rolling papers, a pair of matches and a trading card either [...]

  • Sean Clarke Aardman Staff Photography Bristol.Pic

    Aardman Appoints Sean Clarke as New Managing Director

    Aardman, the Oscar-winning animation studio behind “Chicken Run” and “Early Man,” has appointed Sean Clarke as its new managing director, replacing co-founder David Sproxton, who is stepping down after 43 years. Clarke has worked at the British studio for more than 20 years, including heading the international rights and marketing department for over a decade. [...]

  • The Antenna

    Toronto Film Review: 'The Antenna'

    Jump scares, creepy noises and the tease of hidden-from-view dangers are all fine. But a truly frightening horror film unsettles with more than its crafts, but instead through the vulnerability of defenseless people stuck with bad options only. First-time writer-director Orçun Behram’s highly stylized and mildly disturbing “The Antenna,” a metaphor on Turkey’s current ruling [...]

  • Ad Astra Box Office

    Box Office Battle: 'Ad Astra' Takes on 'Rambo: Last Blood' and 'Downton Abbey'

    “Hustlers” and “Good Boys” proved that even in the age of Marvel dominance and remake mania, movies that don’t exist within an established franchise can still be box office draws. Can “Ad Astra” continue that trend? The space drama — starring Brad Pitt and directed by James Gray — arrives on the big screen this [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content