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‘Loveless’ Producer on Differing Reactions to Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Oscar-Nominated Movie

Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Oscar-nominated film “Loveless” opens in the U.S. on Friday via Sony Pictures Classics. Alexander Rodnyansky, the film’s producer, speaks to Variety about its reception at home in Russia and abroad, and his views on recent developments in the Russian film industry.

“Loveless” was recently nominated for France’s Cesar Awards, adding to its nominations for the Oscars, the Golden Globes, the BAFTAs, the British Independent Film Award, the Independent Spirits, and the European Film Awards. It is the only foreign film in the awards race to have received nominations in all of these contests. It was also awarded the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, and best film at the BFI London Film Festival. The film, about a 12-year-old boy who disappears from his Moscow home while his middle-class parents are going through a bitter divorce, has received a positive response from audiences and critics alike, scoring 94% on Rotten Tomatoes and 89% on Metacritic, with Los Angeles Times’ Justin Chang describing it as “a searing, overwhelming film.”

Zvyagintsev and Rodnyansky have just completed a tour of Britain and Ireland ahead of the film’s release in those territories. Rodnyansky remarks on the enthusiastic standing-room only audiences — including many young people — that greeted them. The same was the case in New York, he says, where the director was honored with a mid-career retrospective at MoMA last month.

Rodnyansky is pleased that the crowds on both sides of the Atlantic have wanted to speak about “the art of Zvyagintsev” and the film’s overall theme — the devastating effects of selfishness — rather than focusing specifically on Russia society itself. “They appreciate his talent, his sophisticated cinematic language and his ability to come up with a strong message,” Rodnyansky says. “The story of human selfishness is universal. It is much more than a Russian tale of a couple going through a painful divorce.”

As screenings continue for Oscar voters, Rodnyansky is pleased with the reception from Academy members. Thanks to the Oscar nomination for Zvyagintsev’s last film, “Leviathan,” many of them are already familiar with his cinematic approach. “They understand this is not just about a political statement. It is also an important human statement, expressed through the cinematic language and unique vision of the director,” Rodnyansky says.

The film had its release in Russia straight after its Cannes premiere. This helped avoid the devastating piracy that afflicted “Leviathan,” which had to wait eight months for its home-turf release while the government mulled whether to give it a distribution license.

“Loveless” proved less controversial than “Leviathan,” also produced by Rodnyansky, as was Zvyagintsev’s “Elena.” This was partly a question of timing, Rodnyansky says, as “Leviathan” had come out at a time when Russia’s war with Ukraine had just started and nationalistic fervor was at a high. “Zvyagintsev’s movies are often regarded as being critical [of Russia] because he has a specific way of telling his stories in a very precise contemporary landscape,” he says.

Zvyagintsev is Russian so he, naturally enough, sets his films in Russia, but his stories are universal, albeit “told through the details of the only life he knows – life in Russia.”

Rodnyansky adds: “Because it is set in contemporary Russia many people treat it as a critical depiction of the country. It divides audiences. Some people feel offended, and unfairly criticized. They definitely don’t appreciate a film that they believe shows the country’s bad side.”

He continues: “On the other hand we have some very strong supporters who believe that it is important to tell the truth and tell a story that is able to live on after the film has ended.”

The same selfishness depicted in the film can be seen “all around the world,” Rodnyansky says. “No one needs to know anything about Russia before watching the film. It’s a very understandable story of two people who feel the lack of empathy and the absence of love. It’s about their inability to communicate with each other, and their willingness to pay any price to achieve what they want.”

The film grossed almost $2 million in Russia, released by Sony, and may return to theaters for a second run. It was sold widely in international markets by sales agent Wild Bunch.

Rodnyansky is upbeat about Russian filmmaking in general, noting the strength of local films at the home box office, which nabbed a 25% share last year, led by basketball movie “Three Seconds.” Although he backs the government’s financial support for the production of local films, he is less happy with the protectionist approach of the minister of culture, Vladimir Medinsky, toward movie distribution in Russia. He believes that the banning of “The Death of Stalin” is in contravention of Russian law, and, furthermore, a pointless exercise. “Every Russian knows Stalin was a bloody tyrant. His regime killed millions of Russians and other people living in the former Soviet Union,” he says. “The fact that this movie is laughing [at Stalin’s regime] is the key to understanding the reaction it has provoked.” Rodnyansky is also enraged at Medinsky’s attempt to delay the release of “Paddington 2,” on the pretext of removing competition for Russian films. He says such moves to suppress the box office of non-Russian films will damage the distribution and exhibition sectors in Russia. “The actions of the minister [of culture] have brought instability in the whole business,” he says. “The health of the system is based on competition and the ability of the theatrical chains to decide for themselves which films to put on the screens, not for the minister to decide. I believe Russian movies are able to compete in the market. The audience should have a choice.”

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