Why This Director?: See below.
My Last Experience Was…: The quietly stunning Elena, but some people would say The Return/Leviathan are even better (no one seems to care much for The Banishment).
What Did I Watch: The Return and Leviathan.
Where Does He Fit: From the minute The Return’s photography is put on display, you sort of know what you are getting into, as the entire thing is so icy and blue that it feels like you’re trapped underneath the ice in a frozen lake-and fittingly enough, the opening shot is of a horribly grim looking piece of water that takes us underneath the surface. Did Zvyagintsev somehow, morbidly, predict the death of one of the child stars of this movie from drowning? And what is up with that unusual bond they have going on when they are challenged to jump from a high height into the cold water? This is a horror film mixed with a fairy tale, as the father of the two brothers shows up after a twelve year absence and proceeds to bond with them on a vacation. The bonds, however, are just as seam tearing as they are something that brings them together. Elena’s cynicism towards the family unit had its roots early on even in an aesthetic that is decidedly something out of no universe that could exist outside of a film. The ending is perfectly befuddling, too, in a way that recalls all my frustration with the climax of the later Zvyagintsev. What a debut!
Leviathan, a film which I am fucking amazed won an Oscar nomination both due to its length and its submission status from a country that usually does not take kindly to being criticized, opens on a stretch of water that looks even more grim than the one in The Return. Does all of Russia look the same or is he reusing the locations? There’s a train station that looks like the one from Elena. This is a movie that owes a huge debt to all the novels that have ever been made criticizing the way that the Russian system works in its absurdities, such as Master and Margarita. I will admit, however, to feeling like I was going to clock out fairly quickly. Sometimes long stretches of misery can feel transcendent, other times they wear you down. I respected this movie for pushing me so hard, and I very much respect that Zvyagintsev’s going for increasingly difficult work, but I miss the simple, slow, rising terror of seeing The Return’s boat sinking or Elena burning that paper. At least he’s become the foremost director in his country for a lot of world cinema fans, however, so I think he’ll continue to do fine work.
Most Valuable Asset: When your life sucks, everything moves slowly.
Most Excited For: There’s still The Banishment, but I really care more about his future stuff.
Coming Up Next: Cult filmmaker Phillip Ridley.