I found and still find it interesting that my very first “Spotlight On” filmmaker feature should be about this immensely talented Russian born director who only has 4 films under his belt up to this point in his 12-year career. What inspired me to write about this specific filmmaker over the many other ones out there was because of a recent article I had read about director Bennett Miller (“Capote”, “Moneyball”, and “Foxcatcher”). Mirroring Miller’s fine tuning and expert craftsmanship, Zvyaginstev is one of about 5 filmmakers I can think of, like Miller, who only maybe a film but once every 3+ years or so. But when he does he really makes them count. Almost as if the words Andrey Zvyaginstev and a “bad” film don’t exist. The other reason why I chose to write about this specific director is because, more than any other director in contemporary cinema (like Miller), his films draw such praise and accolades from the international film circuit, that to take a look at the nominations and/or awards this guy has received in just 4 films to date is simply astonishing. In fact, I can’t think of another international filmmaker out there right now in the business that has the amount of street cred that Zvyaginstev has amongst the art house filmmaking community with the exception of Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu. Though after last year’s more commercially viable and mainstream “Birdman”, it’s difficult for me to put “art house” and Innaritu in the same sentence anymore. So with that being said, Zvyaginstev might be the single most important international director on the filmmaking landscape right now. And that is why I feel as if it my duty to draw some more attention to this undeniably talented director.
Just take his debut feature – 2003’s “The Return”, which garnered a 2004 Golden Globe nominee for Best Foreign Language Film here in America, and a winner of 3 awards at the prestigious Venice Film Festival, taking home awards in the Golden Lion, Luigi De Laurentis, and SIGNIA award categories.
Then came his sophomore feature – 2007’s “The Banishment”, which picked up the first ever Best Actor award (Russia) for its star Konstantin Lavronenko at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival as well as a Palme d’Or nomination (for those of you uninitiated with Cannes slang – the Palme d’Or is France’s equivalent of Best Picture here stateside at the Academy).
Then came his third film another 4 years after that – 2011’s “Elena”, which I personally absolutely loved and would probably make my top 10 foreign films of all time. It was through watching and experiencing this film that I truly knew I was watching the work of an auteur, and instantly made me a fan. “Elena” went on to become a nominee for Un Certain Regard at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival and wound up winning the coveted prize. And deserving so.
Jump ahead to this past year and Zvyaginstev premiered his latest picture, “Leviathan”, which I admittedly haven’t gotten a chance to see yet, at just about every single international film festival around the world, it garnered him some of his best reviews to date and churned in a number of different nominations and/or wins yet once again. Zvyaginstev was celebrated at last year’s Cannes Film Festival and won yet another award for Best Screenplay as well as a second Palme d’Or nomination (remember this guy has only made 4 films), as well as a Golden Globe win for Best Foreign Language film as well as an Oscar nomination for the same category. Many critics considered it a shoo-in to pick up the award at this year’s Oscars, only to be upset by Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski’s “Ida”, another remarkable film in its own respect, but one that was considered to be a far second place dark horse to win as “Leviathan” was pretty much expected to win from just about every critics circle leading up to Oscar night. The fact that he didn’t wind up winning is really besides the point though. Which is more to draw attention and focus to one of international cinema’s greatest current living and working directors, while in the process trying to shed some light on a filmmaker who despite all of his prestigious awards and nominations over the years, is still relatively unknown to the American public.