On May 13th, 2018, the Russian Pavilion at the 71st Cannes Film Festival hosted a showcase of the “Big Cinema” Film Company, where director Sarik Andreasyan, actor Dmitriy Nagiev, and producers Gevond Andreasyan and Armen Ananikyan presented their «Unforgiven», based on the true story of architect Vitaly Kaloyev, who had lost his entire family in a horrific plane crash. The film explores the aftermath of that tragedy.

Katya Mtsitouridze, ROSKINO CEO:

«From mid film «Unforgiven» I could not hold back tears. I was crying out of sheer despair suggested by the story, it was a pure emotion rather than a product of dramatization and whipping up sensations. Unforgiven is in fact a story of forgiving rather than a story of revenge, and it makes you realize how hard it is to achieve this state of mind. Kudos to Dmitry Nagiev for a subtle, unfussy and unexaggerated interpretation of his role that made it especially deep and relatable. This year we had over 150 applications for the Russian Pavilion but we had no doubts about this particular entry after having seen the film. The project has plenty of international potential. With a proper promotion campaign and good sales it can be appreciated by the widest possible international audience».

The subject matter is well-known both in Russia and abroad. «Kaloyev’s case» once caused quite a stir around the globe, so there was no need to clue in the international audience. Media professionals from all over the world seemed captivated by the premise and asked the cast and crew a lot of questions.

Sarik Andreasyan, director:

«When a wife loses her husband she becomes a widow. When a husband loses his wife he becomes a widower. When children lose their parents they become orphans. However, there’s no word for parents who lose their children! I’m a father, too, so this subject hit close to home…

It was important for me to make a movie that is both emotionally resonant and ethically balanced, respectful toward the victims and their families. Granted, our movie is a work of fiction, but we didn’t let ourselves make it «too» fictional. We had carefully perused all the relevant materials to produce as truthful an account as possible. My colleagues and I are well aware of the responsibility we took upon ourselves.

As a director, I tried to stay unbiased throughout, without making our character too artificially sympathetic or loathsome. I wanted the audiences to embrace a dilemma that’s not immediately relatable but still worth pondering over: after all, no one is insured against grief and loss, and every one of us deals with it in their own way. Some will sympathize with Kaloyev and take his side, others don’t condone violence as an instrument of universal justice… Profound films usually pose questions and leave the audiences to contemplate them afterward. I’ve made a profound film about one man’s fate and his love for his family, and I hope that the questions I bring up will help the viewers immerse themselves in the story and seek their own answers».

Based on actual events, the screenplay had been kept on the back burner for five years until the right actor came along. This year marks the 15th anniversary of the Lake Boden crash, which took the lives of Russian architect Vitaly Kaloyev’s entire family (his wife, daughter, and son). In 2004, a year and a half after the tragedy, Kaloyev murdered the air traffic controller Peter Nielsen, whom he blamed for his loved ones’ deaths.

After a five-year search, the role of Vitaly Kaloyev finally went to Dmitriy Nagiev––an idea that dawned on Sarik Andreasyan, the film’s director and screenwriter, by accident when he came across Nagiev’s photo in a magazine and «recognized» him as Kaloyev. Andreasyan then shared this idea with his brother and co-producer Gevond, and they decided to send the script over to the actor without further ado. Even though it happened late at night, Nagiev responded in a couple of hours, admitted he couldn’t fight back the tears as he read their screenplay, and signed on for the project on the spot.

Dmitriy Nagiev, actor:

«I read a lot of screenplays, but «Unforgiven» had me hooked right away. It must be the only recent screenplay that makes the reader weep, just like good literature does. I don’t care much if I look like Kaloyev: after all, we’ve made a work of fiction. The hardest part for me was picking up the body parts of children at the crash site, so realistic were the set and makeup. I believe our movie shows that even in the most infernal situations, there’s always a glimmer of hope, a light at the end of the tunnel worth following. Besides, I think Russian cinema now has a new, accomplished talent in its midst, one that for some reason used to hide behind shoddy movies of dubious merit».

A gift of sorts, this part is the actor’s first serious dramatic job in 20 years since the 1997 film “Purgatory.” All the naysayers who dismissed Nagiev as a comedian incapable of playing tragic roles were proven wrong when the film opened the Russian Program at the 40th Moscow IFF, assuring the early audiences that Nagiev does have acting chops to spare as his lived-in, powerhouse performance revealed a side of him no one had seen before.

Although he had never met Kaloyev in preparation for the shoot, the actor had scrutinized all extant footage to be able to channel the man inwardly and outwardly––and quite successfully, too. More importantly, though, Nagiev managed to communicate on the screen the unbearable agony that beset his character, a pain beyond all reckoning. Unaccustomed to praise for his non-comedic achievements, the actor seemed slightly ill at ease receiving compliments for a convincing performance that resonated with all the guests at the presentation.

Gevond Andreasyan, «Big Cinema», producer:

«We make comedies and sci-fi blockbusters, constantly experimenting with genres, but I believe that our company should produce, at least once every three years, a film that truly makes a mark. Things come and go, you know, but some movies live forever. As one of the film’s producers quipped, «such projects are good for your karma.” We shouldn’t forget that we all have to leave something for posterity when we’re gone. As for the financial side of things, the film is budgeted at 90 million rubles and was in part funded by the Ministry of Culture. Initially, we hoped to break even at best, but now we can see the interest our movie has generated internationally. However, it bears repeating that money was not what we were after when we greenlit it».

«Karoprokat» will release «Unforgiven» domestically on Sep 27th, 2018.