Kantemir Balagov's "Closeness" Enjoys Raves at Cannes
On May 24th, 2017, the Un Certain Regard sidebar of the Cannes Film Festival hosted the world premiere of Kantemir Balagov's "Closeness." Next day, a press conference was held at the Russian Pavilion managed by ROSKINO. The 25-year-old director, a student of Alexander Sokurov, presented his film to Russian and international media alongside his actresses Darya Zhovner and Olga Dragunova.
ROSKINO CEO Katya Mtsitouridze opened the conference by congratulating the filmmakers on the film's rapturous reception, and noted that "Closeness" was, in fact, the second film Balagov had unveiled at the Russian Pavilion.
"Two years ago, Kantemir came here as a Global Russians program participant, in the company of four other students from Alexander Sokurov's workshop at Kabardino-Balkarian State University. He is our pride and joy––and, in a sense, our discovery, too! I'm so happy to see the substantial results of our work and the work of this wonderful director and his mentor. I hope that in the future, new stars in the firmament of filmmaking will be lit not just in Moscow and Petersburg but all over Russia as well."
Katya Mtsitouridze also encouraged the journalists to support the idea of letting Alexander Sokurov teach across all of Russia, because teaching is a significant facet of his talent: "Kantemir is not the only student of his who has made it big––four exceptionally strong debuts by his classmates are currently in the works, and I hope they'll blow up soon enough at other festivals."
The CEO also emphasized that the three movies at least partially financed by Russia and selected for the two most prestigious Cannes sections, the Official Competition and Un Certain Regard ("Loveless," "A Gentle Creature," "Closeness"), had already been purchased by the European distribution giant Wild Bunch. It is further proof of the resounding success of "Closeness," since many directors spend their entire lives trying to achieve this level of recognition. Mtsitouridze said she hoped Wild Bunch's involvement would open up wider commercial avenues for the Russian films and strengthen their potential in wide release.
Kantemir Balagov, director:
"I'm really grateful to Katya Mtsitouridze and ROSKINO for the attention they pay emerging filmmakers and for putting this press conference together; we do appreciate it. I would also like to thank my mentor Alexander Sokurov for everything he has given us over the years of studies.
My film is based on actual events and memories. It was important for me to show the relationships between people and nations, because Russia is a multiethnic state, and whether you like it or not, this multiethnic makeup sometimes breeds conflict.
The title is not incidental. It's "closeness" in the broadest sense. First of all, it's the closeness of oneself to oneself, in which there's no room left for anyone else to get "closer." It's also the closed-mindedness of tradition and closed circuits of different mindsets, or broader still, the close range at which two nations have to coexist but can't, which leads, inevitably, to strife."
Set in 1998 in the North Caucasian city of Nalchik, "Closeness" follows a local Jewish family whose son is kidnapped, along with his fiancée, on the day of their engagement. However, Kantemir Balagov insists that it wasn't his intention "to overplay the Jewish card." "The plot is loosely based on a true story: Kabardinians and Balkarians were never abducted, whereas Jews were the most frequent victims, the most defenseless minority." The filmmaker also stressed that his interests mostly lay in the family conflict, rather than in the abduction narrative.
On the subject of Alexander Sokurov's influence, Balagov noted that the seasoned teacher expressly forbade his students from watching his work and urged them to develop a voice of their own. Though he did serve as an artistic consultant for the movie and helped greatly during pre- and post-production, Sokurov nonetheless "never threw his weight around."
Apart from a small sum of money from the Saint Petersburg Cultural Committee, the film received no state funding and was mostly sponsored by the non-profit foundation "An Example of Intonation" run by Sokurov himself.
The two main actresses, Darya Zhovner and Olga Dragunova, thanked their director for bringing them along and shared some insights into their characters.
Darya Zhovner, actress:
"When I saw the movie yesterday I realized how much my character and I had in common. At times, I found it very hard to accept what she went through and I had to force myself into certain situations: for instance, I couldn't stomach the fact that in the 21st century a girl could be made to marry a man she didn't love, so it was difficult for me to act in that scene."
Olga Dragunova, actress:
"My character is nothing like me, but I tried my best to justify her behavior because I had to understand what motivated her. Selfishness sometimes turns excessive love between parents and children into the opposite of love. Love has to be given freely, but we often demand it.
I'm very happy with what we achieved. For a long time after the shooting period I played the events over in my head and thought some scenes had to be handled differently. But when I saw the final cut I understood that the director was right. Some episodes are left ambiguous on purpose, but it's exactly what makes our movie so complex and thought-provoking."
"It is, indeed, a film that stays with you," added Katya Mtsitouridze. "When I revisited it I saw some scenes from a different angle and figured out why they were needed and what context they were put in. A movie that stays with you is, by definition, a good one."
Un Certain Regard awards will be announced on May 27th. The jury comprised of five industry professionals is presided over by the Hollywood superstar Uma Thurman.
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