What film left its mark on you as a young film buff?
L’Avventura (1960) by Michelangelo Antonioni. I first saw it on a big screen at Moscow's film school in 1988. I was 25 and in my second year of theatre studies. A friend and film operator snuck me into the room through a hidden door - and that's how I got to see The Trial by Orson Welles and Psycho by Alfred Hitchcock, too. I'd never heard of Antonioni before seeing the film for the first time, and I was literally captivated by what I was seeing from start to finish. I'd already seen movies by directors in the same vein as Antonioni, like Bergman and Tarkovsky, but L’Avventura (The Adventure) was really what changed things for me.
What made you want to be a director?
Once I'd finished my theatre studies, I found myself rejecting the theatre, like a repulsion. The more films I saw, the more I fell in love with the silver screen. I realised I wanted to make movies. I remember one screening, where the curtain opened and I felt like I was the director, I told myself this could be my film we were about to see. I was at a stage in my life when I was going through a kind of personal transition.
There was a 12-year delay between L’Avventura and your first experience behind the camera. Why was that?
You have to put it in context. This was the post-Perestroika era when everything was really difficult, especially becoming a director when you hadn't studied film. On a technical level, we were still shooting 35mm film. Nowadays, you can make a film on your smartphone! That's what finally happened in 2000, with a series called The Black Room. That's when my destiny started falling into place.
Was it difficult to make The Return, your first feature film?
There were no obstacles to making the film. I met the producer, Dmitriy Lesnevskiy, and I made three episodes in the series, each running for 25 minutes. He was the one who got me up and running. He saw what I could do and suggested we make a feature film together. It took a while for us to find a script. We had a really limited budget but we managed to make the film we wanted to make. In those days, it wasn't hard to make a film. On the other hand, it was hard to get them distributed. Russia was only just beginning to pick itself back up, the institutions were in tatters. There was no film distribution on a global level, especially not for Russian films.