Le cinéma d'Andreï Zviaguintsev : Traversées d'un monde en crise / The Cinema of Andrei Zviagintsev: Traversing a World in Crisis

Conference Report, Université Paris 8 Vincennes Saint-Denis, May 12–13, 2023

François Goglin
Andrei Zviagintsev, Université Paris 8 Vincennes-Saint-Denis, international symposium, Russian cinema, blind spots, visual excess, coming-of-age, masculinity, film dramaturgy, film script, world culture, decolonisation, emigration.

The international symposium The Cinema of Andrei Zviagintsev: Traversing a World in Crisis, organised by Céline Gailleurd (Université Paris 8 Vincennes Saint-Denis), Damien Marguet (Université Paris 8 Vincennes Saint-Denis), and Eugénie Zvonkine (Université Paris 8 Vincennes Saint-Denis, IUF), was held on May 12-13, 2023, at Université Paris 8 in Saint-Denis, France. The symposium received the support of the Esthétique, sciences et technologies du cinéma et de l'audiovisuel laboratory, the research department of Université Paris 8, the Ecole universitaire de recherche and ArTeC master's program, and the Institut universitaire de France.

The symposium’s organisers, Céline Gailleurd, Eugénie Zvonkine, and Damien Marguet. Photo: Irina Schulzki.

The symposium brought together researchers specialising in Soviet and Russian cinema, as well as those with expertise in cultural history, aesthetics, and philosophy. A large part was devoted to Zviagintsev's own words, in three appearances in which he engaged with students, scholars, and cinema visitors.

The symposium opened on the afternoon of May 12 with a meeting between Zviagintsev and students from the master's programme “Cinéma Création & Réalisation” and ArTeC de Paris 8. Eugénie Zvonkine acted as interpreter. The students led the meeting by showing extracts from Zviagintsev’s films and discussing their production with the director. Zviagintsev talked about his approach to working with actors, his casting methods, and his thematic and aesthetic concerns, such as his particular interest in photography, which plays a remarkable role in his films.

The second day of the symposium was devoted to academic research. Scholars began by discussing "the cinema of an exhausted world". Birgit Beumers (University of Passau, Germany) opened the day with her presentation on "blind spots" in Zviagintsev’s films. Beumers has woven links between different translations of the term “blind spot” (hiatuses, gaps) by focusing on a presence that is no longer visible: the space that the eye cannot see and the narrative gaps. What happens in and between shots? Beumers wondered as much about the pictorial references, which are not (all) immediately identified by viewers, as about the director's intentions, which are deliberately left a mystery in his narratives. However, Beumers was careful not to say that these blind spots and narrative gaps should be construed as an artistic structure. They are there, unnoticed. For her, it is a question of thinking about interstices and plastic overloads.

Macha Ovtchinnikova (Université de Strasbourg) then took the floor with a research paper titled “Épuisement du visible et révélation de la matière : la durée du plan chez Andreï Zviaguintsev” ["Exhaustion of the Visible and Revelation of Matter: The Duration of the Shot in Andrei Zviagintsev"]. This scholar drew her analysis from a master class given by the filmmaker in 2010, in which he referred to the duration of his shots as the "intimate rhythm of life". Ovtchinnikova built her argument around the fact that long shots are scattered throughout Zviagintsev's work without becoming a specific stylistic device. They perform other functions that she sought to explain. The shots continue after the characters leave the frame. It is therefore about taking time to make sense of their plastic exuberance and the dramaturgical emptiness. According to Ovtchinnikova, this duration exhausts the visible to reveal the filmed material. These shots exhibit the elemental materiality of the image. Ovtchinnikova used the opening of Neliubov’ / Loveless (2017, Russia, France, Belgium, Germany) to evoke, in the words of Gaston Bachelard, a "vertical time"; i.e., Zviagintsev asserts an aesthetic gesture of unfolding temporal strata, in which filmic time and diegetic time collide. The duration of the shot plays a part in shaping the image and creating an aesthetic of mystery.

The conference continued with a session on "The human figure in Zviagintsev's cinema". Damien Marguet (Université Paris 8) opened the discussion with a talk titled “Humain, trop humain : figures de l'anthropocène et de l'androcène dans le cinéma d'Andreï Zviaguintsev” ["Human, too human: Anthropocene and Androcene Figures in Andrei Zviagintsev's Cinema"]. Marguet focused on the idea of desiccation, a recurring theme in the director's films. He then developed the relationship between geological dryness and the moral dryness of the characters unable to love. Marguet established links between ecology and the Judeo-Christian tradition in Leviafan / Leviathan (2014, Russia) and the Book of Job. Finally, he examined the transmission of masculinity in Zviagintsev's films.

Céline Gailleurd (Université Paris 8) then took up the question of the"damaged childhoods and adolescence" as Zviagintsev recreates the torments and wanderings of his male heroes (“Enfances et adolescences abîmées dans le cinéma de Zviaguintsev”). In the coming-of-age film, Vozvrashchenie / The Return (2003, Russia), diving serves as a rite of passage, a proof of courage. The character of Ivan is challenged by his burgeoning masculinity, and he questions his fears and values. Gailleurd then noted that the children in his later films no longer ask themselves questions. They are apathetic and accept the world. Their disappearance is the only possible solution. Gailleurd also explicated the idea of a family curse, recurring from film to film.

Mathieu Lericq (Université Paris 8), in his response to Gailleurd, complemented this idea by questioning the very word "curse": it means "to say badly". Andrei Zviaguintsev creates characters who do not engage in dialogue but are in constant confrontation. His characters hardly talk perhaps because they do not want to question themselves as subjects. In effect, from Elena (2011, Russia) onwards, the fathers are incapable of acting.

The session ended with Mathieu Lericq's presentation titled “Construction et déconstruction des masculinités adolescentes dans le cinéma post-soviétique (Pavel Lounguine, Andreï Zviaguintsev, Kirill Serebrennikov)” [“The Construction and Deconstruction of Adolescent Masculinities in post-Soviet Cinema (Pavel Lungin, Andrei Zviagintsev, Kirill Serebrennikov”]. Lericq analysed the films of Zviagintsev as a cinema of confines or as a cinema "on the edge of". In his view, it is a cinema of physical and metaphysical ordeal, as well as of a sensitive experience that puts characters and viewers to the test. More precisely, Zviagintsev replaces the masculine in the present. It is dominated by emotional misery and unsympathetic cruelty that stand in stark contrast to the Soviet model, where men are positioned as heroes.

The rest of the day was devoted to Zviagintsev's "uncompromising look" at Russia. "Russia, where are you going?" asked Stanislas de Courville (Université Paris 8), reprising the line from Gogol's Dead Souls. In his talk, “Du Retour à Faute d'amour, itinéraire d'une nation sans avenir” [“From The Return to Loveless, the Itinerary of a Nation without a Future”], de Courville questioned the embodiment of Russia in figures and symbols, such as Russia at a standstill and as a schismatic regime that separates people. In The Return, the father's treasure is love. In Loveless, the ladder of love (scala amoris) collapses. Without love, a nation has no future.

Nancy Condee (University of Pittsburgh, USA) continued this session by analysing “becalmed culture”, where Andrei Zviagintsev finds himself between ‘world culture’ and decolonisation. Condee sought to connect Zviagintsev's work to a wider field of research in order to question the specific affinities of his work, which we might have interpreted differently two decades ago, to today’s world. She recalled the history of the concept of “world culture” and tried to trace the vestiges, traditions, and conjunctures inherited by Zviagintsev's cinema, as inscribed in modern Western Europe.

In the last session on the "practices and the reception of Andrei Zviagintsev's cinema", Joël Chapron – Zviagintsev’s translator and an independent scholar – focused on the distribution and the reception of his films in France (“La diffusion et la réception des films de Zviaguintsev en France”). Based on his longstanding collaboration and personal acquaintance with the filmmaker, Chapron examined Zviagintsev’s films by looking at the economics of production and festivals, and the box office figures in France, Russia, and the rest of the world. He highlighted a low point in the critical reception of the director's films: for example, Elena did not receive as much critical acclaim and theatrical audiences as the previous films. Chapron pointed out that France was, however, the most favourable country in terms of its unreserved critical reception of Zviagintsev’s films. Finally, Chapron drew attention to the specificities of film production in Russia compared to France, where Zviagintsev has found refuge following the Russian invasion of Ukraine and where he now wishes to work.

Eugénie Zvonkine’s talk (Université Paris 8, IUF), “Les écritures d’Andreï Zviaguintsev” ["Andrei Zviagintsev's writing"], focused on the literary tradition of Soviet screenplays, before discussing the filmmaker's own scripts, which are written in opposition to this model. (Zviagintsev's regular scriptwriter, Oleg Negin, has a drier, more restrained style in comparison to Zviagintsev’s.) Zvonkine examined the screenplays and the published marginal annotations to analyse in depth what this writing style entails. She revealed the intimate and secretive nature of this writing, including memories, technical reflections, and deliberate omissions. For Zviagintsev, writing should be simple but precise.

The symposium concluded with a screening of a previously unseen film, Andrei Zviagintsev at Work (2023), edited by Veronika Tyron, Andrei Zviagintsev, and Eugénie Zvonkine. The screening was followed by another meeting between Zviagintsev and the researchers and students, during which the filmmaker continued discussing his method of directing actors. He explained how he makes the subtext of dialogue accessible and perceptible to actors, as well as how he approached the technical cutting and script reading while working on Loveless. In his opinion, reading the script with the crew is equivalent to film montage. Finally, he wondered about the reception of his films in France. He was surprised that human nature as shown in his stories was so appreciated by European audiences and critics. On this occasion, he mentioned Michael Haneke's Le temps du loup / Time of the Wolf (2003, France, Austria, Germany) as an example of a remarkably accurate cinematic exploration of human nature.

Eugénie Zvonkine and Andrei Zviagintsev. Photo: Irina Schulzki.

At the end of the day, Andrei Zviagintsev presented Leviathan at the Ecran Cinema in Saint-Denis and interacted with the audience. The spectators addressed their thoughts and emotions to him. They questioned the political discourse of the film and highlighted its protest power. Andrei Zviagintsev revealed that he has lived in Paris since the war led by Russia against Ukraine and that his filmmaking was then disrupted. But perhaps this disruption will feed his imagination.

The conference participants. Photo: Salomé Bilheran.

François Goglin
Université Paris 8 Vincennes-Saint-Denis


After studying literature, François Goglin is currently studying cinema at the Université Paris 8 Vincennes Saint-Denis. Now in the final year of the master's degree programme “Cinéma Création & Réalisation”, he devotes himself to writing, producing and directing short films.


Haneke, Michael. 2003. Le Temps du Loup / Time of the Wolf . Les Films du Losange, Bavaria Film Institutional, Wega Film.

Tyron, Veronika, Zviagintsev, Andrei, Zvonkine, Eugénie. 2023. Andrei Zviagintsev at Work.

Zviagintsev, Andrei. 2003. Vozvrashchenie / The Return. Ren Film, Intercinema Art Agency.

Zviagintsev, Andrei. 2011. Elena. Non-Stop Production.

Zviagintsev, Andrei. 2014. Leviafan / Leviathan. Non-Stop Production.

Zviagintsev, Andrei. 2017. Neliubov’ / Loveless. Non-Stop Production, Arte France Cinema, Why Not Productions, Les Films du Fleuve, Fetisoff Illusion.

Suggested Citation

Goglin, François. 2023. “Le cinéma d'Andreï Zviaguintsev : Traversées d'un monde en crise / The Cinema of Andrei Zviagintsev: Traversing a World in Crisis. Conference Report, Université Paris 8 Vincennes Saint-Denis, May 12–13, 2023”. Apparatus. Film, Media and Digital Cultures in Central and Eastern Europe 17. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.17892/app.2023.00017.361.

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