Director Spotlight: Andrey Zvyagintsev


Photograph source: The Guardian. Original photo credit: James Chance/Chance Multimedia

Russia’s Andrey Zvyagintsev continues to establish a reputation for controversy within a culture which pressures for solidarity. The Guardian‘s Shaun Walker described Leviathan, Zvyagintsev’s most recent film, as “quintessentially Russian” while also raging against the systems plaguing the country. The light Leviathan shines on Russia’s government is not flattering yet Zvyagintsev maintains that the film, his fourth, delivers universal messages. Messages which increasingly apply to his home country. Nevertheless, Leviathan received a sizeable chunk of its budget from the Russian Ministry of Culture. The Russian Film Board also selected the film as the country’s entry for Foreign Language Oscar, another windfall that surprised Zvyagintsev given its content.

The Russian “establishment’s” embrace of Zvyagintsev may have been inevitable given the director’s excellence. Only four films into his career, Zvyagintsev’s mantle already houses some of film’s preeminent awards: The Venice Film Festival’s Golden Lion for his lauded directorial debut The Return, The Cannes Special Jury Prize for 2011’s Elena, and the Winner of Best Screenplay for Leviathan at Cannes, not to mention multiple Nika awards and awards/nominations from more various festivals. Critics praise Leviathan as a masterpiece. One of the main controversies of last year’s Cannes Film Festival was Leviathan‘s recognition for best screenwriting and not the Palme d’Or. Zvyagintsev’s film entered the festival as the runaway favorite for the festival’s top honor, which instead went to the Turkish film Winter Sleep.

Zvyagintsev’s continued excellence is only as surprising as his humble origins. After graduating from the Russian Academy of Theater Arts where he trained as an actor, Zvyagintsev spent years searching for acting roles, only to work odd-jobs to make ends-meet. His big break came when he directed episodes of Russian soap operas. Even then his talent stood out and Zvyagintsev raised the funds to film his highly praised The Return. Between those remarkable beginnings and continued excellence, most recently with Leviathan, Zvyagintsev continues to be compared to other Russian masters.


The Return (2003)

Release date: June 25, 2003

Produced by: Yelena Kovalyova, Dmitry Lesnevsky

Written by: Vladimir Moiseyenko, Aleksandr Novototsky

Starring: Vladimir Garin, Ivan Dobronravov, Konstantin Lavronenko, Natalia Vdovina

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 95%

Language: Russian


  • Venice Film Festival: Winner, Golden Lion; Winner, Best First Film

  • European Film Awards: Winner, European Discovery of the Year (Fassbinder Award)

  • Palm Springs International Film Festival: Winner, Best Foreign Film

  • Golden Globe Award: Nominee, Best Foreign Language Film Russia

The Banishment (2007)

Release date: May 18, 2007 (Cannes), October 2, 2007 (Russia)

Produced by: Dmitri Lesnevsky

Starring: Konstantin Lavronenko, Maria Bonnevie, Aleksandr Baluev

Written by: Oleg Negin, Artyom Melkumian

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 59%

Language: Russian


  • Cannes Film Festival: Nominated, Palme d’Or; Winner, Best Actor Konstantin Lavronenko
  • Chicago International Film Festival: Nominated, Gold Hugo
  • European Film Awards: Nominated, Best Cinematographer Mikhail Krichman
  • Moscow International Film Festival: Won, Russian Film Clubs Federation Award

Elena (2011)

Release date: May 21 May 2011 (Cannes), September 29, 2011 (Russia)

Written by: Oleg Negin

Starring: Nadezhda Markina, Elena Lyadova

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 93%

Language: Russian


  • Cannes Film Festival: Winner, Special Jury Prize
  • Burban International Film Festibal: Winner, Best Direction Andrey Zvyagintsev
  • European Film Awards: Nominated, Best Actress Nadezhda Markina
  • Ghent International Film Festival: Winner, Grand Prix
  • Moscow International Film Festival: Won, Russian Film Clubs Federation Award

Leviathan (2014)

Release date: May 23, 2014 (Cannes), December 31, 2014 (New York, NY)

Produced by: Alexander Rodnyansky

Starring: Aleksei Serebryakov, Elena Lyadova, Vladimir Vdovichenkov, Roman Madyanov

Written by: Oleg Negin, Andrey Zvyagintsev

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 100%

Language: Russian


  • Cannes Film Festival: Nominated, Palme d’Or; Winner, Best Screenplay
  • European Film Awards: Nominated, Best Film; Nominated, Best Director Andrey Zvyagintsev, Nominated, Best Actor Aleksei Serebryakov; Nominated, Best Screenwriter, Oleg Negin, Andrey Zvyagintsev
  • Munich Film Festival: Winner, Best International Film
  • Seville European Film Festival: Winner, Best Cinematography Mikhail Krichman
  • Sao Paolo International FIlm Festival: Winner, Best Film

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3 thoughts on “Director Spotlight: Andrey Zvyagintsev

  1. Pingback: Flashforward: December’s Most Anticipated Films | Flashback/Backslide

    • Thanks! I hadn’t heard of Zvyagintsev either but after reading about him I decided to start the series. I had originally planned to do a Director of the Month along with Actor/Actress/Writer of the month (screenwriter, not book author. I’ll leave that to you) for four posts/month. But in the end I just didn’t have enough to say about that many people to keep up the pace. I might revisit it in the future.


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