Russian Oscar Nominee on Similarities Between Life Under Putin and Trump’s America

Alexander Rodnyansky, a producer on ‘Loveless,’ also explores the film’s universal appeal and why he deliberately made it without any support from the Russian government.

Three years after his Oscar nomination for Leviathan, Andrey Zvyagintsev returns to the race with Loveless, the story of an estranged couple that comes together to search for their missing son. The film is not as overtly political as his previous feature — which sharply divided Russian audiences and led that country’s culture minister to condemn Leviathan as “unpatriotic” — but it is still a sharp and piercing dissection of life in modern-day Russia. Loveless producer Alexander Rodnyansky, 56, spoke on the film’s universal appeal and the similarities he sees between life under Putin and Trump’s America.

You deliberately made Loveless without any support from the Russian government. Why?

To avoid the uproar that our previous film, Leviathan, caused. We hadn’t seen a Russian audience so divided since Perestroika. Fans and critics were on completely opposite sides. We decided not to approach the state authorities again. To be frank, no one from their side approached us. We always wanted to be independent. The reason we approached the government for Leviathan was, I thought, because of the subject matter, having state support would help protect us from attacks. I was wrong. It didn’t help.

What do you think of the way Russia is depicted in Western media?

In many ways it is demonized. Russia is blamed for everything. But I don’t reject there are challenges for Russians. By speaking about a dysfunctional family in Loveless, Andrey Zvyagintsev finds a way to speak of our dysfunctional society. But he believes the way out starts with the people and their psychology. He believes people should change themselves first in order to change the society that they live in.

Do you see parallels between Russian society as shown in Loveless and U.S. society today?

Yes, definitely. The film is really about egoism, about lack of empathy. And human selfishness is the perfect platform for populists to use all around the globe. I see that in the reaction of many American audiences. They see this as their own story, that it’s about the U.S., not Russia. Of course I see parallels between what is happening in America and has happened in Russia. I see the middle class being completely unsatisfied and being treated by some populist politicians to be less tolerant. And being driven by conspiracy theories: blaming people from outside, migrants coming into the country, or blaming influence from the outside. All these conspiracy theories are very welcomed by people who are poisoned by this selfishness. In Russia, we know this well.

There’s a presidential election in Russia in March. What are your hopes for your country?

I never thought the breakup of the Soviet empire would mean an immediate conversion into a democratic society. Every election we learn something. Whatever happens, this is a process for many people to learn what democracy is about and how it works. I am a conservative optimist. I think it will take 10, 20 or more years, but in a country with so much talent, so many intellectuals, change will come. The role of the artist is to motivate people, to make them understand that their society is their responsibility. That’s why we have the element in the film of the volunteer movement, the people who come to search for the boy. It’s based on a real group. This organization, with no state support, only volunteers, is now operating in 26 Russian regions. This is the case we make in the film: how people can develop, how the country can change. That is why we believe in the future of Russia.

This story first appeared in a February standalone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.