“Moscow Is A Prison… But We Love It.” An Interview With Johnny O’Reilly, Director Of MOSCOW NEVER SLEEPS
We had a chance to talk with Johnny O'Reilly, director of the upcoming drama Moscow Never Sleeps, a film that's very politically relevant.
On Friday June 9, Moscow Never Sleeps hit New York theaters. Only time will tell how the film will be received, given America’s current political climate. The timing could not be more pertinent: former FBI director, James Comey, testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday, about his private conversations with President Trump. Comey, who leaked memos of his conversations in the hopes of instigating an investigation into Trump’s ties to Russia, is quoted as saying, “I was fired because of the Russia investigation.”
In this age of distrust and political speculation, sometimes we need to turn to film to set the record straight. If nothing else, movies like Moscow Never Sleeps allow us to step behind the red curtain and see for ourselves what another culture has in store.
The film follows five individuals whose vibrant lives in Moscow intertwine on one fateful day: Moscow City Day. The characters include: an entrepreneur in financial trouble, a teenage girl in search of her father, a terminally ill comedian, a singer caught between two men, and a young man caring for his aging grandmother.
Moscow Never Sleeps opens with sweeping shots of the city, eventually transporting us into the hospital in the opening scene. Each scene feels like being swept up alongside the characters; I felt myself cringing when a group of bumbling imbeciles kidnapped Valeriy, the ailing comedian. And I wanted Vera, the teenage girl, to find her way out of that noxious nightclub. I could literally feel those men’s grimy hands on her skin.
In a separate twist of fate, I got in contact with the publicist of Moscow Never Sleeps, who passed along the following questions to Johnny O’Reilly. Below are Johnny’s answers via email.
Interview With Johnny O’Reilly
Sophia Cowley For Film Inquiry: Before Moscow Never Sleeps, you wrote and directed the thriller, The Weather Station. How did you make the move from thriller/mystery to drama?
Johnny O’Reilly: I like both genres. My short films were mostly dramas. All characters and stories have an emotional structure and integrity. I rarely ever think about genre when I’m writing stories. Of course, they become categorized as such only once they’re completed. Genre is a useful shorthand pigeonhole with which to describe a film, but I don’t have a personal preference for one genre over another.
What inspired the five interwoven narratives? Tell us a bit about your writing process.
Johnny O’Reilly: I’m a curious person by nature. When I meet people, I tend to want to find out about their lives and personal histories. Russian people live much more extraordinary lives than we do in the West. They need to fight harder in order to survive. There’s more cruelty and compassion there. The country is a well of inspiration for any writer. I started off with a few characters and half ideas gleaned from stories and people I knew in the real world. Once I started writing, the stories developed on their own, guided by my imagination.
Who or what are you greatest influences?
Johnny O’Reilly: Truth is always stranger than fiction. I’m inspired by real life, by stories I come across about real people and things that I read about in newspapers and books. The writers who have influenced me the most are Tolstoy and Chekhov. Among my favourite filmmakers are Orson Welles, Ingmar Bergman, Mike Nichols, Pavel Pavelowsky, Andrey Zvyagintsev.
Throughout the film, there seem to be recurring themes of hyper masculinity and the crossing of personal boundaries. (The girls are literally pushing two guys off of themselves in one scene.) Can you talk a bit about where these ghastly male characters came from?
Johnny O’Reilly: Russia is a very traditional society. This is particularly true in relationships between men and women. It’s also quite a lawless country. Single mothers for example, have very little recourse in law to obligate men for alimony payments. Rape charges are rarely ever successfully prosecuted. Because of this and many other discriminatory practices, women in Russia are very vulnerable. This means that they have to be very strong to survive. This is reflected in the film. The plight of the 16-year-old Lera, the granny and the abused middle-aged wife in the film reflect both the vulnerabilities and the strength of Russian women.
This film features some pretty beautiful, well-choreographed shots. How did you find funding for Moscow Never Sleeps? What about distribution?
Johnny O’Reilly: Funding for MNS was a hybrid of European co-production finance and the ancient Russian traditions of patronage. 50% came from Irish and European government subsidies and the other 50% from private Russian financing. Because of some of the film’s provocative subject matter, the Russian Ministry of Culture attempted to suppress the film. We struggled to secure a big Russian distributor but in the end, we managed to release the film on 500 prints with a small indie distributor and received rave reviews in the Russian media.
What are your concerns—if any—about Americans’ reaction to the film?
Johnny O’Reilly: I’m more concerned about reach rather than reaction. It’s hard to grab the attention of a wide audience in the US with a foreign language film. Given the current geo-political dramas, however, we believe there’s a big appetite for a film that shows life behind the curtain in Russia and that now is a good time to release the film.
Thanks to Johnny for the interview! Do you think Moscow Never Sleeps will do well in American cinemas, considering the current political drama? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below!
Moscow Never Sleeps made its New York premiere on Friday, June 9th, followed by its LA premiere on June 16th, and Washington D.C. premiere on June 30th. The film will play in select cities across the US over the summer. For more information and for showtimes near you, please visit their website.
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