No, insists Fedor Bondarchuk, his new 3D sci-fi film about the alien invasion Attractionwhich opens in Russia and China later this month, should not be taken as an allegory about the currently contentious relations between Russia and the West.
There have been plenty of movies in which UFOs land in Los Angeles, London or even Cape Town, but Bondarchuk is convinced this is the first time space invaders have decamped to Moscow – and it certainly is. the first time they are filmed in IMAX big screen doing it.
“There was everything in this script! Bondarchuk says of Attraction. He points to the “very moving” love story at the center of the film, in the form of two attractive young suburban Moscow protagonists, and the possibilities of CGI action. However, he says the film is about “humanity and tolerance” and how we see “the other”. It is, he explains, a story of immigrants. The attraction is being touted by distributors as Russia’s answer to Independence Day but that’s not the comparison the director is looking for. He quotes Christopher Nolan Black Knight films as more of an inspiration than anything that has been done by Michael Bay.
The director’s film of 2013 Stalingrad also concerned the Russians dealing with the invaders. In this World War II epic, the very first Russian film shot in IMAX, the unwelcome visitors were the Germans. The film, made with substantial government support, was one of the biggest box office hits in the history of Russian cinema. He tapped into an episode that has huge emotional resonance for Russian audiences: the city’s stand against the German army that caused untold suffering and bloodshed, but helped turn the tide of the war. Aliens, however, are a slightly different proposition.
Bondarchuk acknowledges that there have been so many other space invasion films over the years that he and his collaborators at his company Art Pictures Studio had to work really hard to come up with an original concept. Their idea is that of a spacecraft created by “molecular water”.
“Believe me, he [Attraction] is not a symbolic theme of the Western invasion of Russia,” Bondarchuk reiterates. “It’s a global story. It’s not about our Russian problem. It’s about the theme of the immigrant – different people, different skin colors, different sexual orientations, different religions. Let’s try to get along. That’s the main message for me as a director.
In other words, the film is meant to be a plea for tolerance and has nothing to do with what Bondarchuk calls “the Trump selection and changes in Europe”.
It is a moot point whether Western critics will see Attraction in this light. Stalingrad was a wonderful film that drew heavily on parts of Vasily Grossman’s novel life and fate dealing with the Battle of Stalingrad. Nevertheless, outside of Russia, many considered her to be nationalistic in the extreme. “Seen as cinema, it is an unstable and almost surreal combination of Soviet-style war propaganda, Zack Snyder-style action and sentimental fairy tales,” writes Andrew O’Hehir in Salon.
Attraction is likely to raise similar questions. This isn’t just another sci-fi movie: Bondarchuk’s dedication to the project is bound to have viewers searching for hidden meanings in the story. After all, he is not only the director of Stalingrad; he is also the son of Sergei Bondarchuk, director of War and peace, a seven-hour epic based on Tolstoy’s literary masterpiece and one of the most famous Soviet films of its time. It was a foreign language Oscar winner in 1969 – and is also notable for being one of Vladimir Putin’s favorite films. The American poster for the film hangs prominently in his office. Bondarchuk is at the heart of the Russian film establishment; his new film again received substantial state support.
Access unlimited streaming of movies and TV shows with Amazon Prime Video Sign up now for a 30 day free trial
Fedor, 49, started his own career directing commercials and pop videos. He was 38 when he made his first feature film, The Ninth Companyabout Russian veterans of the war in Afghanistan in the 1980s (Putin praised the film, which was a major box office success).
The director and this team have already started writing a sequel to Attraction. If the first movie is a success, they aim to create a franchise. They’ve already sold the film worldwide (including China), but haven’t secured US or UK distribution yet. They have also adopted Western-style marketing techniques. These include the so-called “Mannequin Challenge”, in which a flash mob is filmed posing as if it had been turned to stone.
Three years ago, Bondarchuk nearly defected to Hollywood. He signed a deal with Warner Bros to direct a film about Ulysses. “But three years ago was the height of the economic crisis in Russia. It was impossible to spend a year and a half or maybe even two years abroad… it was a very difficult period for Russian cinema. He ended up doing the patriotic thing, staying home and doing Attraction rather. The film’s budget was a fraction of your typical Michael Bay blockbuster. (The figure put forward by the producers is around 5 million dollars.) “Compared to a Hollywood production, it’s nothing,” admits the director. Nevertheless, it is getting a huge release in Russia, where it is very big news. If successful, it is likely to usher in a brave new era of Russian sci-fi blockbusters.
Attraction opens in the UK on January 19.