ND/NF Discovery: Angelina Nikonova’s “Twilight Portrait” (Russia)

Posted by Michael Gibbons on 3.30.2012


Surely one of the most controversial films of New Directors/New Films this year is Angelina Nikonova's Twilight Portrait, set in Putin-era Russia in which a woman has an affair with one of her rapists. Yet despite the provocative subject matter, critics seem to agree that Nikonova's direction is so engaging that your eyes are glued to the screen. Kenji Fujishima of Slant says it is an "engrossing and sometimes enraging debut" and Manohla Dargis of The New York Times writes, "it’s a testament to Ms. Nikonova’s eye for startling, plangent detail and [lead actress] Ms. Dihovichnaya’s tough, complex performance, with its suggestions of self-loathing and misanthropy, that I kept watching, and arguing with the movie long after it had ended."

Don't miss Twilight Portrait today and tomorrow. [buy tickets]

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What are you most excited to do while you're in NYC?
I am looking forward to finding an American co-producer, crew and cast for my new film that I will shoot in NY.
 
Describe your very first experience with filmmaking.
My very first time could, probably, be considered my thesis film in SVA. Eben Bull (DOP of Twilight Portrait) shot it for me. My ex-boyfriend helped me plan everything. But the very first day brought a surprise nevertheless. The lead actress refused to be a part of a sex scene that we had discussed a hundred times before. I had to ask the makeup artist to stand in for the actress. And I was lucky she agreed. The second day the lead actor couldn't show up and I had to cheat by using the hands of another man, that I then edited into the scene we shot later with a real actor. No one noticed those cheats, and it gave me the freedom to use various "tricks" during the production and during editing. I love watching the audience's attention - the law is: if the viewers are deep into the story, the concentration of their attention gives a filmmaker the freedom for various tricks.

What is your favorite (and/or least favorite) movie and why?
My favourite is City Lights by Charlie Chaplin, who managed to derive emotions so deep and so different from the film's audience. Chaplin is a genius master of playing the emotional strings of the viewers, making them laugh and cry within seconds. And this is without the use of dialogue. That just mezmerizes me.
 
I don't have a least favourite film, since I don't torture myself by watching something I don't like - I try to save my time and either stop the film, or leave the theater.

Do you have any rituals or rules for yourself while you're working on a film?
My main rule is not to panic, no matter what happens during the shoot. I try to give in totally to the force of production, and since I am a bit of a control freak, this ability to trust fate with its unpredictable turns and twists is essential to me. If something does not go the way I planned, I try to see what good can be derived from it. And most of the time a lot of lucky things happen when you let go a little bit. I try to expand this quality to other times of my being. The perception trick of trying to make plus out of minus helps a lot. It makes life easier.

What was the biggest surprise you had while making your film?
The biggest surprise was to disover Sergey Borisov as an actor. Sergey had never acted before. And it turned out that he has all the necessary qualities of a great actor. When I met him he had just quit his work at militia. Now he has a few offers from filmmakers and his acting career has jumpstarted.
 
Twilight Portrait screens March 30 and March 31. [buy tickets]

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