Vanya's Dream

There are two central characters in this film: Vanya, and the city of St Petersburg itself. I decided to centre my story around the  trope of the city that appears so much in the works of Gogol, Dostoevsky, Pushkin, Blok, Mandelstam and certainly all of the literary figures who lived and worked in this cultural centre.
    In their description, St Petersburg is a 'princess in purple', a sunless Proserpine, a city of madness, darkness (of the weather and of the soul), of spiritual wonder and of oppression.
    The works of the St Petersburg tradition are full of the grotesque, the fantastical, the bleak and gloomy. They almost always feature what is widely known as the „little man“, who stands up to the forces of nature, of history, and of government, and is usually defeated.
    All of these elements informed my film Vanya and set me in the direction I was to take.
     The film combines documentary, fly-on-the-wall footage and interview with staged scenes, stylisation and metaphor.
    It was always of utmost importance to me to capture the conflict at work both in Vanya's life and in the life of the city. On the one hand there is the fairytale, wonder, beauty and delight, and on the other hand, despair, darkness, the complexity of reality.
In order to capture this I used the long discourses of my hero as he waxes lyrical about the city, the sky, the people.  If you listen to him, it is so easy to get caught up in the dream, the rose-tinted charming view of all the grime of life. But if you step back and look at him from afar, you see that his life is far from rosy. For this reason I used a lot of images of Vanya within his context: in the city, against his context, and long shots that show him as the direct descendant of the 19th century's “little man”. At the end of the day, however, I do want the viewer to sympathise with him, and that accounts for the many close shots that I have of him.
    Instead of planning the shooting process exactly, I took advantage of the haphazardness of Vanya's life. Most of the material that went into the final edit was caught by chance. This is the way that Vanya lives – from day to day, following his heart from place to place. And also, this is the way that St Petersburg lives – it is a city where anything can happen at any time. I wanted to show it all through the stumbling eye of Vanya himself, and this is why I used a hand-held camera for most of the shots: to add dynamism and scrappiness.
    My editing style for this film, too, supports my idea of the contrast between the free and erratic and the  fairytale sublime. The various episodes are tied together by flights around the city in cars and bicycles and walking feet. Vanya is never settled and neither is the film. However, his sprawling stories are punctuated by shadows of a higher life, of the magical and fantastical that pervades everything in the city and in him.

Director's Statement