Alexander Kuznetsov, сinematographer
The Gulls is a very special film in my life, and not simply because my wife directed — the ideas it touches upon are close to me personally, and I truly hope they will affect the viewers just as much.
There are a lot of layers and themes to the movie: the story of a woman and her fate, the husband’s criminal past; the main one, however, is the story of her inner liberation.
When discussing the film’s visual concept, we decided that the camera should be as close to the heroine as possible in order to feel and convey Elsa’s deepest experiences. This required a certain angle and distance between the camera and the actress; sometimes the camera moves alongside Elsa at her own rhythm, sometimes it freezes up, just like Elsa, and then suddenly it rushes off in a failed attempt to contain itself.
The moment when I fully understood my role as the cinematographer was when our casting director Volodya Golov said that «we need to film Kalmykia so that it looks as beautiful as Zheniya».
Natural elements play a large part in the film — on the one hand, we wanted to use the wind and fog, the water and ice, even the frozen ground, to convey the heroin’s emotional state, so that the viewers feel her pain and sufferings; on the other hand, the elements are a sign of fate’s constant presence, silently leading us on our way.
Regardless of whether we were filming interiors or specks of sand sparkling in the sun, the stifling fumes from the cooking dinner or the acute and merciless sun, the oppressive winter light — everywhere, the foreground of the frame is taken up by Elsa’s subjective world. A personal challenge I faced as the cinematographer was having to provide for freely moving and rotating the camera 360 degrees in nearly all the interiors. In order to do so, we set up the lighting outside of the rooms, with only the camera and actors inside — this gave them and the director freedom in the mise-en-scene, contributing to a more intimate and realistic frame. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
The colour of our film is somewhat muffled, hidden, while the various colour combinations aren’t quite familiar to European eyes. When planning the film’s colours, we heavily relied on the colour palette of a Buddhist temple, realising that it can be seen everywhere in Kalmykia — both in the streets of Elista, and in the two villages where the film’s main action takes place.