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The couple who are about to adopt a Russian orphan in The Italian are Italian because for most Russians, Italy conjures up visions of a warm, sunny and beautiful place, the perfect escape, the director Andrei Kravchuk tells Andrew L. Urban.

“I can hear you but excuse my English … not very good,” says Andrei Kravchuk from the other end of the (rather crackly) line in St Petersburg, Russia’s famous former capital and cultural treasure chest, founded by Peter the Great some 80 years before the First Fleet arrived at Sydney Cove. When Kravchuk was born in 1962, it was still called by its communist name of Leningrad. “The change was right,” says Kravchuk. “The founder’s name was Peter … that’s real. It was not Lenin…”

Kravchuk is now working on a Russian historical movie set in the early days of the 20th century (around the same time that St Petersburg was re-named Leningrad in 1924), and his debut feature, The Italian, has ensured that his future work will be closely watched. The Italian was not only Russia’s Official Entry in the 2006 Oscars for Best Foreign Language film, it also collected dozens of awards and accolades at festivals around the world.

The idea for the film emerged in 2000 after Kravchuk’s collaborator, Andrei Romanov, showed him a newspaper article about an orphan boy who first learnt to read and write and then ran away from the orphanage to try and find his mother. A few years earlier, Kravchuk had made a short documentary about an orphanage and the subject had stayed with him; this story triggered a new bout of interest, and with Romanov he developed it into his first feature film.

"a winner in any situation"

With a riveting performance by young Kolya Spiridonov as the six year old Vanya, The Italian is a bitter sweet drama that captures the heartbreaking squalor of Russian orphans while highlighting the power of the spirit. Andrei Romanov’s screenplay never degenerates into caricature as he draws the less honourable characters, and never slips into sentimentality when he is framing Vanya and his wretched peers. Despite its sometimes melancholy nature, Kravchuk thinks The Italian “is a film about love, about self-esteem and dignity. If a person acts in accordance with his heart and human principles he will be a winner in any situation.”

His own childhood was a happy one, with an engineer father and a doctor mother. His brother is now a businessman; “I am only film director,” he says with a chuckle. Kravchuk’s wife is a designer, and they have two young boys (5 and 7).

He laughs when asked why the adoptive parents in the film are Italian. “For many people in Russia, Italy is connected with warmth, sunshine, life, art and so on …if we could choose where our parents come from many of us would choose Italy. It’s the ideal place,” he says, even though he had never been to Italy – until after completing The Italian and travelling to a festival with it. “It’s very beautiful, as we thought” he says with a laugh.

Published April 25, 2007

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Andrei Kravchuk


Kravchuk with his star, Kolya Spiridonov, on the set

In cinemas April 25, 2007
Six year old orphan Vanya (Kolya Spiridonov) is next in line for adoption at a remote Russian orphanage; Zhanna (Maria Kuznetsova), who makes a decent living arranging such adoptions with the headmaster (Yuri Itskov), brings an Italian couple to check him out and they are delighted with him. But in the two months it takes to finalise the paperwork, a woman turns up at the orphanage looking for her abandoned son, which inspires Vanya to search for his own mother. First he learns to read with the help of young orphan and hooker Irka (Olga Shuvalova), and breaks into the safe to find his file. It is inconclusive, but refers to a previous care home which first took him in as a baby. Vanya escapes so that he can find the original care home where the records might tell him who and where his mother is.

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