Courtesy XYZ Films

Director Lado Kvataniya may not be known here in the United States, but he is definitely a filmmaker to keep an eye out on. Having worked on several short films and music videos, he brings a distinctive voice and perspective that leaves the viewer wanting more. Now, he is making his feature directorial debut with THE EXECUTION, a film that follows the Russian police forces over more than ten years trying to hunt down the country’s most wanted serial killer. This tale echoes the cry of a Greek tragedy and will pull the viewer in with its gripping tale.

For the World Premiere of THE EXECUTION (Казнь), Nightmarish Conjurings’ Sarah Musnicky spoke with Director/Co-Writer Lado Kvataniya, where they dove into what inspired the film’s story, the research process that he and co-writer Olga Gorodetskaya went through, and how the story embraces its inherent Greek tragedy elements.

Editor’s Note: While we did try to keep the spoilers to a minimum, there are spoilers featured in this interview. Proceed with caution.

I didn’t watch the teaser until after I finished THE EXECUTION and didn’t realize that the story was inspired by true events. Was the story what initially inspired you to make this film before you got sucked into the research process?

Lado Kvataniya: First of all, I’d like to clarify that it is not based on true events. It’s more inspired by real events. We did a lot of research on criminal cases about serial killers between 1969 and 1990 and, of course, our characters are similar to real serial killers that existed in reality. Our main maniac is kind of a blend of different serial killers, although, he might be traced back to Andrei Chikatilo. Even so, it’s not completely 100% based on him. The events are also similar to what was going on historically with the USSR and Russia. But of course, when we work with this kind of shutter, we need a lot of material. We needed to research lots of material to create the universe. I’ve never worked for any law enforcement agencies, nor have I had anyone in my family killing someone on a kind of a killing spree. So. fortunately, I don’t have first-hand experience in any of that.

I didn’t think you had first-hand experience. I thought that’s what had been said, and I was like, wait a second… [all chuckle], You guys mentioned that particular time in history, and Americans our age don’t know much about it. I only know about it because my otchim, he talked about it a lot. But I was wondering whether or not the main character Issa, if he could be viewed through that lens as a metaphor for that time period?

Lado Kvataniya: I love this interpretation.Thank you for it. Of course, it can be a metaphor for what you said. Issa fits into the system step by step. The system is quite rigid and makes everyone just a tiny detail. So, Issa dissolves in it, eventually. First, he was idealistic, and then he becomes just a tiny piece of this machine, and that’s why [Ivan] Sevastyanov pisses him off so much because he reminds Issa of the idealist he was some time ago. So, yeah, I think it can be the metaphor of what the country was going through.

There is another important thing that there is this stereotype of the Cold War, this cliched image of the USSR destroying ordinary people as opposed to the democratic USA and so on. But Issa actually had the choice to be part of the system or choose not to play this game. So, it’s not just about the system. Of course, the system is cruel, but it does not boil down to the system 100%. It was also the weakness of his own spirit, of his own personality. We know that he had things to lose, like his reputation and the money, and his position. But, at the end of the day, what matters is your personality and that it is your choice as a human. Issa was a coward, which is why he chose what he chose, and did such terrible things.

Still from THE EXECUTION (Казнь) 

I like the fact that you touch on that. Each person, we all make our choices and that’s a concept that I 110% agree with. The concept of individual choice. The film itself reads as sort of a Greek tragedy. When you guys were constructing the screenplay, was that something you had in mind from the beginning? Or was that something that came about during the writing process later on?

Lado Kvataniya: Olga [Gorodetskaya] and I started reverse engineering this story. We started with the end, which we wanted to have. So, I’m so happy that you understood this metaphor and this concept the way that we’ve designed it. With those two guys being tied to each other back to back, that’s exactly the kind of execution they both deserve. So, it kind of goes beyond a crime story or a thriller or whatever, and overflows into an ancient Greek tragedy. It’s right.

One of the things that I really liked and appreciated about the film was how you use the visuals to help guide the audience into an understanding of where we were in time. Can you talk about developing the visual palette of the specific time periods we see in the film?

Lado Kvataniya: It was one of the greatest challenges. Actually, we wanted the viewer to navigate the story easily. And so Denis [Firstov], our DoP, helped me to come up with the solution of using different colors and different palettes for different time periods. In 1991, there is no color. Everything is gray and gloomy, looking like death because Issa is dead internally. He’s dead inside. Then, in the 1980s, we have color, which goes fading away as Issa starts betraying his ideals. So, it’s very important, because even if the viewer doesn’t remember the exact date that we’re in, it still keeps them engaged and helps them understand where they are at each point of the story.

It looks beautiful in the way you guys shot it. Your projects leading up to this point have contained a lot of political and social commentary. One thread that I noticed in your most recent work is in addressing violence against women. We see this in both THE EXECUTION and in the music video you did with Manizha a couple of years ago. Even though it’s more subtle in this film, there’s still that message addressing violence against women. Can you talk about that?

Lado Kvataniya: It’s a horrible story from a point of view of the women, because women are kind of pawns for Issa, and it’s not just some kind of domestic violence between women and so on. The most atrocious thing is that when it’s, for example, some mental disorder, as is the case of the many acts [reflected in the film] and so on, they just need medication. So, it’s something that is beyond their control. But, when we come to Issa, we see that he is completely cold-blooded. So, to me, he’s the most terrible and, in the end, he finds himself alone.

THE EXECUTION (Казнь) had its World Premiere at this year’s Fantastic Fest, The film will also be playing as a part of this year’s Sitges Film Festival. To learn more about the film, check out our review!

This interview was edited for clarity and length and to hide most spoilers. 

Sarah Musnicky
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