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Closeness 2017

Closeness | Tesnota | Теснота


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A Jewish family is in trouble: the youngest son and his bride do not come home, and in the morning, a ransom note arrives. The ransom is so high that the family is forced not only to sell its small business but also to seek help from its fellow tribesmen.

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About the Closeness 💬

1998, Nalchik, the North Caucasus, Russia.

24-year-old Ilana 'Ila' Koft (Darya Zhovnar) works in her father's garage to help him make ends meet. One evening, her extended family and friends gather to celebrate the engagement of her younger brother David (Veniamin Kac). Later that night, the young couple is kidnapped, and a ransom demand delivered. In this close-knit Jewish enclave, involving the police is out of the question. How will the family raise the money to save David?

Ilana and her parents, each in their own way, will go as far as necessary, whatever the risks to themselves...


The film's title in Russian is TESNOTA, which commonly translates as narrowness, constriction, confinement.

The Kabardians, people from North Caucasus who speak Kabardian (not a Slavic language), have been subjected to Russian domination since 1825. With the Balkars (a Turkish-speaking and ethnically Turkish people), they have since 1936 formed the autonomous Kabardino-Balkaria Republic, included in the Russian Republic. The territory was occupied by German troops for five months during the winter of 1942-1943. The autonomous republic occupies 13,000km2 of territory (it borders the Karachay-Cherkessia Republic to the West, the district of Stavropol to the North and North Ossetia to the East - all three included in the Russian Republic - and Georgia to the South) and has a little over 800,000 inhabitants (57% are Kabardians, 23% Balkars and 13% Russians). Nalchik is the capital (pop. 240, 000). On this territory stands the highest European mountain, Mount Elbrus, 5642 meters high.


Q: What led you to the cinema?

Kantemir Balagov: I was born in Nalchik, in the North Caucasus, in 1991, and went to high school there. To be honest, cinema didn't come to me right away; I studied economics at Stavropol University, followed by a law correspondence course. But I quickly realized that wasn't for me and started looking for something else. My father had bought me a camera and I began taking photos; later I started to film things and ended up making web serials in Nalchik. I'd been doing this for about a year when a friend told me I should go and see Alexander Sokurov (I didn't know who he was at the time!). He had opened a film school in Nalchik three years earlier. We wrote to each other, spoke on the phone, he suggested that I join the school and go straight into year 3. Of course, I accepted and I don't regret it. In fact, when Alexander Sokurov opened this school in the Nalchik University building, he wanted the course to last six or seven years but the university was opposed to this and the film studies course lasts five years. I joined in the autumn of 2011.

Q: Did you go regularly to the cinema before? What films had you seen?

Kantemir Balagov: I made up for lost time once I started studying. We saw many classics: French New Wave, cinema from the Khrushchev Thaw period1, war films… Of course, I'd never heard of the French New Wave before I joined the school, never heard of Renoir, Carné, Godard, etc. I had only seen mainstream films, unfortunately... In Nalchik, we only have multiplex cinemas, no arthouse cinemas, as is the case in most Russian provincial cities. In short, I feel closer to the French New Wave, particularly the early Godard films, but I also love Carné's Children of Paradise / Les Enfants du Paradis (for me, a perfect film), Fists in the Pocket by Marco Bellocchio, films from the sixties, Mouchette by Robert Bresson... When it comes to Russian and Soviet cinema, I'd put first Marlen Khutsiev's I am Twenty, The Cranes are Flying by Mikhaïl Kalatozov (the only Russian Palme d'Or in the history of Cannes, and largely well deserved, in my opinion) and generally speaking, the Khrushchev Thaw cinema.

Q: CLOSENESS is your first feature-length film. What have you shot before?

Kantemir Balagov: I made a 40 minute film in 2013, while finishing my studies, entitled Still Young / Molodoy eschyo, and a 38 minute documentary, Andryoukha (about a young man affected by the early onset of schizophrenia but whose family relies on his market stall earnings), as well as 15 minute short in 2015, Pervyy ya, which was shown at the Short Film Corner in Cannes that year (my first time in Cannes!).

Q: Where did the idea for the screenplay originate?

Kantemir Balagov: From 1957 to 1964, from the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union denouncing the cult of Stalin, to the removal of Nikita Khrushchev.

This story of a kidnapping, relatively common in the nineties (this kind of problem hasn't existed since the early 2000s) I only heard from my father, when I was 17 or 18. Later, when I was studying, I thought it was good film material and started to explore the question of the Jewish diaspora - what little was left of it in Nalchik at the time. What interested me most were the feelings a family would experience when learning of the kidnapping of their son and above all, what these relatives would not be prepared to do to save their kin. It is this moral clash that I wanted to explore and talk about. Clearly one would do anything to save a loved one, but what people are not prepared to do is what was most interesting to explore. I wrote it with my co-writer, Anton Yarush, who is from Saint Petersburg. He wasn't familiar with this region. He intervened on my producer's request, after I had already written half of the screenplay, which he reviewed and revised. I had told him all I knew. What interested me was questioning the axiom according to which you have to sacrifice yourself to save a loved one. This is even more so in the Caucasus: it is even the primary axiom. Yet for me, this is a profound question: is it really human to oblige someone to sacrifice himself or herself to save a loved one? This is the starting point from which I explored the characters, the situations... I had some references in mind of course: Bresson's Mouchette, and Rosetta, by the Dardenne Brothers. It is a true story but of course, we see on the screen a collection of facts derived from different similar stories. We also made up certain things but the key scenes are true.

Q: Do you think there is a difference in the way the Kabardians and the Jewish people approach this situation?

Kantemir Balagov: Jews and Kabardians can be as close to each other as they can be apart. Caucasian society is more patriarchal, Jewish society more matriarchal. Jews are more dynamic, more enterprising; the Caucasians are slower, more melancholic in a way. But the propensity to preserve the family, to preserve their roots, is common to both. There were many Jewish people in Kabardino-Balkaria. And during World War 2 and the invasion of the Caucasus by German troops, Jews were often hidden and protected by the Kabardians. They started to learn the Kabardian language and many of them settled after the war, creating a true Jewish community in Nalchik, with a Jewish quarter and a synagogue that is still there today. On the other hand, since Perestroika, there are unfortunately hardly any left: many emigrated to New York and Israel, and some moved to Moscow. One has to remember that at the end of the nineties, the second Chechen War began and the area became dangerous, even if no combat took place on our land, not even terrorist acts at that time. The only one took place on the 13th of October 2005, when terrorists tried to take over the city.

Kabardians are not very different from other people of the Caucasus. What unite them is their concern for honor and respect - even if honor and respect have become rare... I do not think there are major differences between the Kabardians, the Chechens or the Ingushetians. (I really hope I'm not upsetting anyone here). There are codes of conduct, dictated by Muslim religion or not, that you mustn't transgress. There are also some Russians left in the Kabardino-Balkar Republic, the Kabardians are leaving now too. The economic situation is such that everyone wants to try their luck elsewhere, in Moscow, Saint Petersburg. Nalchik has become a very poor city. The leaders of this autonomous republic care nothing about the wellbeing of their countrymen, whether they have jobs or not. So, it's every man for himself.

Q: How do you work with actors? Do you allow them to improvise at all?

Kantemir Balagov: It matters to me that there is some improvisation, otherwise the actors get bored. We rehearsed, of course; only the key scenes, the family scenes, so that during the shoot, the actors would be able to add something. We didn't rehearse a huge amount because I didn't want the characters to become blunted. We modified some of the dialogue that seemed fine at the writing stage but which became banal once spoken by the actors who have been able to develop their characters.

Q: You show videos of executions - how did you choose them?

Kantemir Balagov: The longest one is a video that my friends and I got a hold of when we were about twelve, thirteen years old, on tape or DVD - I don't remember - that we used to watch together. I remember it very clearly because it was the first time that I was confronted with death, that I saw someone die slowly. We were as if spellbound, glued to these images shot at that time, in 1998, in a village in Daghestan. We weren't filled with anti-Russian feelings, we didn't take any pleasure in these images but we just couldn't take our eyes off them... The characters' reactions when they watch this tape are modeled on the reactions of my friends and me, all very different from one another.

Q: It is rare to see extremely personal cards on film, as we see at the beginning and end of CLOSENESS?

Kantemir Balagov: It came after a screening I had organized; a couple of Russian critics told me that they lacked a context to help them understand the story better. Alexander Sokurov suggested the idea of inserts so I could put the story in context: time, geography, nationality... I also loved the idea because I saw an opportunity to show a moment of true sincerity to the audience.

Closeness Movie Details 🎥

Directed by

Kantemir Balagov

Writing Credits

Kantemir Balagov

Anton Yarush


Darya Zhovnar

Olga Dragunova

Atrem Cipin

Veniamin Kac

Anna Levit

Nazir Zhukov

Cinematography by

Artem Emelianov

Genre: Drama

Country: Russia

Closeness Official Trailer

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