Moscow Never Sleeps – Interview with Irish Director Johnny O’Reilly

Johnny O’Reilly is the Irish director behind the new Russian language film ‘Moscow Never Sleeps’. Having studied Russian and Classics and Trinity College, O’Reilly Worked as a journalist in Russia and Ireland before starting out as a filmmaker in 1996.

What was the attraction for an Irish director to make a Russian film set in Moscow?

Moscow’s a fantastic city, full of excitement, dynamism and contrast. It’s the biggest city in Europe and most people know nothing about it. With its hulking Soviet blocks, massive gridlocked avenues and beautiful parks, the place is stunning. However, it’s the people who are the biggest attraction for me. There’s a lot of cruelty and suffering in the lives of Russians. But there’s also a lot of soul.

How did you approach the Irish Film Board with your Russian story?

I went through the standard application procedure for any Irish film and received support from them throughout the whole process. Their financial support amounted to only about 10% of the budget, but their moral and logistical support was hugely important. It’s a film set in Russia, but all the main creative elements were Irish and all post-production took place in Ireland, so it easily fit their remit.


The film was beautifully shot, bringing Moscow to life in many different aspects. Did the two of you make a conscious choice to avoid showing picture-postcard Moscow?

Yes, we did. The film itself is an attempt to subvert Western stereotypes about Russian people by showing them in all their natural complexities, so I felt that we had to get away from iconic imagery that reinforced those stereotypes. Besides, everyone around the world knows Red Square and the Kremlin, but most Muscovites pass by them without a second glance.


What’s the reaction to the film been like from Russian critics and audiences?

The reaction was amazing. Many people loved it, but there was a minority who resented the depiction of Russians in the film. Mainstream opinion in the Russian media is currently skewed in support of a myopic government cultural policy which advocates nationalism and the glorification of Russian culture. So, the idea of a foreigner making a film about Russian that did not subscribe to this considered to be a provocation by some media commentators. The Liberals tended to support the film but the nationalists thought it was an attack on the Russian soul. And I was just delighted to be part of the conversation.


What would you like Irish audiences to take from the film? Do you see parallels with modern Dublin city life too?
Moscow and Dublin are very different cities, but there are parallels to the extent that all people essentially share the same fundamental hopes, dreams and fears. I want Irish audiences to sympathize with the characters in the film and to recognize themselves in them. While the setting of the film is specific, the stories are universal and I hope that they will engage and resonate with Irish audiences.


Words : Gareth O’Connor
“Moscow Never Sleeps’ Is In Selected Cinemas From Nov 11th