November 14, 2018

Anton Yelchin explores extramarital love’s time slot in ‘5 to 7’

In Victor Levin’s new romantic film, “5 to 7,” an aspiring author laments to a friend about his affair with a French diplomat’s wife who is in an open marriage.  “I was taught that there are no free lunches…the other shoe drops and you suffer 1,000-fold,” the character, named Brian Bloom (played by Anton Yelchin), says of his concerns about the outcome of his unorthodox relationship.  When the friend asks about the origins of his pessimism, Brian says, simply, “I was raised by Jews.”

“It’s a joke and a stereotype,” said Yelchin, 26, a son of Russian Jews who, along with Shia LeBeouf and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is among the most sought-after actors of his generation.  “But for Eastern European Jews, and at least in my experience with Russian Jews, is that inevitably there is a bleak outlook on things that is completely understandable, completely historically justified…If you go to the former Soviet Union, the k-word is thrown around like it’s no big deal.  And the history of the Russian people in general is a history of oppression over and over again.  First the Mongol invasion, then the Boyars and Ivan the Terrible, and etc., etc.”

During an interview in his publicist’s office in West Hollywood, Yelchin – perhaps best known for his turns in “Terminator Salvation” and as the Russian officer Pavel Chekov in director J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek” reboots — appeared slender, with soulful blue eyes, dressed in a formal black suit and wearing a necklace adorned with charms, including a Star of David and an Israeli hamsa.  

“My grandparents suffered in ways I can’t even begin to understand under Stalin,” Yelchin said.  By the time he was born in St. Petersburg in 1989, Yelchin’s parents, Irina Korina and Viktor Yelchin, had been national celebrities for 15 years as stars of the Leningrad Ice Ballet.  They were rather well off by Russian standards, with a house in the city as well as a dacha in the countryside. 

But the story of this Jewish couple was not always so rosy: In 1972, as figure skaters, they were not allowed to participate in the Munich Olympics, even though they had qualified for the competition, the couple told the Los Angeles Times in 1989; when Viktor Yelchin’s brother, the painter Eugene Yelchin, emigrated to the United States, the couple was forbidden for a time from performing outside of the Soviet Union.

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By the time Anton was six months old, the “oppression and repression,” included living in a society where “even though there was food available, the markets would be empty,” the actor said.  “My parents would go to a market and the only things available were lard and cigarettes.”

And so, in 1989, his parents sold all their worldly possessions in order to relocate Los Angeles with refugee status, with only $5,000 in their pockets and speaking hardly a word of English.  Along with Viktor Yelchin’s mother, who had recently suffered a stroke, and Korina’s father, the family settled into a small apartment in West Hollywood.

“My parents didn’t want me to grow up in a Russia that was falling apart; they knew it was all going to s—,” the actor said of why the family relocated.  “But imagine not understanding anything that anyone is saying to you, and going to a culture that is 180 degrees opposed to your own.  There’s nothing that I will ever do that will be as tremendous or profound as what my parents went through.”

While Yelchin’s parents went on to perform and to coach young skaters in the United States, Anton discovered he was “horrible” at skating and instead began taking acting lessons at the age of 9.  He made his movie debut in 2000’s “A Man is Mostly Water” went on to perform in films such as “Alpha Dog,” “Charlie Bartlett” and 2011’s romantic drama “Like Crazy;” next he’ll appear in the thriller “Broken Horses,” opening April 10, as well as in the upcoming “Star Trek” flick, among other projects.

“5 to 7” director Victor Levin – who was inspired to write the film after observing a similar, if more successful, extramarital affair in France – was eager to hire Yelchin for the movie: “He’s like a young Dustin Hoffman, especially in his ability to be a romantic lead and at the same time to be a fish out of water,” Levin said in a telephone interview.

In the film, the fictional Brian embarks upon a strictly regimented affair with an older, married French woman, Arielle, played by former James Bond girl Berenice Marlohe:  “ ‘Cinq à sept’ is a French term for a relationship outside of marriage that takes place between the hours of 5 to 7 [p.m.], so that each partner in the marriage can have an extramarital affair with someone who is sanctioned by the other person,” Yelchin explained.  His character nonetheless feels guilty about the relationship, prompted in part by the morays of his Jewish parents, and ultimately wants more from Arielle.

Yelchin said he personally has never been involved with a married woman, but was drawn to the film because of its focus on the human compulsion “to hold onto the ephemeral.”  His primary challenge in understanding his character was that he is somewhat more open-minded than the fictional Brian:  “I certainly can’t judge someone who has been in a marriage, because the institution, I think personally, needs to change,” he said.  “It’s so ingrained in how we think about families that when parents divorce, it freaks children out because they’re taught that these two people should be together forever…If we just treated the institution a little bit differently – just to say that…your mother may love someone else at the same time, these are things that shouldn’t ruin you, but rather allow you to see things more broadly. “

As Yelchin tucked his Star of David and hamseh back underneath his shirt collar, he mused about some of the cultural attributes he shares with his character: “While I don’t think it’s right to classify people under a category like Jewishness, … my idea of being a Jew – at least a Russian Jew – isn’t in the traditions, which my family just didn’t know,” he said.  “Rather, it’s in the alignment of the history of the Jews in Russia, which is the history of being entirely oppressed.   Inevitably, it’s a mindset.” 

“5 to 7” opens in Los Angeles theaters on April 3 and will be available on VOD on April 10.