Strange new "Creatures" in Croatian cinema
by Vladan Petkovic
- Among Croatian directors, Ivan-Goran Vitez can be considered the maverick. His debut feature is a strange beast with an original story, a rarely seen genre and little-known actors
Cineuropa: Judging by your films, you are interested in social and political issues primarily concerning Croatia but also applicable to the rest of the Western world. Why do you choose a humorous approach to these subjects?
Ivan-Goran Vitez: I can’t say that humour is a conscious choice for me. It’s simply my view of the world, the way I look at things. The situations that I react to with laughter in others would cause desperation, self-analysis, anger or sadness, so in a potential work of art they would apply their apposite approach. So it’s more of a style than a conscious choice.
There is a clear sense of irony in Forest Creatures [+see also:
interview: Ivan Goran Vitez
film profile], both in the dialogue and the characters of the secluded, Deliverance-like family that lives in the forest. What is the relationship between the serious subject matter and the humorous, tongue-in-cheek execution?
The irony is definitely there. But I didn’t write the dialogue and situations exclusively to achieve a humorous effect. I tried to make the characters as realistic as possible and to have their reactions at the events they’re in come out of them naturally because of who they are. They may sometimes seem absurd, but I keep meeting people from a similar or the same milieu who act even more absurdly. To people who are not acquainted with the milieu, it may seem that the characters are caricatures, but the most ironic thing is that they are not.
The same applies to the forest family. Of course they’re stylized, to a point, but much less than most people want to believe. A real secluded family probably wouldn’t act like the film family does, but their behaviour is a direct consequence of contact with “outside world”, with the arrival of a plasma TV with a satellite dish.
The mushroom-gathering New Age couple is another aspect of modern society that you attack. When did they enter the script and why did you include them?
They were there from the very start. While creating the concept it seemed logical to have a pair of mushroom gatherers as representatives of an activistic population that is always on the margins of events, and who interpret the information that they get the way it suits them, so that it fits into their world view. They are as important as the other characters, especially since they play the crucial role in the story’s development.
This is an "actors’ film" in the sense that they carry all the weight, equally, and their screen time is also more or less equally divided. How did you work with them and how did you put the story together?
I think that all 19 actors are excellent, but it’s hard to expect them to win any awards because their roles are equally important. It was a joy working with them. I tried to get actors that are rarely used in film, which can be tricky because they might be inexperienced, but in this case I didn’t notice that problem and we did shoot a lot of material in a very limited time. It’s a mystery to me why these actors are so rarely used in Croatian film, but I hope that Forest Creatures will change that.
As for constructing a story with so many parallel storylines and different characters, I suppose it’s not simple. If it were, it would be done more often. My system is to invent a concept and let it simmer in my mind for some time. Then I write down the structure and let it simmer some more, and then I realize the deadline is dangerously near, so I start to put flesh on the bones of the structure. It’s as simple as that.