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Interview: Milcho Manchevski • Director

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Taking things to next level


- Interview with the Macedonian director who talks to Cineuropa about the idea for the three stories in Mothers and the themes connecting them

Interview: Milcho Manchevski   • Director

Cineuropa: Why did you compose the film from three entirely different stories, of which the first two are fiction and the third documentary?
Milcho Manchevski: Linear storytelling is a bit tired. It is like a straitjacket that sometimes stifles creativity. I got excited by fragmented storytelling, and I tried it in Before the Rain (1994) and Dust (2001). Now I wanted to take things to the next level, where the connections between different segments of the film are not narrative, but instead tonal and thematic.

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I went for an austere, Spartan film in that respect. The connections and interplay may seem more difficult to grasp at first, but once the viewer lets go of preconceptions, the interaction between the segments becomes more satisfying and deeper than if they were narrative because they are less rational, and thus freer. The process of conceiving Mothers [+see also:
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interview: Milcho Manchevski
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was intuitive and not programmatic. It just felt right to put these three stories together, like in a Rauschenberg painting, or an experimental film.

In the first story, what is Bea’s motive for fabricating the flasher?
This first story is…something a friend of mine did when she was younger. Actually, all three stories are very much based on real events. Bea’s lies are a game to her, but also a dare. She gets carried away and then can’t back down.

In the second story you explore the dying out of rural areas, which is characteristic to the Balkans. The region still feels like the 19th century in some areas, while in others it’s super modernized.
Some parts of the region feel like the Middle Ages – both in the look and the lifestyle. I am attracted to that lifestyle, despite all its drawbacks. Some countries in the region developed their poor areas so that people are stimulated to stay. Mariovo, where we filmed that story, is deserted and gorgeous. But two large hydro-electrical plants that will be built there will change it forever.

Why did you choose the story of a serial killer for the documentary segment?
I was struck by the ordinariness of evil. The victims were all retired cleaning women, elderly and poor. The man who kidnapped, raped, tortured and killed them was someone who knew them well, perhaps a neighbour they shared gossip and jokes with. A person in the documentary says: “In Macedonia everyone knows everything about everybody at all times.” You begin to wonder if this kind of claustrophobic environment isn’t more murderous than the crimes themselves.

Regardless of the form of each of the stories, the prevailing theme is clearly truth, the way it is influenced and formed, and our perception of it.
As filmmakers we are constantly working with truth. Even when creating fantasy worlds, we need to make them consistent and truthful to themselves. A photographed image is so powerful that we often mistake it for truth. With the flood of digital cameras and instant Internet distribution, the question of recording the actual truth has become more acute.

Mothersdeals with various facets of truth – is truth what really happened, or what we think happened? What happens when we lie, but then begin to believe the lie? What if reality begins to conform to our lie? In that sense, I am pushing the envelope, exploring our expectations and preconceptions, and that is why one of the stories is a documentary, but the truth in it is actually more elusive, even confusing. In Mothers, the structure of the film itself becomes part of its message. I am interested in the nature of truth.

You take a feminine point of view in each of the stories, we see them through the eyes of women. Why did you choose this approach?
It came naturally. Come to think of it, the strongest characters in my films were always women. This time I really tried to let go, to be intuitive and free. I was lucky to have a great supporting team, especially producer Christina Kallas, [production manager] Milan Stojanovic and [first AD] Nikola Ivanovic, so it was easy to go with the creative flow. It turns out the feminine point of view suits me.


main awards/selection

Berlinale 2011 Panorama

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