“The pleasure of spying and the art of manipulation”
by Domenico La Porta
- The Bulgarian director unveiled The Color of The Chameleon in Thessaloniki. Cineuropa met him to discuss a film that is surprising on all levels.
Cineuropa: Why did you choose The Color of The Chameleon [+see also:
interview: Emil Christov
film profile] as a first film?
Emil Christov: It's a long story but, in a nutshell, I was originally to be director of photography for the film. After the director left six months before we were to start shooting, the author of the novel, who is also the film's producer, asked me to become its director and I accepted. I was not prepared and had never wanted to become a director. I was very happy with my career as a DoP and had worked on about 30 films until then. In order to be more relaxed, I asked that about 40 pages from the script be modified. My screenwriter friend accepted without any problem, and I launched into the adventure.
Yet the project seems very ambitious...
Yes, but we didn't tackle it with that attitude. I asked my team to have fun like children with toys. The film is a joke. I don't even know what success means and I'm not interested in it. I took it on for pleasure and that's why the whole story is ironic and it never takes itself seriously, even if the actors pretend to take themselves seriously. It makes them even more amusing.
Why the recurring allusion to Casablanca?
It's also a joke. The young woman shows the main character Michael Curtiz' film and asks him to summarise its plot, but all he remembers from it is a minor sub-plot, that of two Bulgarians who want to escape to the US. All this aims to show how ridiculous these characters are, as they do very serious yet absurd things in a system that is just as serious and absurd.
How did you fund such a film in Bulgaria?
The film received money from the National Film Centre in Bulgaria and from Bulgarian national television. It was also co-produced by NU Boyana Film Studios, an American company that has privatised most filmmaking installations in Bulgaria, including the studios where we shot the film. The budget was around €800,000, but I wanted it to look like a more expensive production. That also was a game. As a DoP, I understand the added value of the visual component for a film that is medium-budget in Bulgaria but very low-budget compared to an international production...
Did the film's subject cause any political criticism?
Not really. The screenplay is only a platform on which we play and communicate the pleasure of spying and the art of manipulation. There are, of course, political references, but they appear alongside references to literature, cinema, and music. The viewer has to be quite cultivated to be amused with us, but they first must understand that the film is a game not a political pamphlet. Each person interprets the film according to their culture. A friend who is a psychiatrist analysed it in the light of the notions of psycho-pathology, another, a philosopher, saw in it a reflection on post-modern deconstruction theories, and a political scientist spoke to me of a demonstration of the total failure of the elites during the fall of the communist regime. The interpretations are very different according to each person, and all are amusing.
To what extent is the story based on history?
It's all invented. There was never a secret department called S.E.X., but there could very well have been one. After the fall of communism in Bulgaria, we had a period of transition during which people who were completely incompetent ended up in elite positions of power from one day to the next. This absurdity and its consequences are historically real.
How do you explain that the film has not yet been sold to international distributors?
It's a mystery. The film will be released in Bulgarian cinemas in March. International buyers all liked the film and its festival audience has been very enthusiastic, stressing its level of production and the surprise to see such a film from Bulgaria. However, when it comes to buying the film for international distribution, it seems that it suddenly becomes too wordy and that it implies a discouraging flood of subtitles for average international viewers. This has been the most common argument for refusal so far.