Tension of a bizarre day
by Vladan Petkovic
- Croatian writer-director explains how he achieved the special atmosphere of his first feature film A Stranger.
Croatian writer-director Bobo Jelcic’s first feature A Stranger [+see also:
interview: Bobo Jelcic
film profile] world premiered in Berlinale’s Forum section and is now going to the Cannes Film Market. Jelcic explains how he achieved the special atmosphere that holds both the film together and keeps audiences interested, and how it is to pitch a screenplay in which there is apparently nothing much happening.
Cineuropa: You were born and grew up in Mostar. How much of the film is autographical? How do you personally feel in Mostar?
Bobo Jelcic: Every film should be autobiographical in a way, because you can only properly and responsibly speak about the things that you know well, particularly those you experienced personally. So this film is about things that I dare to say I know very well – the feelings, the mentality, the situations in the city. They are also, in a large part, what I’m made from.
When I go to Mostar nowadays, my emotions are mixed. It’s like being teleported back to your childhood without warning. Even if there had been no war, it would’ve felt that way for me. And the war certainly changed things a lot. And you’re never really sure about emotions and their definitions. Anyway, the most interesting emotions are those you can’t define.
It’s obvious that this film could not work without the right actor for the main role. When did you cast Bogdan Diklic as Slavko?
We had already known each other. [Theatre producer] Natasa Rajkovic and me were working with a Belgrade theatre on a project, and Diklic was involved in it. That project never worked out, but I immediately considered Diklic for this role exactly because of the way he is: both rough and gentle, tough and kind, old and childish- just like the main character in the film.
My method of work is to rationalize everything in the first stage of rehearsals so that everybody understands all important points the same way- the characters, the plot, even the view of the world. So our cooperation was on a very high level.
How do you pitch a project like this for funding, with a script in which nothing is really happening?
I wouldn’t really agree, actually a lot is happening in the script – during this day of his life, Slavko is very busy, a lot of things happen to him…he is constantly searching, and hunting in a way. The fact that at the end of the day he hasn’t done anything is a different matter. And it is exactly in this bizarreness of his day that we find an extremely emotional and strong story.
The Croatian Audiovisual Centre was the only potential funding source that recognized the value of the screenplay and supported us from the start. With others, it wasn’t so easy. In Bosnia they also supported the film financially, as much as they could. As for international film funds, only the Global Film Initiative realized what kind of a film this was. We were rejected at numerous co-production forums, the story just didn’t work for them. But our persistence paid off and we were able to make the film with money from these sources.
What was the biggest challenge in the production of the film?
Artistically, it was a challenge to transfer the ‘code’ of the screenplay to the film itself – this ‘eventlessness’, the feeling that nothing is happening – but to keep the tension on, without too much drama and tragedy, symbolism or cheap sentimentality. The whole film was intentioned as a consideration of the state of things in Mostar, with an emotion, but without insisting on it. It’s not even easy to explain, as you can see.
Technically, this wasn’t a demanding project, the only problem were snow and rain in Mostar, which postponed the shooting, as we needed it to be spring. But this also brought something to the film, this colour of the light that provides a special atmosphere on the screen.