Martin Žiaran • Cinematographer
by Martin Kudláč
- Award-winning Slovak cinematographer Martin Žiaran sat down with Cineuropa to discuss his latest projects, including the one-shot wonder Hany
Slovakian cinematographer Martin Žiaran, who is currently working in Prague, visited the Visegrad Film Forum in Bratislava to talk about visuality and functionality in pictures. Žiaran is Peter Bebjak’s pet cinematographer, and they have worked together on various film and television projects, with Žiaran making his debut on Bebjak's Apricot Island. Žiaran also lensed Jan Hřebejk's television miniseries The Case of the Exorcist and his latest film, The Teacher, which was shot in Slovakia. The cinematographer talked to Cineuropa about his work on Bebjak's film The Cleaner [+see also:
interview: Martin Žiaran
interview: Peter Bebjak
film profile], the one-shot film Hany [+see also:
interview: Michal Samir
film profile] and the emergence of a new generation of filmmakers.
Cineuropa: When we spoke to Peter Bebjak (read the interview), he told us you had lengthy discussions about the cinematography in The Cleaner, and you switched between several shooting styles and modes. What was the motivation behind these decisions?
Martin Žiaran: We did talk a lot, but it was more about the film's mood. We didn’t prepare a technical script because we knew there would be room for improvisation on the set, but that’s just the way we work. We invested lots of time in location scouting to create an architectonical whole. We were piecing this together because the film stands on capturing Bratislava’s atmosphere. When it comes to how particular scenes were made, that’s a question of intuition; there was really no formula to it. Regarding the different style, that’s just how it was written. The beginning was scripted as a rapid montage, and as soon as the protagonist meets the female lead, it all slows down and we switch to observation – voyeurism – up until the moment he is unmasked. Then it moves into the passage where we see the relationship between the two outsiders grow – this is the part I like the most.
You lensed the Czech project Hany, for which you were awarded the Golden Eye Grand Prize, amongst other accolades. What was behind the illusion that is the one-shot film Hany?
Michal Samir came up with the idea of the one shot, and I consider him a very talented scriptwriter and director. He wrote the script himself, and at the very beginning of the script, there was this note: “I want all this to happen in one take,” which was a level of craziness I couldn’t even begin to imagine. However, it made it exciting and, in a sense, attractive. And Michal used to have this bon mot: “I didn’t want to give producers an opportunity to cut my film, so that's why I did it in one take.” But the theme is another reason why the film unspools in a single shot. It’s about a generation that has time slipping between its fingers, and the film tells that generation’s story, the post-revolution generation, which suddenly had every opportunity handed to them, but so many people just talked about this fortune – time passes by and nothing happens. An excess of opportunities will hold you back. Because of this theme, Michal wanted the events to happen in “real time”. The budget was very restrictive, so a one-shot film had good prospects in this sense. We could only afford three days of shooting, so we had to plan the schedule meticulously to get it done in three days. We cut the film into three parts – dramaturgically and technically – and so, every night, we shot 25 minutes of footage in one take.
Regarding Hany's innovative formalistic approach in the context of Czech cinema, the film didn’t have as much traction as one would expect. Why do you think the film didn’t resonate as much as anticipated?
Maybe the film needs time, and I hope it will mature with time. Personally, I don’t think the film didn’t resonate, and now you hear critics’ voices proclaiming a new wave of Czech cinema as a number of critically acclaimed films have premiered in a row. You have The Noonday Witch, from the team that brought you Hany, and the film is really good genre fare. There’s also I, Olga Hepnarova [+see also:
interview: Tomáš Weinreb, Petr Kazda
film profile] and Family Film [+see also:
interview: Olmo Omerzu
film profile]. Critics are starting to call it new-new Czech wave. Amidst all this talk, you can hear voices claiming that Hany was the starting point for such a change of course in Czech cinema and the emergence of a new generation that isn’t afraid to experiment. I think this is also the case in Slovakia. I like Koza [+see also:
interview: Ivan Ostrochovský
film profile], Eva Nová [+see also:
interview: Marko Škop
film profile] and Children [+see also:
film profile]. Although, in Slovakia, it’s less a case of a new generation, since those are already established filmmakers, but, rather, a new wave in cinema – production is cheaper and filmmakers are freer.