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"A film about contrasts and contradictions"

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Bálint Kenyeres • Director

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- Interview at Les Arcs with Hungarian filmmaker Bálint Kenyeres, who unveiled two sequences from his debut feature, Yesterday, at the Work in Progress section

Bálint Kenyeres • Director
(© Mátyás Erdély)

Having won multiple awards for his short films Closing Time (unveiled at Venice), Before Dawn (shown in competition at Cannes in 2005, winner of the Jury Prize at Sundance, named Best European Short in 2006 by the European Film Academy) and The History of Aviation (shown in Directors’ Fortnight in 2009), Hungarian director Bálint Kenyeres has finally shot his first feature film, Yesterday, which he showed two promising sequences from at the Work in Progress section of the 8th Les Arcs European Film Festival. An opportunity to talk to him about the creation of the film, which is being produced by fellow Hungarian Andrea Taschler for Mirage Film and co-produced by French company Films de l'Après-Midi, Dutch company Rotterdam Films, German company One Two Films, Swedish companies Chimney Pot and Film I Vast, and Moroccan company La Prod.

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Cineuropa: In hindsight, how do you think the long process of producing Yesterday went?
Bálint Kenyeres: The 31 days of filming took place in Morocco in July and August. The editing started in September and now I already have rough cut version. The long and drawn-up period that preceded all that was the consequence of the real uphill struggle w had with funding, as when the project kicked off, the Hungarian institution of reference at the time (editor’s note: the MMKA) was in serious crisis and the current Hungarian National Film Fund was not yet operational. We had two years of a funding vacuum for films in Hungary. In total, I’ve been working on the film for seven years! We had to wait for the Hungarian National Film Fund, which is the main supporter of the film, to get going before we could look for partners elsewhere. It ended up being a co-production between six countries. The film will be ready next spring and we are currently in the process of choosing the right international seller.

What are the main plot lines?
It’s the story of a man in his fifties who works for a multinational in the construction industry, and finds out that things aren’t running smoothly on one of their building sites in North Africa. He goes there and, seeing that everything is actually as it should be, starts to suspect that he’s been manipulated. He’s eager to get back to Europe as quickly as possible, but as he’s missed the last ferry, he has time to kill. So he goes back to a bar he used to go to fifteen years or so beforehand, as he lived in the country for quite some time. He’d even had a short but intense affair with a local girl who then disappeared. That day, when he comes back from the bar, he tries to find her, but is knocked unconscious and wakes up in the middle of nowhere with nothing – no papers or money. So he starts investigating, and little by little, steps back into his past... If I had to put a label on the film, I would describe it as an "arthouse noir film". It has a dual set of DNA: it’s both a drama centering around a character and a film that recounts an investigation. I hope these two identities will give the film an interesting, exciting and strange quality.

Why this first choice of a story that propels the protagonists into another country?
I needed a contrast between the European way of life embodied by this rather rich and powerful character, and this place he comes back to, which is a mere 30 minutes from Europe but might as well be hundreds of years away. It’s a culture shock and a film about contrasts and contradictions. We filmed in Casablanca, Essaouira, Marrakech and Tangier as the investigation takes the form of a road movie, and also to introduce different settings.

What about the cast, with Vlad Ivanov in the lead role?
He’s one of the best European actors around. He’s incredible and was perfect for the role. The rest of the cast is very international. It includes French actors like Jacques Weber, Féodor Atkine, Djemel Barek and Jo Prestia, Dutch actress Johanna Ter Steege, and Toulou Kiki, who also starred in Timbuktu [+see also:
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.But we mixed them in with local amateur actors who we found through street castings. It’s an interesting mix.

What were your main intentions for the visual side of the film?
It’s a contemporary film about the past, but one which doesn’t use any flashbacks. We step back into the past through the journey of the main character and also visually to a certain extent. It’s not a direct imitation of the way arthouse film was filmed at the end of the 1990s and beginning of the 2000s, but there’s something about that era that hovers in the atmosphere and the cinematographic approach. The more the character steps back into his past, the more the film steps back in time visually. We played around with it a lot to make sure it wasn’t too obvious or pointed. With the director of photography, Adam Fillenz (Adrienn Pál [+see also:
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), we also tried to mimic the effect of Polaroid photos to a certain extent.

(Translated from French)

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