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“My only tool was trust in my instincts about what was going on in the frame”

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Juri Rechinsky • Director

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- Ukrainian director Juri Rechinsky talks to Cineuropa about his feature-length fiction debut, Ugly, co-produced by Ulrich Seidl

Juri Rechinsky  • Director
(© Joke Schut)

Ukrainian director Juri Rechinsky introduced his fiction feature debut, Ugly [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Juri Rechinsky
film profile
]
, in the Bright Future section of the International Film Festival Rotterdam. Rechinsky worked as a freelance editor on commercials and feature films, and spent two years as chief editor at one of the Mosfilm studios in Moscow. He has directed a number of short films and short documentaries, and in 2013, he finished his feature-length documentary Sickfuckpeople, about a group of homeless children who managed to survive their drug-addled childhood.

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Cineuropa: Your fiction feature debut is a visceral viewing experience. Where does that come from?
Juri Rechinsky: It comes mainly from my own life. I cannot say that this is common in Ukraine or Austria; maybe it is, but I never thought in those terms while making the film. Ugly is based on my personal experience. In order to forget this experience, I made a documentary called Sickfuckpeople, but after I finished the documentary, some things began to return in the form of flashbacks and nightmares, and that disturbed me. At some point, I started to write them down, and after a while, I realised that I was sitting in front of a story. I pitched the story, and some people got excited. The next thing I knew, I was standing on the set. Coming from a documentary background, I had no idea how to work with actors, I had no idea how to work with a big crew, and there they were, waiting for my directions. My only tool was trust in my instincts about what was going on in the frame. 

Ugly has a very specific vibe, which it shares with Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy’s The Tribe [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
.

Well, we started to shoot our films around the same time, but Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy is much faster than I am. However, he made a different film, and we are quite different in what we are doing. Of course, period and place both influence a person. I believe my generation is suffering from some kind of depression. I am influenced by the first 20 years of my life spent in Ukraine – partly also in the Soviet Union – and maybe this is something I have in common with Slaboshpytskiy: sharing the same time, place and childhood that moulded our personalities.

You set your story in Ukraine and Austria, but the situation does not change rapidly going from the East to the West.
I was never trying to steer the story in the direction of this being about two very different spaces, geopolitically speaking. But Ugly is not Import/Export [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
. Ugly may share some of Import/Export’s motifs, but my main concern was uniting those two spaces. What unites Ukraine and Austria is the fact that they are suffering from the same syndromes and fundamental human problems. Ugly is not about manifesting the differences, but about uniting people in different places.

Speaking of Import/Export, how did Ulrich Seidl come on board?
He came on board in the middle of the project, when we were struggling with deep financial troubles. We had hit a point where we did not know how it would be possible to finish the film financially. We received the bad news that we were running out of funds while we were at the premiere of Seidl’s latest film. We approached him, and he asked us to show him what we had managed to shoot so far. He watched it and then said, “I want to help you finish this film. I want to be a co-producer.” In a week, we closed the budget and were able to finish the project. He was like a fairy godmother! 

You made Ugly with Seidl’s regulars, his DoP Wolfgang Thaler and actress Maria Hofstätter.
I had always wanted to work with Wolfgang Thaler and Maria Hofstätter. Our contact with Ulrich started when he was watching my documentary – he loved it, and I love his films in turn. And we were able to meet, have a chat and discover our common ground. Thaler’s work on Michael Glawogger’s films was that kind of viewing experience that made me want to shoot my documentaries in the first place. The participation of Wolfgang and his son was not something I was expecting – and that goes for Maria Hofstätter as well. And what I appreciated the most was having the time and freedom I needed on the project to seek out my own film and my own language.

What was the biggest difference between working on documentaries and fiction filmmaking?
The biggest difference is between working with an actor and working with a person. You have to understand the advantages of both and find what possibilities an actor can give you compared to a person you are just trying to display. If you have the right actor, you have somebody coming to you and begging you, “Please display me in a way that I have not been displayed before.”

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