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“It’s the story of a fight against an unfulfilled life”

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György Kristóf • Director

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- CANNES 2017: Cineuropa got the chance to talk to emerging Slovak director György Kristóf about the origin of and process behind his feature debut, Out, screening in Un Certain Regard

György Kristóf  • Director

With his first feature-length outing, Out [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: György Kristóf
film profile
]
, emerging Slovakian director György Kristóf was picked for Cannes’ Un Certain Regard sidebar this year. He shot several student films and worked with Kevin MacdonaldMark Herman and Ildikó Enyedi before spending five years on Out, a co-production by Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, France and Latvia. Cineuropa got the opportunity to talk to him about the origin of and process behind Out, his use of absurd elements and how to avoid the classic stereotypes of Eastern European cinema.

Cineuropa: You’ve worked as a director’s assistant for Ildikó Enyedi and Daniel Young, but you have also worked among Kevin Macdonald’s, Mark Herman’s and Gábor Csup’s crew. How did those experiences shape you?
György Kristóf
: My entire film journey began with Ildikó. I spent half of that year working on the project, and she took me everywhere – even places she didn’t have to – just so that I could learn. Mátyás Erdély, of Son of Saul [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
Q&A: László Nemes
interview: László Rajk
film profile
]
 fame, was the DoP, and by observing their working methods, it gave me the basics I needed to understand how a film is made, although I am not sure that it influenced my style in any way. And I don’t even think I have a style yet. Out has its own world, but it’s just the first step in a bigger search. And then my work among big American and English crews was a different experience compared to Ildikó. I became a cog in a big machine. I worked on a team of assistants with people who make James Bond movies. It was a rare experience to see how such a big crew functions as an insider. It wasn’t easy; however, it definitely gave me self-confidence as a director who, after making student films, suddenly had a big crew on his hands.

Out is a relatively big project. How was it to work on it as a debuting director?
Yes; when you are conceiving it and you write the first synopsis on one or two pages, you do not really think about what it will entail. The whole project took off before I had even finished the script, although the financing came together gradually, and that’s why shooting took several years. It was not easy, because I could not even edit for very long. We shot in four countries on a two-phase basis, where not just the creative team, but the whole crew, changed. We spoke in English, and frequently that was not enough, but since we had people speaking three languages on the team, we managed to understand each other. We had a relatively small number of shooting days, and that’s why we took on an experienced and efficient cinematographer, and we also knew what we wanted from our leading man, Sándor Terhes; it was easy with him. The two of them constituted the most important support for us.

The story of Out is inspired by the fate of your father, isn’t it?
My father is one part, but there are also other members of my family as well as me. After my unsuccessful bachelor’s film, I was not accepted onto a Master’s degree programme at FAMU, so my wife and I moved to Riga because she was finishing film school there. My bachelor’s film then won at several cinematography festivals, and as a prize, we won 35 mm material everywhere. We had a few kilometres of it, so I thought it could form a nice basis for a short film. But I could not come up with one, so I tried a feature, and Out came into existence. For me, it was crucial for the protagonist to go abroad; however, I tinkered with his age for a long time, pondering whether he should be from my generation or somebody older. I chose the latter option for dramaturgical and personal reasons. The problems of post-socialist society influenced the lives of our parents, and it has a radical influence on our generation as well. We are obliged to talk about it, to talk about the slow degradation we feel on our own lives. 

You have mentioned that you did not want to shoot a psychological film.
The initial situation of somebody losing their job is in part social, and even though our protagonist leaves for Latvia because of a job, his motivation is not existential. He becomes useless, and that wakes him up; he sees it as a chance for a new beginning, not a drama. The story is a fight against an unfulfilled life. How we shaped the protagonist, his behaviour in certain situations, what the supporting characters do and what happens to him – all of that is consciously slightly nudged from reality into the absurd and bizarre. And we emphasised it through the casting, location scouting and our form of shooting. The examination of society was more important than portraying something we have already seen.

Films from Central and Eastern Europe have a certain visual vibe. What were your references?
We tried to do everything possible to avoid the stereotypes of Central and Eastern European cinema, and that was probably our reference. We travelled through the countries where the story takes place several times. We took photos there, and then picked our locations. Whether immersed in nature or in a city, we were looking for places that were powerful by themselves, where you do not need to modify them or come up with a particular camera movement to make them more interesting. We looked for elements with humour or absurdity everywhere, since the objective was to find a stylisation that functioned with aspects of reality. The most important thing was not to be able to feel the particular characteristics of a city, so that it would be unidentifiable. Our city is composed of a variety of cities and countries in order to achieve our objective and attain a certain universality.

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