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Kamen Kalev • Director

“I wanted to understand how confusion and alienation were born”


- Besides the documentary aspect of a main character played by a non-professional actor and his real, tragic fate, Kamen Kalev’s feature debut has a wider concept and message

Cineuropa: As you were saying, Eastern Plays [+see also:
film review
interview: Kamen Kalev
film profile
was inspired by your desire to make a movie about Itso and his life. But apart from that authentic element, another storyline (about his neo-Nazi brother and Itso’s acquaintance with the Turkish girl) makes its way into the film, transforming reality into fiction. What motivated you to develop the script in this direction?

Kamen Kalev: I wanted to juxtapose Itso with his brother Georgi, in order to observe and understand how confusion and alienation were born. I was looking for a way to illustrate Itso’s past, the origin of his suffering, without showing it too directly. The character of Georgi – his 17-year-old little brother – illustrates the beginning of Itso’s alienation. Everything around Georgi – his parents, friends and the city of Sofia – makes him confused. Their spiritually-handicapped parents prolong personal suffering through their own children. I find the notion of parental responsibility interesting. When the two brothers meet up again, they finally communicate. They see each other as they look into a mirror. One looks into the past, the other into the future, but both are lost and afraid.
And the reason the two brothers meet is because of the young Turkish girl, Isil. She speaks about strange things, souls born again and a world that trembles. She has a different kind of creative energy which goes beyond nationalities or any other label that people can invent. Many Bulgarians still feel hatred towards our southern neighbours. Five hundred years of Ottoman rule has weighed heavily. A Turkish girl can easily be poorly perceived. That’s why Itso and Isil’s relationship is unique and I felt the necessity to include it.

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Itso is a wood-carver, but he is unable to follow his vocation. Is this the fate of artists in Bulgaria? And to what extent does Eastern Plays reflect contemporary Bulgarian reality?
I would not summarise the fate of artists in Bulgaria. I have always believed that if there is a strong writer who wants to say something, nothing can stop him. Itso continued to create his amazing works with enthusiasm. We find examples in a number of world-famous writers, artists and musicians, who kept creating their art in many poor or politically-repressed societies. Yes, Eastern Plays reflects our contemporary reality, but only partially. The dialogues, clothes, script and characters are a snapshot of our reality but the general issue and the lives of these characters are not defined, and weren’t intended to illustrate the full picture of our society.

At the last "Open Class" cinema workshop in Sofia, organised by the producer Patrick Sandrin, he compared Eastern Plays to the films of the French New Wave. Do you agree with him? Which filmmakers in particular have influenced you?
Maybe he found an analogy between Eastern Plays and the French New Wave more in the manner of creation than the cinematic form itself or the storyline. The New Wave directors were absolutely free in their way of expression. They did not know how it would turn out, it just happened and won over audiences. The circle widened because everyone was invited to participate. Even today, so many young filmmakers keep finding strength and inspiration in their work. One of the films that influenced me most is Contempt by Jean-Luc Godard.

What does the nomination for the European Parliament Lux Cinema Prize mean to you?
It’s important to me because I suppose they support the idea of all the nations united. I was interested in showing today’s reality about the world getting smaller and people meeting each other regardless of history and origins. I am not fascinated by one particular country. What does fascinate me is when borders disappear and different cultures meet. This always brings joy, an opening up and enriching of the human conscience.

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