Peter Bebjak • Director
“If I try a new method, I know how to perfect it in my following project”
by Martin Kudláč
- KARLOVY VARY 2017: Slovakian filmmaker Peter Bebjak was picked for the main competition at Karlovy Vary with his latest effort, The Line, which again straddles genre and arthouse territory
Slovakian producer, writer and television and film director Peter Bebjak unveiled his latest project, The Line [+see also:
interview: Andrey Yermak
interview: Peter Bebjak
film profile], in the main competition at Karlovy Vary. Similarly to his previous effort, The Cleaner [+see also:
interview: Martin Žiaran
interview: Peter Bebjak
film profile], The Line is a mix of genre elements and arthouse film, revolving around a crime boss smuggling cigarettes across the Slovakian-Ukrainian border at a time when the border is closing because of the Schengen Agreement. Cineuropa talked to the director about his latest offering.
Cineuropa: You direct projects for the big and the small screen, and today, the difference between the two is becoming blurred. Is this also the case for domestic production?
Peter Bebjak: We are sensing a certain progressive process, most notably with Czech television stations, although it is not to the same degree as we see in foreign productions. Naturally, it is dictated by the market, but it seems as though television stations – or, more precisely, the management of television stations and the people deciding on the programming – are lacking the courage to try new, unproven narrative structures, as if the fear of making an error were obstructing them. So they prefer to resort to the tried-and-tested formulas and methods.
Did you implement any elements from your previous works on The Line?
It’s about constant learning. Every project I have ever worked on has an influence on my next work. If I try a new method, an experiment, I know how to perfect it in my following project.
Your previous film, The Cleaner, travelled beyond the borders of the Czech and Slovak Republics. Do you think The Line will enjoy the same fate?
I hope the story will be the main attraction, followed by the setting and the particular atmosphere of life on the Slovakian-Ukrainian border and, finally, the cinematic narration of the story.
You have mentioned that The Line has three planes: ethnographic, historical, and a strong story and suspense. Why did you choose these three planes?
Because the location itself and the people living there provide them. The Line is based on their stories, their fates. We capture those stories in an authentic environment, which consequently influences the visuals and the film’s aesthetics. We are talking about the life of a community living on the border, their habits, their local characteristics, and all of this is at a time when the border was not hermetically sealed, and they were trying to prepare themselves for this event.
You have mentioned Martin Kollár’s cinematography as a visual reference for the film. What similarities do they share?
Martin Kollár’s work is about capturing unwanted, spontaneous situations, which serve to create a contrast and therefore prompt humour. DoP Martin Žiaran and I tried to go in this direction – to find visually interesting compositions infused with this humorous vibe.
What would be the other influences for The Line?
I like Emir Kusturica’s older films, although I also like movies by Juraj Jakubisko, Elo Havetta and Dušan Hanák; they are the Slovakian directors whose works I like and whose movies trained me, in a sense. But while I admire the works they made, Kusturica included, I want to make my films my way. If you have a story with people drinking, fighting and playing an accordion, it does not necessarily mean it is Kusturica.
The Cleaner straddles genre fare and arthouse film. You used a similar configuration for The Line as well.
I like this technique and approach to filmmaking. The mutual overlapping means that the genre element brings a certain attractiveness for viewers, while the arthouse aspect influences the framing, the set-up of situations and the whole mise-en-scène. I believe it leads the viewer to be more active in the viewing process.
Recently, the thriller Kidnapping [+see also:
film profile] made waves when it was released in cinemas, as it is a genre film with openly political content. Does The Line have a particular social motif?
Kidnapping tackles an important political controversy, and helped people to understand the polemic nature of the president’s son’s kidnapping and served to remind them what a crazy period we lived in, and that’s why it evoked people’s attempt to cope with this period. The Line does not have such a strong political context, although some social problems are visible in our film.
Did you enjoy working with a mixed Slovak-Ukrainian crew?
The most important thing was how they did their work. It did not matter whether they were Slovak, Ukrainian or Czech; everybody had to contribute the best of his or her skills to the project, solve problems with creativity, maintain a positive frame of mind and show enthusiasm. I am happy to have met them.
What other projects are you currently working on?
I am currently working on two projects: Message, about the escape of two Slovaks from the Auschwitz concentration camp, and a black comedy about dying, Emil, which tells the story of a master of ceremonies from a Bratislava crematorium.
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