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Janez Burger • Director

“If I’d not had Maruša Majer, I would not have been able to make Ivan


- Cineuropa sat down with Janez Burger at the Zagreb Film Festival to talk about his newest feature, Ivan

Janez Burger  • Director

Janez Burger is one of the pioneers of the new Slovenian cinema that emerged around the turn of the millennium. His feature debut, 1999’s Idle Running, was a huge festival hit, winning numerous awards, and a study on refusing to grow up and move on as a form of rebellion against society. After forays into the worlds of heavy arthouse (Silent Sonata [+see also:
film profile
) and audience-friendly comedy (Driving School [+see also:
interview: Maruša Majer
film profile
), he is back with the socially conscious and emotionally charged genre-blending drama Ivan [+see also:
film review
interview: Janez Burger
interview: Maruša Majer
film profile
. Cineuropa sat down with him at the Zagreb Film Festival on the occasion of the film’s Croatian premiere.

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Cineuropa: We follow the whole film from a female perspective. Is it possible for a male filmmaker to provide a female point of view? Is a father capable of seeing things as a mother?
Janez Burger:
I do not see it as a film from a female perspective. It is my film and my perspective, my worldview, my reflection. The truth is that I got the idea for this film when my son was born, five years ago. I asked myself in what kind of society he had been born into. I took a good look at it, and I felt like screaming. That is the same type of scream that the protagonist emits at one point in the film, when she loses everything – her life, her child, everything. It all started from there, from the feeling I tried to express through the film. 

The movie goes through different phases and genres, from psychological drama to socially charged drama to thriller to road movie – but the flow of the film works perfectly. Is the focus on such a magnetic character the main reason for this flow?
The film relies on the character of Mara, played by Maruša Majer, and it is the world she sees, the world I see, and the world every adult should see. I see that world as a confused and brutal place, and that is the reason for mixing the genres. Our life is a series of genres: we wake up in comedy, then we get into psychological drama, then we get into some kind of thriller and even horror, and in the end, we go to sleep with the feeling of a festival arthouse film. I had to mix it up a bit, and the only way to do this was to rely on a strong character.

What about the subjective shots from baby Ivan’s point of view? Whose idea was it?
I do not remember any more; there were a number of writers, including me. The idea probably came up during a debate, and we all agreed it was a good enough idea to become the second narrative thread of the film. So we have the mother and the baby. We made his worldview develop from a complete blur to more of a clear vision, and in the end he sees his mother almost clearly. The basic conditions for him becoming a normal person are there; she never had them.

What does it feel like to be a person who has discovered a shooting star like Maruša Majer? She played her first part in a feature film in your previous movie, Driving School. How does it feel to keep track of her progress?
It feels fantastic. Before I cast her in Driving School, she had almost no screen acting experience. We started from almost nothing, and Driving School was more of a practice for Ivan, a test for the actors. I did not know her before, but I saw her as an extremely talented actress, fanatically hardworking, very highly educated and capable of going all the way as an actress. She was just the one I needed for such a demanding character. If I had not found her, I would not have been able to make the film at all. It is great that she became a Shooting Star at the Berlinale and is moving forward as an actress. 

Are mothers, and also fathers, playing against the odds in life or in society? Does instinct prevail in that kind of extreme situation?
Well, I do not think that the levels of pressure are that high in Europe. We are still born with the chance to make something out of our lives. The question is: will the generations that are in charge now maintain the values and the rights that the previous generations were fighting for? Things like labour rights, social security, health, education and public culture. The question is: can we, as a generation of fathers, defend them against the capitalist extreme, or are we going to dismantle them so that our children will have to fight for them again in the future? It is up to us.

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