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KARLOVY VARY 2019 Competition

Damjan Kozole • Director of Half-Sister

“This is a story about the transfer of hatred from generation to generation”

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- We chatted to Slovenian filmmaker Damjan Kozole, whose latest film, Half-Sister, world-premiered in competition at this year's Karlovy Vary

Damjan Kozole • Director of Half-Sister

We talked to Slovenian filmmaker and Karlovy Vary regular Damjan Kozole, whose latest film, Half-Sister [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Damjan Kozole
film profile
]
, world-premiered in this year's competition.

Cineuropa: Where does the story for Half-Sister come from, and how did you work on the script?
Damjan Kozole:
The story comes from a personal situation I was in several years ago, when it turned out that there could be somebody in my life with whom I share blood ties but of whom I wasn't aware. It was a really strong, powerful, confusing feeling.

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To me, it is a story about the transfer of hatred from generation to generation. People are often not aware why they are perpetuating this hatred. So this is about how hatred is passed down and how the two heroines hate each other without even knowing why exactly; they feel guilt for sins they haven't committed. This is, of course, also connected to our nationalistic issues in the region, which are still going on.

Screenwriting is a permanent process for me. If it takes ten years for a project to get into production, I will be writing it for ten years. I started with this script in 2015, while we were editing Nightlife [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Damjan Kozole
film profile
]
. First, Urša Menart joined me, and when she went off to make her own film [My Last Year as a Loser [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
], Ognjen Sviličić joined me. He was the one who brought this aspect of latent Slovenian chauvinism into the story.

The two heroines, Irena and Neža, are very different at the beginning of the film. Why is Neža so angry?
I’ve always been interested in people who are angry, aggressive and rude in order to hide their own vulnerability. In my opinion, she just felt that she was not part of society. And they are not all that different: for me, Irena was very similar to Neža some 15 years ago, and now we find her at a stage where she has to make a crucial decision in her life, and she is definitely anxious. Beneath the surface, there are some small details that help you recognise the fact that the two are much more similar than it may seem at first.

How about Irena's relationship with Brane and the fact that he is so violent? How does that tie in with this moment we are experiencing as a society?
Sometimes you marry a person who is the polar opposite of you, and after a couple of years, you find out they are mean or aggressive. It happens all the time in our lives, but we tend to see the person as the one we projected, rather than for who they really are. This is one of the ways we wanted to depict Irena's character: it is about her. So she is now smarter than she was when she was younger. And we are hoping she won't repeat the same mistakes with her half-sister. This is also connected with the past. This whole film is about the past and how it is reflected in what is happening now. Brane's character is an example of that, as are the father and Neža's Albanian mother. This story has a long trail of the past dragging along behind it.

In all of my recent films, the main characters have been women because I believe they face many more obstacles in society than men. When we started with the script in 2015, #MeToo had not happened yet, and now the movie has been released at the moment when this issue is grabbing everyone's attention. Even though I agree with the movement, I did not consciously want to be a part of it. Brane's character was intended to represent a symptom, rather than us wanting to make a film about domestic violence. It is a movie about two half-sisters, and that is the main point.

How did you decide to situate most of the film in just one flat? How did you work with the actresses and the DoP in this limited space?
There are often too many elements in films. We always want to have too many things in our lives, our apartments or our films. I, on the other hand, like to reduce everything down. I wanted to focus just on two main characters, and that's why even the set design of the flat is completely empty. For me, it was only the two women's bodies and faces that were important in this film.

It was a long process involving a lot of rehearsals, as Urša is not a professional actress. Also, both actresses use a heavy coastal dialect, and they needed to memorise the lines, so there was almost no improvisation. The same goes for the camerawork: this is my second collaboration with DoP Miladin Čolaković, and we came up with a very precise shooting plan in advance.

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