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GOCRITIC! Karlovy Vary 2019

GoCritic! Interview: Kristina Grozeva, Petar Valchanov • Directors of The Father

"The basis of the story was something very sad, which could happen to anyone. That's why we decided to try to tell it in a funnier way"


GoCritic! Interview: Kristina Grozeva, Petar Valchanov  • Directors of The Father
Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov with their daughter and the Crystal Globe (© ČTK/Slavomir Kubeš

Directors Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov premiered their latest feature, The Father [+see also:
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, at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival this year, where it won them this year's Crystal Globe - the main prize of the event. They talked to Cineuropa about the inspiration for the feature and how it is to be an artist in their native Bulgaria today.

GoCritic!: You have mentioned in interviews before that your previous two features, The Lesson and Glory, were planned as part of a trilogy of films based on stories found in newspapers. During the press tour of Glory, however, you mentioned that your next project could either be the third part of the trilogy or a parallel project. Which one is The Father?
Kristina Grozeva: The Father is the parallel project. It was a little break from the trilogy. Now we'll continue to work on it, with the third part, which is called Triumph.

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Petar Valchanov: Also, now we have won support from the National Film Centre, so we hope to start shooting next year.

This film has a lot more elements of comedy in comparison to your previous ones. What drove you to explore this style this time?
PV: One reason was the fact that the basis of the story was something very sad, which could happen to anyone. That's why we decided to try to tell it in a funnier way. Also, we felt like exploring this combination of genres and we hope to keep doing it in the future.

The Father seems to make comments, in small scenes, about some aspects of post-communist Bulgarian life and government. They're peripheral to the plot but the viewer can perceive them. Were these reflections on the heritage of the communist era intentional?
KG: Yes, it was important for us to build complicated characters and to include every aspect of their lives in the story. Because our creative intention is to make some kind of document of our reality, it was crucial to us to put these reflections in the film. However, we were very careful not to stress this topic this time around, because the relationship between father and son, on the personal level, was more important.

PV: And of course, this background is part of the characters. We tried not to put it in the centre of the film, but to let it come organically from the characters.

Most of the main characters in the film are artists. How was the creative process of creating this particular depiction of artists lives in today's Bulgaria?
KG: First of all, we decided to build our characters as artists because we are artists ourselves, so it was easier for us to be honest…

PV: ...and talk about people that we know. It's part of our background and, because this is a personal story, it was very important for us to know these people.

Most strikingly, the artists in your script are neither bourgeois nor hippies. They seem to be, for lack of a better word, working class - somewhere in the middle. Since you mentioned that this a personal story, is this idea of a working-class artist something present in your life or in Bulgaria in general?
PV: In Bulgaria, it's very strange and, for artists, it's very difficult. Maybe it is so everywhere in the world, but…

KG: Bulgaria, it's perceived as a kind of punishment to be an artist.

PV: Yes, today most parents just say: 'Forget about being a musician, an actor'...

Coming back to the plot, how did it come about?
KG: In fact, it's based on something real that happened in our lives. The incident that kickstarted the film was one event that happened in our family. After the funeral of a relative's mother, some neighbour came around, looking terrified, saying: "Your mother is calling me!". We looked at the phone and we could see his mother's name and the date and time of the call. It said that she tried to call two minutes earlier, but she was buried three hours before that. We were astonished and started to believe there was something supernatural in that situation. Maybe she really wanted to reach us and tell us something - but after a few minutes, we discovered that there was a rational explanation to it. That was the trigger of the story.

PV: When you're in these moments, it's very dramatic, but given some distance, it's very absurd and funny. From this moment, we started to think: "What if we go even further?".

KG: The relationship between father and son was built based on what we saw happening around us, what we saw happening between us and our parents. I think it's something important to talk about. It's important to try to be more connected and solve our problems in a good way. We think these things [points at a mobile phone] do not connect us, many times they're obstacles in the way of communication. That's why miscommunication became one of the main topics of our film.

Was there a desire to use the comical aspect of the story as a way of talking about grief and the ways we process it?
KG: We made this film as some kind of psychotherapy. That's why we wanted to show these tough moments with humour, not only with tears. We hope audiences feel the same therapeutic effect, because everyone has some experiences like that. If some very lucky person doesn't have that, unfortunately he or she will. This is something we can't avoid and that makes it important to articulate and discuss.

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