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GOCRITIC! Karlovy Vary 2019

GoCritic! Interview: Stefan Malešević • Director of Mamonga

"Film is a dialogue in which you have to make an effort to complete the missing parts, and by doing so, it becomes more valuable for you"

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- We spoke to young Serbian director Stefan Malešević about his feature debut Mamonga, which premiered at KVIFF’s East of the West Competition

GoCritic! Interview: Stefan Malešević  • Director of Mamonga
Stefan Malešević presenting Mamonga in Karlovy Vary

Four days after the end of this year's KVIFF, I met up with Stefan Malešević – Serbian writer-director of Mamonga [+see also:
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, which premiered at the event's East of the West competition – in bustling Belgrade. He arrived via electric scooter – now something of a necessity in the city due to omnipresent construction works that have rendered frustration-free transportation impossible. We chatted about KVIFF and the impact it had on his film's future career; several prominent festivals in Europe and further afield have already expressed serious interest.

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Mamonga is a three-part film portraying a young woman and a young man experiencing a traumatic event from completely different perspectives – she as a victim of a rape and he as a mute bystander – and their lives ten years after the event. The central theme that flows through each story is people’s inability to communicate, which can take many forms. I ask Malešević why was that incident chosen as a starting point in the narrative.

“I was inspired by the case of Kitty Genovese – a girl who was brutally raped and murdered in Queens, New York – a case that is famous because of the witnesses, tenants in nearby buildings who heard the whole incident happening and did nothing," he replies. "This made me think a lot about what it means to be a good or bad person. For me, people who perceive themselves as moral, normal citizens and don’t act in situations where someone else is endangered and in need for their help are in some way worse than those rapists or murderers.

"At what exact point did that story turn into a fable about lack of communication, I’m not sure, but creatively speaking – when I have a certain idea I just let it develop on its own. I don’t think too much about concepts, themes, analysis, those are all things that come after. And so it happened that lack of communication and understanding developed as a central theme to this film. Even before that, the patriarchy was a leitmotif and somehow it also represents a lack of understanding for the other side’s needs and wants. When we connected those two themes, it all clicked together.”

I ask him about the twists and turns involved in his creative process. “At first, the idea was just to make a film about the first story," says Malešević. "When I decided to expand it, I brought two co-writers to work with me. We knew that we wanted each story to happen in a village, a small town and a city, as well as to portray childhood, adolescence and old age.

"I also knew that the story about old age should include an Asian woman who gets lost in a remote Balkan village – just based on a feeling. The initial idea was for the three stories to be completely separate, but later we came to the solution where the other two stories represent the future of the main characters ten years later, in which they become side characters. That is maybe my favourite dramaturgical aspect in this film.”

Mamonga's loose narrative structure and cinemascope format provide enough space (both visually and story-wise) for the viewers to choose their own focal points in constructing the fable, a key aspect for Malešević. “Yes, it’s very important for me not to impose a frame of interpretation onto the audience or to lead them to feel a certain kind of way during some scenes or towards characters. It is clear that this isn’t a totally abstract film and there is some framework in which the story operates, but I feel as I am only drawing the borders of a playground on which you can play football or basketball or do whatever else you like. On the other hand, I don’t feel obliged to follow linearity. Life itself isn’t as linear as much as we like to think – and it’s impossible in life to grasp the consequentiality which is common in narrative film – so I feel the need not to follow it through in my films as well.”

As we wrap up and prepare to head out into the chaotic city, he expands his thoughts on the art of spectating: “I think that film works very much as a mirror and that it doesn’t represent a passive experience. It’s a dialogue in which you have to make an effort to complete the missing parts – and by doing so the film becomes more valuable for you.”

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