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LOCARNO 2019 Filmmakers of the Present

Matjaž Ivanišin • Director of Oroslan

“I believe that every person can be a story”


- We talked to Slovenian director Matjaž Ivanišin ahead of the premiere of his film Oroslan at Locarno

Matjaž Ivanišin • Director of Oroslan

In Matjaž Ivanišin’s Oroslan [+see also:
film review
interview: Matjaž Ivanišin
film profile
, presented at the Locarno Film Festival in the Filmmakers of the Present section, dedicated to emerging directors from all over the world, even the dead get a shot at a second act, as one man’s passing encourages his fellow villagers to share stories about who he was. Keeping his memory alive and making him seem closer than ever — even to those who barely knew him.

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Cineuropa: In Oroslan, you decided to focus on a Slovenian minority in Hungary. Why?
Matjaž Ivanišin:
The film is based on [Zdravko Duša’s] short story, but I wanted to uproot it, put a little distance between the two. I was searching and searching for the right location and somehow, when I was driving there, thought it might be the right place. I started to talk to people and they speak in a very interesting local dialect, and I also immediately fell in love with their faces. That was enough. Once I chose it, and asked the villagers to be a part of my film, I also knew that I had to combine this text with some local stories from the region.

I noticed that you mention Duša’s work in the end credits, but your film is also quite personal.
For me, the short story was just the beginning. When I first read it, it wasn’t widely known — it was published in one paper, written for the theatre. Somehow I got this feeling that he was writing about something I have experienced in my family. Duša talks about his brother and even though I have never met him, I pictured him in my head. This image also reflected the way I remember one of my relatives: it was him and, at the same time, it wasn’t. That was when I started to think about doing something similar in a film. I don’t think it’s possible to do a 1:1 adaptation, as literature is a very different medium from film. It’s just too complex and each of us has different ideas while reading a story. I had to search for my own.

There is a lot of pain in this community, but you found some lightness as well. For example, in the scene where the two men talk about how a long table can be used for anything, from slaughtering pigs to hen nights and laying down corpses.
That’s the way life is. You can look at it from different angles, but when something is really painful or dramatic, or at least seems so when you are so close, once you put a camera there it can be a little bit funny. It just creates a bit of a distance. The first part of the film concentrates more on Oroslan’s death but what follows is much more practical. Then stories begin to flow and he lives on, in the memory of others. At the end, he lives just in the story.

Whenever something like this happens in movies, I am used to seeing flashbacks showing this person. But without these images, you can actually imagine the person all on your own.
That was my goal — to allow everyone who is watching the film to create his or her own image of this man, of how he was. It’s all up to you. As I told you before, when I was reading the short story, I created this new being: a combination of a person it described, and of my actual relative. I had him in mind when making this film, too, because Oroslan is all of those things: he is a member of my family and the main character from Zdravko Duša’s text, but he also comes from the region where we were shooting.

How was it working with all these local people? They deliver the lines so naturally.
We decided together on what they would talk about, which stories they would tell. Some, they already knew very well, which of course made the performance easier, but I really wanted to make sure these are their stories as well. We just put them in a different context.

So they were co-creators, in a way?
I believe that every person can be a story. And a storyteller! I wanted to give them enough space to feel comfortable in front of the camera, to feel good about it. Also because they have never done anything like this before, they never even thought about the fact that they were part of a film.

There is this saying that as long as people are remembered by others, they are never truly gone. What was your take on that? On what we remember and what we leave behind?
People tend to remember very different situations. When Oroslan’s brother is talking about him, he creates an intimate portrait. But there is also someone who knew him only briefly and they weren’t the best of friends. It was important that some of these accounts didn’t go very deep, that he was also remembered just for practical reasons. And yes, as long as people remember him, he is still living in these stories. Because after you die, well, it’s just the end credits. And then fade to black.

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