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IFFR 2020 Voices

Mira Fornay • Director of Cook, F**k, Kill

“There is no logic in hurting someone you love”


- Cineuropa talked to Slovakian director Mira Fornay, who is about to show her third feature, Cook, F**k, Kill, at the IFFR

Mira Fornay  • Director of Cook, F**k, Kill
(© Peter Prochazka)

Mira Fornay – who won the Rotterdam Hivos Tiger Award for My Dog Killer [+see also:
film review
film profile
– returns to the Netherlands and International Film Festival Rotterdam (in the Voices section) with Cook, F**k, Kill [+see also:
interview: Mira Fornay
film profile
, an absurdist take on domestic violence, with characters stuck in a circle they can’t seem to break free from. What’s more, they’re accompanied by a Greek chorus-like group of ladies who, predictably, have already seen it all.

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Cineuropa: What made you want to talk about domestic violence? It’s a subject that nobody likes to talk about, which is part of the problem, I guess.
Mira Fornay: My last film [My Dog Killer] was about neo-Nazism, so something draws me to the extremes. I noticed a few cases of domestic violence among my friends – I lost one of them because her husband was very controlling. I felt like I had to understand why it’s still going on. There are quite a few films about domestic violence, but usually from the point of view of the victims. I started to be interested in the aggressor and wanted to focus on family programmes and scenarios that lead to aggression. I found a therapy group, meeting every week, and they told me I could do my research there if I participated, too, as a client. I found out that everyone has aggression inside, me included, and it has a lot to do with self-confidence. After a year and a half, I came to the conclusion that the world of domestic violence is not logical: it’s upside down and absurd. It’s rooted in our society and it’s rooted in us, but there is no logic in hurting someone you love.

The narrative is not linear in your film. Some scenes reminded me of Groundhog Day, with your characters unable to escape.
It was inspired by my research, which I continued to do by visiting prisons and interviewing victims. There is a chance to escape, and it’s hard. You have to want to change and do it for yourself. I don’t offer some big happy ending; I stay realistic, but ultimately, there is some hope in realising that this never-ending circle can be changed.

This story is more about the patterns we learn when we are little. It’s like “catch-22”, with the victim turning into an oppressor and so on. Very often, people would say: “If only I were a woman/man, it would all be different” or “If only I could do it all over again.” But real change can only happen when you focus on how to be better now and how to avoid repeating the same mistakes in the future. It’s a trap, trying to fix the past. Eric Berne created the theory of transactional analysis, saying that a six-year-old gets a scenario from his or her parents, and then keeps on casting the best “actors” for the roles. Which is fine, but only if it’s a healthy model. My film isn’t a critique of a society where men still dominate women – it’s more about individual responsibility for our own actions.

You find absurdity or even black humour in this topic. Like in the scene with the father telling his daughter’s husband that he “wouldn’t want him to treat her the way he treated her mother”.
Humour was the only way to face this material. When I was listening to all of the stories in therapy, sometimes I would laugh to protect myself. I noticed that if one partner changes, even for the better, the other often leaves. There is this odd compatibility between victims and aggressors – they just match like a puzzle piece. Unhealthy relationships deprived of trust and acceptance can be like alcohol or drugs: very toxic and addictive. I understand it’s hard to leave, but once your kids are exposed to that everyday pattern of violence and manipulation, it’s hard to “reset their software” later on.

It’s ironic, given that people usually argue that they’re staying for the children’s sake. It’s a refrain that’s repeated in the film as well.
Those who say it really believe it, I think. Some of them are already so injured, but they need to learn that they don’t need to repeat the same mistakes. All parents want the best for their kids, apart from some psychopaths, but sometimes they try to be perfect instead of inspiring. As a parent, you don’t need to be perfect. That’s what the aggressors want, in my opinion – they want a perfectly clean house, a perfect family, perfect love. And any shortcomings lead to frustration and violence.

That reminds me of a Polish campaign about domestic abuse, which used the line: “Because the soup was too salty.” How did you work with your actors, trying to reflect all of these aspects?
Given that most of them are non-professional actors, we would talk about relationships and play games. With this chorus of ladies, we played hide-and-seek – they loved it! The material was quite tough, so before leading them all into that “inferno of human souls”, we needed to establish mutual trust. I wanted these scenes to feel natural because that’s the thing about domestic abuse – for people who treat their partners like property, it just becomes normal. Nowadays, all we hear is, “Be yourself! Be selfish!” Sure, but that doesn’t mean you can hurt people. Love needs freedom, but we can’t forget about empathy towards others.

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