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BERLINALE 2020 Panorama

Srdan Golubović • Director of Father

"It’s a Balkan-style Paris, Texas of sorts"

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- BERLINALE 2020: We talked to Srdan Golubović, whose latest film, Father, world-premiered in Panorama, where it won the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury and the Audience Award

Srdan Golubović  • Director of Father
(© Maja Medic)

We talked to Serbian filmmaker Srdan Golubović, whose latest film, Father [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Srdan Golubović
film profile
]
, world-premiered in the 70th Berlinale's Panorama, where it won the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury and the Audience Award.

Cineuropa: The premise is based on a real story and an actual person's journey. What was it in this story that inspired you to make the film?
Srdan Golubović:
Father is inspired by an actual event and an actual man. When I first read his story, the father who inspired the film was already in front of the Ministry of Labour, protesting and demanding his children be returned to him. I went there and talked to him. For days, I went to see him and offer my support. I realised that there was something very special to his story, something inspirational and cinematic – a Balkan-style Paris, Texas of sorts.

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Also, I was intrigued by all the walking. I realised that walking was, in fact, the greatest and purest form of freedom and peaceful revolt. Then I thought about the hero and decided to make a film about a man driven by an instinct within him, rather than by rational thinking, treading a profoundly personal and righteous path. He doesn’t know exactly what he’s doing, but his intuition is guiding him in an unknown direction, and he – while only listening to himself and his inner being – follows this path of humanity and purity.

The first part of the feature is close to real-life events and Nikola's personal drama, and from the moment he embarks on his journey, it becomes pure fiction and no longer has any similarities to the fate of the man who inspired it.

This is your first film that takes place fully in the physical and psychological context of the impoverished Serbian countryside. How was it to film outside of urban centres?
I made no attempt to portray reality as worse than it actually is. Unfortunately, the reality is what it is, as are the sights and locations of this beautiful yet devastated country. Travelling through Serbia for location scouting, I’ve come to realise the systemic effort that has been made here to destroy everything that could be destroyed. And what ended up being utterly devastated is man, his dignity and any kind of individual integrity. I was born and raised in Belgrade, so I was not familiar with the locations the film was made in. I found it exciting to discover my own country.

The first and third act are a social drama similar to films by Ken Loach, with the middle one providing a more open mental space. Why did you opt for this structure?
I wanted the film to start as a realistic drama about a bureaucratic and corrupt society, and then slowly turn into a picture about a man who, through the mythic journey he embarks on as a loser and a castaway, turns into a hero. Starting off as a social drama, it becomes a fairy tale. It’s a film about a man who tests himself and reclaims his own dignity through his journey. He is not a hero fighting against the system; he’s only fighting for the return of his children and to piece together his family again. He can’t afford the luxury of thinking about abstract matters; he’s like an animal that has to fight for himself and his family, to survive. This is what our hero Nikola is like. Through the conflict and contrast between the bureaucratic, dramatic content and the fairy tale-like world of his trip across the country, I tried to make a film about the physical and emotional journey of an ordinary man. After the central part, dedicated to the inner world of the hero, we return to the corrupt, grey, bureaucratic reality. The final sequence is an homage to the cinematic and poetic world of my father, Predrag Golubović.

How did you pick Goran Bogdan and work with him?
Goran came to the casting, and as soon as we had rehearsed the first scene, I knew he was our Nikola. Our process was beautiful and the best part of creating this film. It was thorough, lengthy and inspirational. We did rehearsals for two months before the shoot, for four or five hours a day, going through every scene, creating and sketching out the hero’s emotional map, and analysing his every action and gesture.

Father is a film of silence, and the most important thing was for the hero to be true. Goran and I agreed to build the character as though he were an untrained actor, and then make a shift from the truthfulness and documentary-like nature of the protagonist, a shift that should be invisible but huge.

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