Márk Bodzsár • Director of Comrade Draculich
“The vampire is the most normal character in our movie”
by Marta Bałaga
- We talked to Hungarian director Márk Bodzsár about Comrade Draculich and Jimi Hendrix’s Ford Mustang. Really
In Márk Bodzsár’s Comrade Draculich [+see also:
interview: Márk Bodzsár
film profile], as Comrade Fábián (Zsolt Nagy), the Hungarian hero of the Cuban Revolution, returns home in the 1970s, something is off – first of all, he doesn’t quite look his age. Soon, the Hungarian Secret Service enlists Maria (Lili Walters) to find out his secret. Hang on to your garlic!
Cineuropa: At the beginning, it’s stated, “Vampires can’t die, and the communist ideology is eternal.” What made you think it was possible to combine the two?
Márk Bodzsár: It’s a long story – it starts in my childhood. I think I was five years old when I saw Roman Polański’s The Fearless Vampire Killers with my grandmother. It made a huge impression – I was fascinated by its humour, but also a little afraid. Later, I realised I didn’t know anything about our communist past. I didn’t live through it, I was too young – it was a mystery. I always wanted to make a film about it and couldn’t quite forget these first vampires I saw. Combining the two gave me the freedom to express my honest opinion about this era and joke about it, but the jokes are also a bit serious. It’s a satirical black comedy and a critical note to our past. As well as our present.
Some lines are flat-out comedic, like “On behalf of all Hungarian workers, don’t fuck up the hotel, please!” But at the same time, you recreated the whole period quite painstakingly.
We didn’t want to make a cartoonish movie; we already had the vampire! In an exaggerated world, we couldn’t make a serious point about the past, so we decided to carefully recreate it. Huge credit should go to our production designer [Márton Ágh]. I encouraged my actors to use their experiences, so some dialogues were improvised and delivered in the slang from that era. They also made suggestions about their look. “I want to wear this suit because it was my father’s favourite; I want to wear my hair like my mum used to do…” and so on.
This line you mention, it wasn’t written by me, actually. There is a video archive in Budapest, containing films made by the Hungarian Secret Service. One training video, now declassified, shows them bugging a very prestigious hotel. The whole scene was a recreation of that. The vampire is the most normal character in our movie. We know they can fly and all, but we wanted to make him as human as possible and give the Secret Service all of these exaggerated gestures instead.
Why the decision to have a female protagonist? You are not showing the most female-friendly era: women are referred to as “whores” or forced to audition for their superiors like Fox anchors for Roger Ailes. In a way, is meeting this vampire the only way out?
I read a book about the Hungarian Secret Service and found out that they worked with a lot of prostitutes. Sometimes, women started out as secretaries and would be given assignments to seduce men. I saw a demonstration video showing how to seduce a German who arrives in Hungary – it was horrifying. These guys really treated women like objects. I recognise a sad continuity to it, too – it’s enough to look at all these world-famous cases of Jeffrey Epstein or Harvey Weinstein. Here, in Hungary, it’s deeply rooted in our past. In the Secret Service, a woman could never get to a top position. It was important to show this female desire for freedom.
There is something about vampires that spells freedom, perhaps. A few years ago, they enjoyed a comeback, but yours looks like a rock star. Certainly not like in Blacula, which the characters are watching.
We had a role model, and it was Steve McQueen. Zsolt wears a white sweater and blue jeans, just like him. The other one was Jimi Hendrix. The fire-red Ford Mustang was actually Hendrix’s favourite car! We only found a green one, so we repainted it [laughs]. We wanted to show this huge difference between a Steve McQueen-like figure and our communist “heroes”, who wear cheap suits and fake leather shoes, and aren’t even good-looking with their silly moustaches. But also, we wanted to get as far away as possible from these vampire stereotypes, from our own Bela Lugosi or Klaus Kinski, or even the modern, good-looking Robert Pattinson.
Is it easy to make a genre-ish film like this in Hungary? It seems to be mostly dramas and prestige period flicks dominating the festival circuit.
It wasn’t very difficult, because there is a transition happening. We still have these period dramas and arthouse fare, appreciated by the international audience, or local romantic comedies. But there is a new path in the middle, which I myself would like to take, and a new type of audience, open to “crossover” movies. We wanted to show the effect of time, and how it affected our country and our protagonists. Although that meant putting that horrible mask on our communist guy at the end, which I deeply regret. We joked that it was a case of plastic surgery gone wrong! I wanted to connect this story to the present. After all, vampires can wait. They have all the time in the world.
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