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VENICE 2020 International Film Critics’ Week

Natalya Vorozhbit • Director of Bad Roads

“We are repeatedly making the same mistakes and stepping on the same rake”

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- VENICE 2020: We talked to Natalya Vorozhbit, the debuting director of Bad Roads, originally presented on stage at the Royal Court Theatre in London

Natalya Vorozhbit • Director of Bad Roads
(© Kristi Film LLC)

Following her acclaimed play, in Bad Roads [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Natalya Vorozhbit
film profile
]
, screening in the Venice Film Festival’s International Film Critics’ Week, Kiev-born Natalya Vorozhbit tells four short stories, all set in Donbass during the war, suggesting that sometimes, the choice isn’t between good and bad. Because whichever direction you choose, someone’s going to get hurt.

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Cineuropa: Why the decision to focus on such tiny ensembles, with just a few people talking and the only thing changing being the atmosphere between them?
Natalya Vorozhbit: Initially, it was a play for chamber theatre, where the rules are different. While adapting it, it was possible to add actions and characters to the script, but I deliberately didn’t do that in favour of letting situations develop without unnecessary witnesses, thereby allowing the characters to act with impunity and express themselves in a more clear and direct way. For example, the symbolic appearance of other people off camera in the final story about [a woman accidentally running over] a chicken stops the old couple from committing their crime and brings the story to an end. Also, I kept the number of players to a minimum because I wanted to emphasise the state of loneliness and emptiness, both internally and externally, with which the whole atmosphere in Donbass is filled.

You are often paying attention to the mundane here: someone getting drunk, unable to find his passport, or teenage conversations about sex. But then the violence finally comes – why did you decide to go so graphic at times?
Precisely because I was struck by the speed with which situations can change. At first, people are talking, they are still people, there is a dialogue happening between them, and there is a hope for mutual understanding. But then, something goes very wrong. Under the conditions of war, mistrust and anxiety increase tremendously. The whole psyche of a person breaks down, and without warning, you can be punched in the nose or thrown to the ground, and a completely different reality begins – one that can only come from some terrible dream. And it’s impossible to believe that this was done by the same person who also has a grandma and who could be your classmate.

Once you had decided to adapt your play, how did you try to make it cinematic? Provided that was what you wanted at all?
I shortened the dialogue and came up with a little more action than there is in the play. But in general, I didn’t make that many changes. I was fine with how it looked in the play, just like it does in real life. Things can be static on stage, but they can also be static in our daily life, especially when no one is in a hurry because there is nowhere to rush off to. It’s as if there is a minefield surrounding you, and this is your last stop.

It’s said that these stories are based on the testimonies of real people. Was it hard for them to share these experiences, especially for women?
Almost everything is real, but mostly it’s a mix of different stories, artistically reinterpreted. I have quite a few acquaintances who were in captivity, both girls and boys, and based on their memories, I wrote that scene in the basement. One of them, a female journalist, predictably found it difficult to tell me her story because of the violence she had experienced, but she decided to go out there and talk about it in a documentary play. It seems that this has helped her to cope with her terrible experience.

I was amazed that she had been sitting in an unlocked apartment for many days and she was simply afraid to leave the place of captivity, although no one was holding her there. And she still keeps the underwear that her rapist-kidnapper brought her. The last story, about the chicken, is invented – it has a particularly generalising and symbolic character, about how easily evil is born among ordinary people in the most everyday circumstances.

“When the war started, everything turned upside down,” you said a while ago, when interviewed about the play. How do you capture this? This feeling that now, all bets are off?
I started asking myself questions that I had never asked before. Will I be able to accept immigrants in my home? Will I be able to love a military man? What is it like to bury a loved one, killed in a war? What is it like to kill another person who is called the enemy? Could I do it? And other questions like that... I am sure you would agree that such questions turn everything upside down.

I never imagined I would live through such times. The tenor of life should have remained in the past – in the time of my grandparents. It turns out that nothing has really changed: people who were born and lived without war actually want it to be repeated. They find it attractive, and they have lost all sense of fear. We are not developing, but walking in circles instead, repeatedly making the same mistakes and stepping on the same rake.

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