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Magdalena Chmielewska • Director of Lullaby

“It’s always a question of how to compose the images and sounds so that, in between, I can get closer to the mystery of life”


- After winning the Max Ophüls Preis for her film, the Vienna-based director talks to us as it screens at EFP’s Future Frames

Magdalena Chmielewska • Director of Lullaby
(© Zebu Kluth)

Magdalena Chmielewska is a freelance director and screenwriter based in Vienna, where she studied at the State School of Film and Television Filmakademie Wien. Her latest short film, Lullaby, has already proved popular after winning this year’s Max Ophüls Preis and it will now be presented at 56th edition of the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival (July 1-9) as part of the European Film Promotion’s Future Frames.

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Lullaby focuses on a teenager, called Eva, who suffers from a sleep disorder which renders her unable to sleep at night. As she resorts to visiting her friend’s houses to watch them slumber, Eva’s condition begins to wear on those around her as much as it does on her. If there are no dreams to be had, can there be only nightmares? The film is a hypnotic and fragmentary piece of work that is both moving and beguiling.

Cineuropa: Where did you originally come up with the idea for Lullaby?
Magdalena Chmielewska: I experienced insomnia as a teenager myself. I wanted to travel back to this energy and mould it into a fiction in which Eva gathers all her vital powers in order not to give in to the frustration brought on by her disease. While trying to help herself, she challenges her surroundings and their understanding of what is normal.  

On a broader scale, it’s also about a person who has lost the basic capacity to find peace. Does she sense something that others cannot? Isn't her being awake jointly proportional to the state of the planet and humanity?

It’s a very fragmentary work. Was it important to reflect a certain dream-like atmosphere that represents the sleep deprived world in which Eva inhabits?
I tell the story from Eva’s perspective, the same as each of us imposes their own interpretation on what they experience: this is what is real for Eva. I believe that a fragmented dramaturgy matches human experience more than a linear one. It is always a combination of the present moment, past, dreams, fantasies and fears creating the current moment. And each of us experiences it in a different way, which I find very fascinating. 

The film flits between more scientific explanations of Eva’s situation, and a more ambiguous reading of Eva’s condition. Did you do much research into the science of insomnia or were you reaching for a more existential feeling throughout the film?
There is something that medicine cannot explain about Eva’s bizarre condition, it goes beyond the fathomable/rational. I use the visible setup of a story as a container that allows me to reach for the unspeakable in Eva’s experience, something I’m most interested in my work. It’s always the question of how to compose the images and sounds so that, in between, I can get closer to the mystery of life. 

Can you tell us more about the casting of Magdalena Żak in the lead role, and what drew you to her?
To me, Magdalena Zak’s aura has lots of mystery and space for ambivalence that transports something essential about being a human, which I want my characters to convey, too.  

What are you hoping for with the screening at Karlovy Vary and being part of Future Frames?
I feel very happy to screen my work at such a prestigious film festival as KVIFF and to represent Austria as one of the ten outstanding newcomer directors from Europe. 

Do you have an idea of what you want to work on next?
I continue with my focus on a longing for something that has been lost while discovering the otherness that lingers within my characters, and hopefully creating a touching and intriguing story.

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