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SARAJEVO 2022 Competition

Juraj Lerotić • Director of Safe Place

“My film is about a traumatic event, a sudden rift in everyday life, a loss of control”


- We got the chance to talk to the director of the Cineuropa Award-winning film, the protagonist of which is caught between the unlimited support of his family and a dysfunctional health system

Juraj Lerotić  • Director of Safe Place

We got the chance to talk to Juraj Lerotić, the director of Safe Place [+see also:
film review
interview: Juraj Lerotić
film profile
, which recently won the Cineuropa Award at the Sarajevo Film Festival, as well as the Heart of Sarajevo and the Best Actor Award (see the news). The protagonist of the movie, Bruno, is caught between the unlimited support of his family and a dysfunctional health system.

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Cineuropa: Why did you choose the title Safe Place?
Juraj Lerotić: The characters are never in the same place; they’re constantly on the move. Somehow, I wanted the title to travel with them. It hovers over the film, sometimes as hope, sometimes as mockery. I like the fact that it’s simple, but also, in dialogue with the film, it becomes ambiguous and elusive.

This is a very personal story. What was the script development process like, and how did you approach the mise-en-scène?
Once I had the material I wanted to write about, I started considering a dramatic structure – one that would reflect and amplify the content. A traumatic event, a sudden rift in everyday life, a loss of control. That’s why the movie, for a moment, leaves its solid fictional framework and opens up more towards meta-film. As the lives of the protagonists are disrupted by the traumatic event, the film is likewise disrupted by this opposing dramatic strategy. The illusion is undermined for the viewer, and at the same time, a new dimension of what is being observed opens up. This structural rift is something that crops up only once because, if I were to repeat and vary it, it would cease to be a wound and become part of the very tissue of the screenplay.

A bunch of small model figurines were the first visual reference for the film, and how they feel in your hands. Each has a gesture, or is carrying a bag or something else that gives us an idea of their comings and goings. All of these efforts seem a little futile, lonely and at the mercy of the space around them.

The cast came out of a whole process. While writing the screenplay, I didn’t think I would play an older brother, but in the process, I realised that I had a blind spot: in a way, I couldn’t accept someone else’s interpretation of that role. Probably because it was too close to me. The fact that I act probably adds another dimension to the film, but this decision was not an easy one to make.

How did you work on the role of Damir, your brother, with Goran Markovic?
We worked on Damir’s thoughts and on the questions he asks himself. For example, the question might be: “I have a feeling I’ve done a horrible thing, but I don’t know what or where?” This could then be brought to the next level: “Because of that, someone will take revenge on my family.” These are the thoughts that demand action. Damir cannot answer these questions, which is why the viewer also has the impression that he is constantly eluding them. That was, for instance, one of the strategies we used when approaching the role.

The main character seems trapped between unlimited family support and a dysfunctional health system.
I’ll paraphrase a German proverb: “Too much help creates a feeling of helplessness.” Damir’s mother and brother try to support him, without patronising him or suffocating him with their concern. As for my experience with the system, it could be summarised as follows: I feel the system is dysfunctional. As a user, you’re at the mercy of the individuals who are part of it. You will knock on one door, and they’ll be very kind – they’ll help you and send you to someone else who’ll treat you as an object, humiliate you and confuse you.

Why did you decide not to have any musical score, and what was your idea behind the other sounds?
The dialogue scenes were filmed with as little ambient sound as possible. Most of what is heard in the film was not recorded on set, but rather added in audio post-production to create the atmosphere we needed for a certain scene. Sometimes, it’s a dense mass of sounds that seems oppressive; at other times, it’s a silence that creates the feeling that anything could happen. You can take the noise of an air-conditioning unit, lower it by an octave, add some refrigerator noise and combine them. The film has a lyrical quality, but we also wanted it to have something exact and raw, like a document. That’s why we didn’t use conventional music.

How did you work on the visual style, cinematography and set design?
With the framing and the choice of lenses, we tried to create the feeling that the characters were caught within the shot, even in the wide shots. They actually seem lost in them, like the figures in the model. Marko and I created the visual language of the movie by drawing on practical experience: we would film a rehearsal in different ways and discuss our impressions. Later, set designer Jana Plečaš joined us, and without her, the film would not have looked the same.

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