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FEBIOFEST BRATISLAVA 2023 Febiofest Industry Days

Dominik György • Director of The House in the Middle

“Symbolism and mysticism enhance the narrative, prompting philosophical questions and reflections on human existence”


- The winner of the Cineuropa Work in Progress Award at Febiofest Bratislava Industry Days breaks down his ambitious project homing in on family dynamics and social taboos, among other topics

Dominik György • Director of The House in the Middle
(© Robert Tappert)

Dominik György is a young Slovakian film director, screenwriter and actor. He graduated in Feature-film Directing at FAMU in Prague, where he directed six short and mid-length student films. György is working on his feature-length fiction debut, the period drama The House in the Middle, which received the Cineuropa Work in Progress Award earlier this year at Slovakia’s Febiofest Industry Days (see the report). Cineuropa sat down with the director to discuss his ambitious project in more detail.

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Cineuropa: What inspired you to make your film?
Dominik György:
Ever since childhood, I've been intimately familiar with the titular house in the middle – it’s a personal family story I decided to share on the big screen. During summer holidays, I would visit the house with my godparents, and my godfather would regale us kids with chilling chapters from its dark history during German and Soviet occupation in 1944. Though the story changed each summer, some aspects remained constant, like the abuse suffered by our family and the burial of a fallen German soldier in front of the house. As I grew older, I delved deeper into the story, piecing together fragments, adding my own imagination, and incorporating the accounts of historians and memorialists. The film The House in the Middle emerged from this process, infused with symbolism and a message of familial strength, featuring the protagonist, Samuel, as a symbol of salvation. The aim is to engage younger generations with historical truths not commonly taught in schools, offering a balanced portrayal of both the German and Soviet armies to prompt viewers' reflection on alternative perspectives and possibilities.

This is your feature-length debut: what are some of the challenges you're anticipating, and how do you plan to tackle them?
As a young, debuting director, the main challenge for me is to attract co-financing partners for this ambitious historical film. Many potential partners tend to favour established directors with previous cinema releases, which makes strategic sense owing to their proven audience appeal. To overcome this, I'm staying true to my authentic style and patiently seeking genuine interest. At this stage, I don't see any other challenges. I've spent three years writing the script and developing the project alongside Lívia Filusová from Furia Film Production, allowing ample time for creative contemplation, and I believe I am prepared.

The House in the Middle seems to balance the themes of family, mysticism and war. How do you plan on weaving these disparate themes into a cohesive narrative?
The film explores multiple themes that, at first glance, may appear incompatible, yet they converge in one, cohesive narrative. These include family dynamics, social taboos, politics, abuse, violence, mental health, sexual orientation, and immigration. Through a mosaic-like, three-act structure, I've carefully combined these themes to create a specific storytelling form. While set in the 1940s, the story's relevance persists, reflecting timeless human emotions and addressing contemporary family issues and behaviours in life-threatening situations. Symbolism and mysticism enhance the narrative, prompting philosophical questions and reflections on human existence. The motif of war encompasses both external conflict and internal struggles, highlighting the characters' personal challenges and the impact of political beliefs. The film aims to shed light on lesser-explored aspects of World War II, particularly the experiences of individuals in remote regions. It seeks to challenge myths surrounding the Soviet liberators, presenting a nuanced perspective. Ultimately, the film encourages viewers to form their own opinions on historical events while emphasising the impact on families.

The decision to shoot in black and white and in a 1:1 aspect ratio is quite bold for a debut film. Could you give us an insight into your decision-making process and how this aesthetic choice supports the narrative?
The film will employ a visually stylised approach, as you say. The black-and-white tonality serves a symbolic purpose, playing down the differences in uniforms, skin colours and the environment, and thanks to this, the characters’ shared predicament is emphasised. This aesthetic choice also allows for the exploration of hidden emotions through facial expressions. The film will predominantly use static compositions and minimal camera movement, achieved through well-planned intra-shot editing. The format transitions from 2:1 to 1:1, signifying the family's capture and confinement by the Soviets, creating a claustrophobic effect, and ultimately returns to the 2:1 format towards the end.

Vladimír Smutný, the cinematographer on The Painted Bird [+see also:
film review
interview: Václav Marhoul
film profile
, is working as the DoP on this project. What is it about his style or previous work that you felt aligned with your vision for The House in the Middle?
Vladimír's visual style, particularly his legendary stylised lighting, perfectly matched the needs of the story, which I insisted should be captured in black and white. His enthusiasm for the project, his willingness to experiment and his understanding of using light as a prop, rather than using physical props on set, aligned with my vision, solidifying our shared visual style for the film.

As this movie is a European co-production between Slovakia and the Czech Republic, how does this partnership impact the production process and your creative decisions?
I am so happy that we can collaborate with the Czech Republic, through 8Heads Production, because I graduated there, at FAMU, so I am used to working with Czechs. DoP Vladimír Smutný and my story editor, Ivo Trajkov, are from the Czech Republic, along with one of the main actresses, the perfect Klára Issová, so there are only advantages to this co-production. I love this collaboration so much, and I am extremely grateful for it, especially as a debut director.

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