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KARLOVY VARY 2023 Special Screenings

Tomáš Pavlíček, Jan Vejnar • Directors of She Came at Night

“Our goal was to create an ambivalent character: sometimes you want to kill her, sometimes you want to hug her”

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- The directorial duo delight in proving that your own mother is your biggest fear

Tomáš Pavlíček, Jan Vejnar • Directors of She Came at Night
(© Petr Semecky)

In Tomáš Pavlíček and Jan Vejnar’s Karlovy Vary Special Screening She Came at Night [+see also:
film review
interview: Tomáš Pavlíček, Jan Vejnar
film profile
]
, Jirka and Aneta (Jiří Rendl and Annette Nesvadbová) are a normal couple, living a normal life. That is, until his diva of a mother (Simona Peková) decides to pay them a visit and, well, stay forever. As little clashes and inappropriate comments soon give way to an open war, somebody has to go. Right now.

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Cineuropa: Where did this story come from? One can imagine many people in the audience going: “I know exactly what they are talking about.”
Jan Vejnar:
For me, it evolved from a simple reflection on what kind of film we are capable of making under these limited conditions and with almost no budget. Home-invasion movies have the potential to keep up the drama in a single location. That being said, both Tomáš and I could easily identify with this situation, too.

Tomáš Pavlíček: I had no idea about the existence of this “home invasion” subgenre before we started shooting. Still, I was always attracted to smaller films. We talked about our favourite concepts, and we found out that we shared one: somebody walks into your flat and refuses to leave. Having a mother as an intruder was Jan’s idea. I love to dig into family relationships and dynamics, so I could easily relate to it. Even though I love my family, sometimes I feel they are extremely difficult to deal with.

It's interesting that while the mother is the clear villain, you also seem to understand her and perhaps even feel for her. How did you see this character?
TP:
Our goal was to create a very ambivalent character: sometimes you want to kill her, sometimes you want to hug her. Bits and pieces of her came from us observing our friends and family. I know many people with personalities that are very rich, deep and empathetic, but also almost toxic and unbearable to be around.

JV: Valerie is a complex personality, very likely a manic depressive and a lifelong manipulator. But in her heart, she is a very lonely woman who longs to be loved. Unfortunately, her chaotic mind twists this need into aggressive behaviour.

No wonder, as there is something very passive about the main couple. Were you trying to show a generational clash here as well? That the older ones, while bonkers, are actually full of life?
JV:
It’s clear from the beginning that neither of them is able to respond adequately to the various attacks. It takes a while for them to realise the situation has crossed certain boundaries, also because they are not always putting up a united front.

TP: With both generations, we tried to capture the positives and also the negatives of their approaches to life. Valerie lives every day as best she can, but she often ignores the people around her. She sucks out their energy like a vampire and leaves them devastated. On the other hand, the young couple is very empathetic. They analyse every situation and talk about their emotions. But when it’s time to react, to do something, they have problems with it. They are very sensitive, maybe too much. Valerie would say they are weaker than her. Much weaker!

Were you interested in playing with genres here? There is a bit of comedy and a bit of drama, and the title is straight horror.
JV:
We enjoy mixing different genres – as filmmakers, but also as viewers. It just makes a film feel fresh and more ambiguous. But this is the essence of life, too – we can rarely be happy without something bothering us inside. We can laugh and at the same time feel this tension.

How do you work together as directors? Do you think you will continue this partnership?
TP:
There was no AD on set, so very often I took this role on, making sure Jan could save some energy and approach blocking scenes with fresh eyes. But none of them was finished until we were both happy with the end result.

JV: We came up with the story together, then split the scenes in half and rewrote them, one by one. During the shoot, we both took turns to communicate with the actors and our DoP, Šimon Dvořáček, depending on who had more to say at the time. This whole experience has been so liberating and entertaining. We would definitely like to continue.

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