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VENICE 2023 Orizzonti Extra

Anna Buryachkova • Director of Forever-Forever

“I was looking for magic”


- VENICE 2023: The kids are not alright in the Ukrainian director’s movie, but at least they keep on fighting

Anna Buryachkova  • Director of Forever-Forever
Director Anna Buryachkova (left) and lead actress Alina Cheban (© Lena Chekhovska)

It’s the late 1990s in Kyiv, and Tonia (Alina Cheban) is changing schools. She is looking for friends, love, and protection from whatever is lurking around. She finds it quite quickly after being accepted by a new crowd. But Tonia still has to watch her every step. Ukrainian director Anna Buryachkova breaks down her feature Forever-Forever [+see also:
film review
interview: Anna Buryachkova
film profile
, which has screened in Orizzonti Extra at Venice.

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Cineuropa: When the film was still in development, you mentioned it might be darker than your average teenage stories, usually coming from the USA. It is, but why was that important?
Anna Buryachkova: In Ukraine, whenever I mentioned the 1990s, everyone would go: “Ouch!” It was a difficult time. After the Soviet regime finally collapsed, it was a wild ride. I was still very young, but I remember that people were scared to go out. They were afraid of who they might meet. When you are a teenager, you always look for a brighter side. You want to dance; you can’t wait to start your own love story. But what if you are actually living in the dark, and everyone around you is already corrupted by it?

Tonia is a fascinating character, mostly because she is so proactive – also when it comes to her sexuality, which is great to see.
As women, we have all been told we need to find someone who will make our life easier, our “other half”. Back then, it also had another meaning: you had to find someone because if you were alone, if there was no one else to protect you, you could be in trouble. Your parents were busy, so you had to look for help elsewhere. I think that’s where this behaviour comes from.

When it comes to sex, I really do think she enjoys it. At first, she was pressured into it, so she wants to “repair” it now. In a way, she is very brave for giving it another try. You mentioned these US teen films or shows, and we were watching them, too, in Ukraine. It was like looking at a completely different life. Suddenly, people were having sex! Oh wow! In Soviet times, people used to pretend sex didn’t exist.

It’s a tricky part to get right, because Alina had to be everything at once: a cool girl but also a scared outsider. What were you looking for when you were casting?
I think I was looking for magic. You are right – it’s not an easy part. Everyone else is a bit easier to describe. I found Alina on Instagram, and when she walked in, we all knew she was that person. She was that character because she’s very complicated as well. You could say I was looking for magic, and then it happened. Filmmaking is all about magic anyway.

I really think that in Ukraine, this young generation makes for even better actors. They are more open, more flexible. I am so proud of their performances in the film. We didn’t really rehearse beforehand: we just played games. You just have to give them some space, and then they will walk through that door on their own.

They have to, because adults are absent from this story. Every interaction with them disappoints.
When we were writing the script, we tried to remember whether our parents used to be around, and the answer was no, not really. They tried to provide for us, that was their priority, but it also made us feel lonely. I remember my mum would prepare breakfast in the morning, but after that, I had to deal with everything on my own. There were some families where the parents were more present, but it was rare. This was our reality.

The 1990s are experiencing a bit of a renaissance now. How much did you want to focus on these period details?
We wanted to avoid all modern elements, which wasn’t easy – every suitable location you go to, it has either been modernised or destroyed. We had to rebuild a lot of things, actually. At the same time, we didn’t want to make it feel too nostalgic, so ultimately the only thing that’s different is the absence of gadgets. Back then, they only had these VHS tapes!

And they make sure to use them. Instead of focusing on just one event, you let these kids be: you show them at parties, at school, at home. That’s what their life is made up of.
I believe that small gestures and small decisions can affect our entire lives. You can make a mistake, act like a fool and never expect it to turn everything inside out. Once you put all of these moments together, they really affect Tonia’s story. I guess I wanted to show them on a daily basis and be there for them when they were trying to find their way.

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