Igor Mirković • Director of Sweet Simona
“We wanted to prove that people, their desires and their need for love remain the same, despite all these changes in technology”
- The Croatian filmmaker delves into the desires, the technology and the motivations behind his sophomore fiction feature, which deals with the world of sex-chat workers
Igor Mirković is a Croatian filmmaker and the director of the Cinehill Film Festival, the successor to Motovun, the country’s first independent film gathering. During his 25-year career, Mirković has directed several shorts, a few feature-length documentaries and over a dozen episodes of TV series. After his fiction feature debut, Night Boats [+see also:
interview: Igor Mirković
film profile] (2012), his newest film, the erotic thriller-drama Sweet Simona [+see also:
interview: Igor Mirković
film profile], set in the world of sex-chat workers and their clients, is entering theatrical distribution in Croatia, courtesy of Duplicato Media.
Cineuropa: You have had a long and varied career during which you have played with different forms and types of filmmaking. This is your second fiction feature, coming after a ten-year break. Why now? Can Sweet Simona be connected with some of your previous work?
Igor Mirković: Sweet Simona is a movie about virtual relationships, an experience that no other generation prior to ours could have had. How could a form of communication between two people who have never met, but who are sharing their most intimate secrets, be shown in a film? I supposed that this kind of chat would stimulate the imagination of the protagonists, so they start imagining the characters they are chatting with and the situations they get into. So, I made up a story that glides between reality and imagination, so the viewer is never sure where the line dividing these two “worlds” is, which is quite a task for a screenwriter and a filmmaker. In the meantime, I worked on a period TV series that ran for four seasons, and there is also a documentary called Beautiful Lovely People that I have been working on since 2006, and which should be released later this year. So, while it seems that I have been absent from the big screen for years, this year I’m presenting two of my works that have kept me occupied for a long time.
You merge drama and genre movie, and you examine Croatian, European and global society in the present day. Is the form of the erotic thriller suitable for portraying this era, which is, at the same time, highly sexualised and quite puritanical?
The script was inspired by an acquaintance, a man who worked as a “sex-chat hooker”. He was an operator who wrote sex messages to people he did not know, using aliases like Barbie Bizzare, Melissa Hottt and Sweet Simona, and writing to three, five or seven different men at the same time. The firm he worked for was owned by Germans, but their office was in Croatia, while the employees were German-language students. I imagined a lonely cab driver from somewhere in the deep Austrian provinces texting with Sweet Simona, being persuaded that she lives nearby, while “she” is actually a man located in a foreign country. The fact that the owners used cheaper labour from Zagreb to cater to clients in richer environments was quite interesting to me. And the idea of lacing it with thriller elements came up when I realised that a virtual relationship of this kind inevitably drags its protagonists closer to the question of whom are they actually texting.
The casting choices are interesting, since there are no local stars or familiar faces. What were your criteria?
Sweet Simona is a film with four protagonists and at least ten more characters that influence the story. I wanted a balanced ensemble that would fit together and function as a collective, without any familiar faces or favourites that would stand out from the big picture. Also, two languages, Croatian and German, are spoken in the film, while the actors come from Croatia, Austria and France. I did test shoots with the actors over a period of three years, piecing the puzzle together patiently. Sometimes, those rehearsals with the actors would change my ideas about the characters, so I would change the script on the spot. The actors were not just the interpreters of my ideas, but they actively took part in the creation of the characters and the story.
Croatian audiences often resent national films, as they find that they are tailor-made for international festivals, rather than pandering to their own tastes. However, Sweet Simona is being released directly in cinemas. Is this a statement, of sorts?
Croatian audiences are distrustful of Croatian films. The opinion that Croatian films do not deal with the subjects that the audience finds important can often be heard. Festival success does not mean a thing to the audience: there are recent examples of award-winning films that have tanked at the domestic box office. Bearing in mind that international festival success does not have a promotional effect, we decided to go the other way. The film is going into domestic theatrical distribution first, with the best marketing campaign we could afford with our modest means. We had to get creative, and we’ll soon find out if our idea was a good one. Sure, we would like to attract an international audience, but we’ll deal with that once we’ve presented ourselves on home turf.
The marketing campaign is also an interesting one, along with the AI-generated persona of Sweet Simona…
It was hard to maintain the timeliness of the film, from the time the script was written until now, given that the rapid development of certain technologies has been altering our environment quite quickly. It’s clear that my protagonists, these sex-chat operators, will soon become obsolete and redundant, since their work will be done by AI. So, we wanted to test the technological “upgrade” of the film by means of a marketing campaign for it, as an epilogue, of sorts. We created the AI character of Sweet Simona, based on the sexy photos of a non-existent woman who looked like the actress from the film, and we published those photos online. Soon enough, she started receiving erotic messages, propositions and photos… Her inbox was getting full of real people’s content. This is the very story our film tries to tell: it is about the secrets of our inboxes that reveal what we try to hide and suppress. And we also wanted to prove that people, their desires and their need for love remain the same, despite all these changes in technology.
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