Blesok no. 26, May-June, 2002
interview with Milčo Mančevski, film director
* You have some experience as the humorist and satirist, you used to publish at the end of 70’s in “Osten”, a magazine for humor and satire. Two things can be noted: They are written in grammatical first person, as some kind of a film notification. In “Dust” we could see your sense of humor in few of its variants (irony, sarcasm, and anecdote) and through some different characters. Finally, the whole film is a kind of an ironic play with the narrative film. What function you give to the humor in your projects: to ease the communicability with the audience?
MM: Humor has two reasons in my films, and I think, in the film in general. The first one is – it makes it communicative. The second and much more important is – it’s a part of a life’s euphoria. Although I’m not the one who should say this, but this is the main difference between “Before the Rain” and “Dust”. “Dust” is more complex. And besides that enriched complexity, the greatest difference is e humor, more of that life euphoria is at the surface, and in the same time it’s quite “down” in the atmosphere. They don’t function well – one without the other. Both ends of the spectrum should be given to gain the real complexity. If the shadow isn’t there, the sun can’t be that strong. The humor in its essence is amazingly difficult phenomenon. Something you find funny, I don’t, and vice versa. Especially among the different cultures, so I did expect that it would travel with difficulties. What I was most pleasantly surprised of, was the fact that the audience reacts at the exact spots I wanted. It was of most importance for me. I did see that the audiences everywhere laugh at the same spots: in Toronto, in Tokio, as well as in Skopje. The very reason I’ve started to make films is the story itself, to make my stories more easily communicative with the recipient.
* I personally agree that, when we spoke of art, that it should speak of universal things, and that every story, how intimate it is, the artist should present it in some collective frameworks. But, why Milcho is defensive as a devil himself when someone say that he made national, not nationalistic film, or even (God forbid!) chauvinistic one? If someone like Spielberg can do it, for example, in “Saving Private Ryan”?
MM: I have nothing against a national film. “Dust” can be considered, in some small framework, as a national film. Even a little more than “Before the Rain”, but it isn’t a nationalistic one. I’m not afraid of it, but I must note that even if I want to, I just can’t do such film. Only if I stay to live here for the next 15 years, then, maybe I would be able to do that. You must consider that I’m not in Macedonia since I was 19. What I do as an author and artist doesn’t come in 100% from here. It’s a different story with someone like Lars Fon Trier, who lives and works in Denmark. If I write a script, and I want some of my friends to see it, it would certainly be a N.Y. friend, because I’m there, too. And if I compare some of what I write, I would certainly compare it with something from there, too. At the other hand, my esthetical forming and the first 20 years of my life were in Macedonia, so my origins and bases are Macedonian, and I can’t escape it, even if I want to, although I don’t. In contrary. Anyway, every film should be above the national level.
* How much we try to applicate that, the conclusion is that “Dust” isn’t firmly tied up with one single space, mentality and ideology. In contrary, it often changes the theoretical strategy and incorporates the historical pieces. Ritual dances of primitive tribes, antic pillars, Byzantine fresco-painting, the cubizm, “The Misses from Avignon”, then the whole history of 20th century: the nuclear bomb, the prohibition, the native American Indians, Freud, the Brothers Right plane, the Ottomans, J.B.Tito… Can the use of these historical events in any context of the film to be comprehend as some kind of an author’s comment?
MM: I use them as a part of the mix. They are the part of the scenery design. I will say again: like Rauschenberg uses some elements. They are all moments from our collective past and from our individual psychology. I’m aware of the atomic bomb, of the cubism, and I can’t avoid it, even if I want to. How can I make a film for the komitis and Macedonian rebellions, and how can I be familiar with that history, and not to be familiar with something so world-widely known as the cubism? I may not mention it, but the cubism, formalism, and all others esthetics, older or not. I always start with a presumption of deep honesty. I invite the recipient with that: let’s make this film together, let’s play together. A part of that honesty is to show to him the “stitches” of the making of the suit, and that’s nothing new in art, but it’s new in the narrative film. it is an honesty, because I show the “stitches” with saying: “I tell a story, so it means that I lie to you, but do recognize the fact that I’m showing to you that I lie, with agreeing to that”. I don’t do that rationally, with intention, but as a part of the play. If the play is consequent, and done with talent, then it’s functioning and it will be open for analyzing. Hiroshima was one of the most important events in 20th century, which defines us, and even that part of us who live in Shtavica. At the other hand, all that is so close to us in time. All that history that seems so widened onto a period of 1000 years, s so close to us. Elijah, who starts his travel from Oklahoma in 1900 as a young man, and arrives in Macedonia in 1903. So, it is quite possible to be in N.Y. in 1945, when the atomic bomb was thrown. We do fall on the cliches. We think in this way: Ottoman Empire – 16th century, cowboys – 19th century, atomic bomb – well, it’s a 21st century!
* As for the beginning: How pleased are you with the reception of “Dust” out of Macedonia? Do you think that the focus on some particular historical and cultural determinants decreases the possibilities for those who aren’t familiar with the historical framework of this film?
MM: I think that every film should function on several levels and in this case I this problem is on eof those levels: How it fits into the culture and history that this film speaks of. But, the film shouldn’t function only on that single level. People should understand it even without knowing anything about the particular culture its story is built on. It is so with every good film. For example, to understand and like “Citizen Kane” one must have some knowledge of America at the first half of 20th Century. It’s my motto – always when I’m not working, I try to see the people first. In this film it’s the matter of people, heir destinies, sufferings, relations, strivings… It’s essential to achieve this when you make a film. Everything else will only fulfil the picture. When you make a film about the history and culture of a place, you never get a classic feature film. That’s either documentary or television – CNN. Otherwise, I’m not the one who should comment the reactions of the audience or the critics. As an author I can’t see it objectively and without personal limitations. From those few places I’ve been present at the screenings, the reactions are quite good. In every opposite to the palette of some critics in Venice. Now, after I see how is this film accepted from the critics and the audience in Tokyo, Tai-Pei, Toronto, even in Solun (Thessaloniki), I conclude that what happened in Venice was an attempt for assassination upon “Dust”. The true merit will be how this film will be accepted by the audience throughout the world further. It’s always the only merit.
* In few occasions, in foreign and domestic magazines you appear as an author of columns with political connotation. Do you think that’s the reason that some ultra-right and nationalistic critics reacted like that on the film in Venice, or you think that they were frustrated by the fact that Milčo Mančevski, some director from some land Macedonia, came from the Wild East and made such a audacious film as “Dust”?..
MM: … And attempts to lecture them in esthetics, instead of begging for help among those numerous international non-governmental organizations. I think that the reasons are both you mentioned. I was refusing to believe, and long after Venice I couldn’t believe that one has something to do with the other, but… it seems that I have still much to learn about things. I was naive enough to think that people will occupate themselves with the esthetics of the film. Now I see that those reactions weren’t that coincidental. Such claims I base not only upon the reactions, but upon the researches that were conducted by other people, like Iris Kronauer, who was also a guest in Skopje, and she writes a book on the reactions upon “Dust”. Iris found a text in Germany, a review, where he critic claims that two days before they see the film, they were consulting in what way to review it. Other reviews say that the film is just an illustration of my journalistic text where I attack and accuse NATO for its mistakes. NATO, de facto, isn’t guilty for that what happens here, but it’s partly a consequence of its faults. By this hypothetical situation that is claimed by some people, “Dust” is made in a period of one month. I’m sorry that I realized that a whole segment of the culture – the critics, for which I thought that is pure esthetic matter, actually manipulates with politics. I saw that for the European film critics the politics is equivalent to the Hollywood gossip. It isn’t important who sleeps with whom (as in Hollywood), but who has this or that political opinion.
* Neda speaks of Miss Stone as Miss Rock. That metonymical replacement of the sign-significators is very often in oral folklore tradition, used by the futurists also, and it recalls the children’s game of ‘broken telephone’. Did you really encounter that name in your research for this film?
MM: No, I didn’t. The name of Miss Rock is used as for the associations as you did mention, because I didn’t want to mention real people and events, although I had to do that here and there. But generally speaking, I avoid speaking of the things I haven’t actually seen. I don’t think I have a moral right to do that.
* We already mentioned the term ‘audacious’ – in the positive sense of the word. Especially interesting impression gives the narrator’s position in the film. Mikhail Bahtin would say that you do dethrone the narrator’s position. In the oral transfer of certain story, in the old times, its position is the position of the non-mistakable authority. The distance among the recipient and the narrator isn’t that large, but the limit is clear. Exactly in that segment in your film – the scene of the negotiation about the number of the Turkish soldiers is the perfect example of the audacious and impudent listener, who, although he listens the story for the first time, he intervenes in it. It speaks of one other thing: the relativity of every data we get from the past through some medium. Can that intervention, not by the real witness, but by the author, which transfers the information, can become hat big that what we get today as an absolute fact of truth, actually can be a pure fiction? Isn’t that a reason to question the view on the history study-books as a fiction, as novels and such? Are such forgeries real in this global village of ours?
MM: It’s more than obvious and probably it was always like that. Today it’s more a question of an intentional manipulation from the political, psychological or of plain and simple selfish reasons. I want to introduce you in to the reality and history as I see it myself. Fake informations are made independently of that how reachable are they, anyway. The accessibility to the facts only does the lie more obvious – but only for those who really search for the truth. The next question is how much one truth can be objective, because we can approach very objectively to the history material, but we can see it and comprehend it differently, and so we can transfer it differently. And if we still stand on the belief that the objective truth exists, the fact is that it’s, most often, manipulated by the narrator and his intentions… So, the main goal, the main intention of this film is to say exactly this, but in an euphoric, pleasant, impudent way. Don’t trust me, and by inertia, don’t believe the films and the film narrators in general. Enjoy them freely, but with the safe distance. So, don’t trust to the “Assassins From Salonika”, or the films with John Wayne, nor CNN. Look for your own truth. Whenever you can, you go at the sight to be sure of the information, or consult whatever more information sources that you can. And if I go back to the previous question, the third reason they “hate” “Dust” is maybe exactly that: “Dust” breaks the very structure by which they work for the last 30 or 50 years.
* Once you mentioned that “Dust” is a cubist film. In some parts you can sense he influence from the so-called Russian Formalism, who itself is an air of the cube-futurism. Eisenstain is under great influence of that formalism. For “Dust” is the word that is over-blooded film. Viktor Shklovski, one of the most significant theoreticians of the formalism, said: “in the at, the blood isn’t bloody… It’s a material of the artistic construction”.
MM: I agree. Absolutely. Hitchkok said that more plainly when Ingrid Bergman cried during filming some scary scene. He approached to her and said: “Hey, this is only a film!” (he laughs).
* About the two scenes with the hero from the comics – Corto Maltese. I’ll mention the formalists again, Danil Harms this time, and his famous story of the redhead man. As an author, he first introduces a character and he quite openly says that is redheaded: “a redheaded man”. Right after that, he denies all of those attributes and simply chases his main character out of the narration, placing himself in the situation to find himself without a hero. This, certainly, is an auto-referent procedure in art. Did Maltese have this reason to show up, in order to build a play upon the function and position of the film characters in the narrative film structure?
MM: You know, that aren’t some rational decisions of mine, but more like intuitive ones. I first make a structure with completely fictional. Afterwards, I do my research and I see what can be done based on the similarities with the optionally real/historic personalities. Even then, I anecdotally imprint the real characters. They have the role as J.F.K. in some of the Robert Rauschenberg’s paintings does. He’s there, but the painting isn’t there because of him. That’s he case with Freud in “Dust”. Next step was: if in that time & space, a fictional character, like my Luke, walked around, as well as those real characters at that same time & space – Freud or Picasso, why shouldn’t be there another, also fictional character as Corto, although he’s made up by another author. I only don’t mention his name. He’s recognized only by those who know Corto. In that period, Maltese travels at the places were the “heat is on”, so it’s most probable that, although fictional, at that time he went to Macedonia (he laughs).
* In “Before the Rain” Milcho was the victim of the Serb soldier, in “Dust” he was the mother of Luke and Elijah. Does this mean the following the segments of the poetics of Alfred Hitchkok and Orson Wells who has the habit to show themselves in some scenes of their films?
MM: Absolutely. Hitchkok originally invented this idea, and I just do a different variant of that – I appear only in photos (he laughs). Those are photos that play quite an important role in my films. In “Before the Rain” the photo was important because that was the embryo of the whole film’s action; that was the moment when Alexander decided to go back to Macedonia. In “Dust”, at the other hand, the photo of the Luke’s and Elijah’s mother is probably the oldest photo in the whole of Angela’s collection. They both started from their mother, as characters with their relationships towards the females. It’s a playing, again. I do think that when someone does art, he should lay a lot – and he should be killing himself with work, at the same time. That someone must be consequent and free at the same time, and that is my greatest engagement when I make a film.. How to play and to be responsible towards the team and the colleagues, how to bring the invested money back after finishing the film, etc…
* Both “Before the Rain” and “Dust” start with the tomatoes and end with the quite alike scenes with the skies, clouds, and in analogy, somehow, the birds. Often, unintentionally, I name “Dust” – The second Part of “Before the Rain”. Can we talk, at all, about some essential link among them, or maybe about some kind of trilogy?
MM: There probably is a trilogy, but the third film still hasn’t revealed to me. I assume that my third film would be extraordinary simple – an “aerodynamic” one. The first one has three defined stories, the second has, in essence – two stories, and by some analogy, the third one should have only one. Otherwise, the appearance of the tomatoes is very interesting. I had a production professor who was always saying “the first scene defines your film”, and my father, then again, was saying that by the titles’ music at the beginning of the film can recognize whether the film be god or bad, and even what the film will be – in general. When I did my thinking about the beginning of “Before the Rain”, I did ask myself what’s the most typical thing in this country. I did conclude that the tomatoes are the one of the few things with what Macedonia is superior than any other country, or area. In the second film, the question was how to do that again, but in N.Y. It seemed very logical that those tomatoes from the “Before the Rain” arrived at the market in America.
* Whatever is the way of presenting the Macedonians, Albanians, Turks, Americans, English – in both of your films, the soldiers, the flies, the sheep, and the guns… in both films they are one and the same. We would be unfair if we say that the cry for cosmopolitanism and for respect for the Other, wins in your films. Can that be linked in the relation with the general process of globalization, or that’s your personal determination as an artist and as a human, above all?
MM: Humanism, not globalism. In fact, that’s absolutely firm humanistic and pacifistic ideas and I stand 100% that the people are everywhere, that they have the same loves and sufferings, same problems, deceits, same evil… All that depends on the man, and on the moment. If we go back for the third time to Venice, this may be the fourth reason what bothered some of them. About that speaks Marija Todorova in her book Imagining the Balkans. It’s s syndrome by which every racism projects upon the others, far away, on some cannibals in the Balkans. May be, with my offer of the very opposite, I did disturb their racist’s koncept. There was a situation when some journalist defined “Dust” as a racist film. The same one was the member of the paramilitary organizations in Northern Ireland. So even this humanism is never an fully intentional thesis, my authorial credo is that we are all humans, and that there always will be good and bad ones among us. The issue is how you will tell the story about it…
Translated by: Petar Volnarovski