Emir Kusturica in his village - Interview in French newspaper L'Humanité on 9 september 2005

The director, who received two palme d’or in Cannes, received us in the village of his dreams that became true.

« Once upon a time, there was a country… » destroyed by the international community and the exacerbated nationalisms. Where Emir Kusturica, one of the rare directors having received two palmes d’or in Cannes (for When father was away on business, in 1985, and Underground, in 1995), decides to build a small piece of paradise, in the region where he made his last film, Life is a miracle, next to the small town of Mokra Gora, at the border of the Republic of Serbia. Twenty kilometres from there, is located Višegrad, city crossed by the river Drina, which inspired to Ivo Andrić, Nobel Prize of literature in 1961, his master-work the Bridge over the Drina. The spirit of this great writer of Croatian origin, born in Bosnia and having lived the greatest part of his life in Belgrade, keeps haunting the places of our friend director. Not only do the baker-café and the restaurant of Mecavnikgrad (the “snowstorm village”) are respectively called Kod Corkana (“At the One-eyed”) and Lotika, famous characters of Ivo Andrić’s novel, but we can also see there a small world that Ivo Andrić would not have disavowed. Kusturica doesn’t build a stone bridge but a wooden village which, by certain sides, shows all the characteristics of a master-work.

At the entry of the village - which announces its membership of the UNICEF of which Emir is an ambassador -, Dragan, Serb of Montenegro, builds day and night with passion the exact model in small pieces of wood. Such as Luka, the hero of Life is a miracle, reproducing the “Eight of Sargan” in his attic. After the reception door, we can admire the main street which paving is made of wooden cross-pieces of rail road. Here is a philosophy, made of naturalness, respect of the good things of the countryside: a shop in front of the reception sells wool, unbleached cotton cloths, specially manufactured kitchen utensils bearing the name of the village, natural leather shoes, hand painted pieces of furniture such as the one we can find in the rooms to rent, and of course, the DVD of the films of Emir and the CD of the No Smoking Orchestra. Aside, a small gallery called Anika (another homage to Andrić) currently proposes an exhibition of paintings by a naïve painter of Herceg Novi (Montenegro): Vojo Stanić, who made the cover of the album Unza Unza Time.

The main house is the one where live Emir, his family and his friends. We had the honour to be invited there, in warm guest rooms, with painted furniture and string carpets. We’ll finally discuss in the court of his house, where the view is open toward the mountains of Bosnia, today far away.

Toward Sarajevo

  • How did you conceive the project of Mecavnikgrad, « the snowstorm village » ?
    • Emir Kusturica : The village is an idea which was born at the end of the shooting of my last film, Life is a miracle. I was really impressed by the landscapes, by the nature of this region, and I got the idea to gather houses in a new context. A context which allows me to defend myself in front of a world of standardization on the planet. The basic idea is very simple: find houses and create a new situation by putting all these houses together. Moreover, I wanted to underline the relationship between nationality and culture, because this nation which is Serbia has a very strong culture made of symbols and people. I reject the idea that nation feeling is linked to nationalism. It is absolutely not true because, for me, a nationality is a culture above all. In the village, the culture is developed like this : cinema, which has an exclusive form, an art gallery, a sport complex, with a swimming pool and gymnasium, which are still in construction, and a church. The architecture is conceived like in the old times, which means that there is no real plan. Plans are created according to a random development. I’m very happy with the result, to see that so many people receive the message, when they come and they have new behaviours. For example, they taste natural products, such as cherry juice locally made, or boza (corn juice with honey) in place of Coca Cola – which is not served in the bars of the village. Simplicity forces people to have clear and clean behaviours. These small houses don’t give just a romantic idea. People find something very strong here, the idea that the culture is a way of being. First they seek, enter inside and behave according to what the place proposes to them. They must understand this place.
  • You have a precise project concerning the village. You have created a screening room which is absolutely perfect for sound and image. You intend to organize cinema lessons, workshops, etc.
    • EK : Yes, from time to time. I would like to make workshops and to present to some people my personal vision of the cinema. There are no revolutionary ideas, there, it’s just to study the various aspects of the cinema, in order to give a chance to people, not necessarily to make films but specially to open other doors by redefining the cinema under multiple angles.
  • You suggested for the first workshop of this summer the title: « Art is (or isn’t) in a period of transition »…
    • EK : This theme raises the question of a psychology of the situation by defining space and time and not the question of a psychology of individual people. It will be the work of this year to compare the structure of the classical music and what is called classical cinema, that is the cinema before and after the nouvelle vague, which means out of it. It will be specially about the neorealism and the French poetic realism, whose Master is Vigo. I think in the same way, whatever the matter. For example, I can’t separate the cinema from the music, particularly regarding structures. The cinema violently touches the public by its emotional side because its visibility is very pragmatic. The music is a good weapon to underline the structure. And architecture too.
  • You’re going to make these workshops yourself, or ask other directors, even foreigners …
    • EK : This year, I’ll assume the workshops myself, but in the future, I’ll call other teachers, and probably foreigners . I want that people here come from everywhere. The idea is to make this village a meeting place as much international as possible.
  • You said it was as difficult to make a film as to make war, or to play a football match. Had that anything to do with Maradona ?
    • EK : Maradona is a project that unifies many aspects of my own life. Historically, politically and even more. I’m very excited by the idea of discovering the personality of the best Football player in the world. On many points, he became a unique case. He is a guy who marks an end to the era of a certain Football where the individual had his place. Today, Football is a big business and a kind of video game. Maradona remains the last true player that I respect.
  • What about the possible adaptation of the Bridge over the Drina, by Ivo Andrić, for the cinema ?
    • EK : I’ll never do it. It’s impossible… I mean, it’s difficult, and I don’t think it’s the moment to make such a work with such a frame. It’s too big ! It’s quite possible that nothing is less sure than that!

Interview by M. L., translation by Matthieu Dhennin

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