Interview from the press kit of "When father was away on business", july 1985

  • Emir Kusturica, I think you have had some difficulties to find a producer for When father was away on business, your second film ?
    • Emir Kusturica : Unfortunately, at this time, some novels recently published were talking of the excesses committed by those who had to protect in 49-50 Yugoslavia from the Stalinism's arbitrary. There was a lot of mistakes. Some innocents like Meša, in ”Father” became characters of novels. The production companies work with a self-managing principle. The programmes council of Sutjeska Film, which already had produced my first film Do you remember Dolly Bell ?, had first given a positive answer. Mais this happened just before the release of ”Tren 2”, by Antonije Isaković, a novel that was not warmly welcomed. So, the Artistic Council members, except Kasim Prohic, fearing the reaction of their comrades, refused the scenario. Luckily, Yugoslavia was already in a democratic process. When one Artistic Council refuses your work, you go to the one of another production company. Two years after, I took contact with Forum in Sarajevo, mostly known as a foreign film importer. They accepted to produce ”Father”.
  • You tell the story of a child in the Fifties, but you, you weren't born. What is family and collective memory compared to this difficult period ?
    • EK : In my family, nobody was in prison. Nobody was in a political conflict. Sidran and I, we wrote a scenario which was inspired at the same time by his autobiography and mine. This universal history is as much biographical than imaginary. The value of this film is due to the fact that this history could have been plausible elsewhere and at another time.
  • What is also interesting, is this tender glance of the children toward the adults. Would they be more adult than their parents ?
    • EK : Personally, I didn't live the same experience. I was a single, cherished child, and I had much tenderness around me. For the film, it was better to have a child who begs the tenderness, who tries to communicate with his parents. It was interesting for the principal characters.
  • How did you find the little boy who plays the part of Malik ?
    • EK : For each one of my films, I always wanted to mix the non-professional actors with those for whom it's the job. I was absolutely conscious that the success of ”Father” was due to the choice of the child who would carry on his shoulders the totality of film. So I organized an audition, I saw a thousand of boys and I chose Moreno De Bartolli.
  • What does the sleepwalking of Malik mean ? Is it it real or does he pretend to be it ?
    • EK : Malik is really sleepwalker. His sleepwalking is, finally, a reaction to a conflict situation that touches his family as well as his country.
  • Where does Malik go at the end of the film ?
    • EK : I will simply answer you that the action leads towards the departure in the sky. I don't know, finally, where he goes. A certain order on the ground was disturbed, and became too complicated for him : the only possible exit to this family tragedy was this take-off… this must be taken, of course, as a metaphor. Moreno De Bartolli said to a journalist recently: “what I preferred in the film, is the moment when I leave, at the end, in the space”. I could try to philosophize, to think about it, but I refuse to do it… this take-off is perhaps an escape…
  • Escape from reality ?
    • EK : Escape from the dreams we lost.
  • And the character of the mother, can you tell us about it ?
    • EK : At the beginning, the script was centered on the mother, which, in a way was rather pathetic. But I finally understood that it was impossible, and that I should better do a film on the two pillars of the family, the father and the mother. In a first version, she passively supported all what her husband did to her. Then I wanted to rearrange the character. Finally, she resists, she doesn't keep the silence and she fights. In fact, she doesn't react like a woman would do today. She gives up neither her children nor her husband. She doesn't destroy her family. On the contrary, she saves it and makes it survive thanks to her strength, her stoicism and her sacrifice. If there had been no mother, there would have been neither family nor film.
  • There are common characters in Dolly Bell and Father, especially the fathers. They have an image of men at the same time strong and fragile. What remains today, of this very strong patriarchal society of the Fifties ? Did that change ?
    • EK : The father is the symbol of the patriarchal society. I think that the Yugoslav society or more exactly the Yugoslav family is still patriarchal. In my next films, I will continue to paint the Yugoslavians as brutal but also funny men in order to make them more bearable.
  • But Zijo, the police officer and Ankitza the sportive girl, aren't particularly bearable characters.
    • EK : That's why I wanted, at the end of the film, to give to these two characters the possibility to redeem themselves, to show their humanity. They understand their fault; it is their punishment. The society where I live doesn't use to forgive. As of my childhood, I was attacked by its brutality. It was always part of my life. While growing, I felt a terrible need to dominate it, to make it bearable. That's why I added a rationalist dimension to my humanism which I felt fragile by putting out of balance the tragedy of the existence and the ironic principles of the light humour of Voltaire. I seized it much more in the Czech literature.
  • We spoke about brutality in your films. But there is also tenderness…
    • EK : Yes, I was told this tenderness would be close to pathetic. I can't explain. The life around me and my country oscillate between the most excessive brutality and the most pathetic tenderness. And often for the same man, or the same woman, the beautiful stands next to the ugly. The characteristic of my compatriots, is that they go from an extreme to another without transition.
  • Well, without transition… You were born in Sarajevo, you live there, a part of your film is held there. How do you like this city ?
    • EK : Sarajevo is one of the strangest cities of Europe, a very old city where several ethnic groups, several confessions live together. Almost at the edge of Europe. We could say that it has a foot in Asia, the other in Europe. In one of his texts The Letter of 1920, Andrić describes Sarajevo like a city which, on a surface of 300 m2 would have four temples: the catholic church, the orthodox church, the synagogue and the mosque. Somebody being in the heart of the old market place at midnight could hear the songs of all the religions. This is in my mind, the most significant in the history of Sarajevo. It also has, like other towns of Europe and of the world, but of course on a smaller scale, its team of Football, its television, its cinemas… everything for a “normal” life but also places where occurs an “abnormal” life.
  • What is an “abnormal” life ?
    • EK : My childhood occurred in a rather poor district of Sarajevo where we lived the things more intensely than in the center. People were very close together and expressed their feelings in a way much more expressive than elsewhere. And this direct, immediate, spontaneous life, seemed “abnormal” to those who, in the districts of the centre live a middle-class life. For them, it was normality. Not for me.
  • In Dolly Bell as well as in Father, which was located in the years 50-60, the Islamic religion is very present. Is it still true today ?
    • EK : It is very complicated with “this Islam”. After the Ottoman conquest of Bosnia and from the end of XVth century, some orthodox Serbs and catholic Croats, but especially the bogomiles1) pagan people, that the catholic church persecuted since years, accepted Islam. And of course, their descendants still live today. Me, for example, I am of a family which is attached to it… but I am atheistic. In my films, I speak about my childhood and what I lived. But Islam is not purely traditional any more, even the rites are deteriorated by the fact that they are held in a communist family.
  • In Father we often hear of Football. Moreover the film ends with the famous match won in 1952 by Yugoslavia against USSR.
    • EK : I think that in this film Football is history. Among the various experiments recorded by the childish conscience, Football or more exactly the matches that the Yugoslav national team played these years were the most important historical events. For a 6 year old boy, what could be History, it was Football. Moreover, the recent match at Heysel between Liverpool and Juventus proves that football is also war. I was event told one day that the third World War would begin on a playground. These matches are so hysterical and full of nationalism that they benefit only to the consumer society of the West… and the whole world. What do the politicians make ? They warm up the national feelings with Football : matches… that start to look like battlefields.
  • And you, you chose cinema to have peace ?
    • EK : At least, to flee this war.
  • Godard said, I think, that a shooting, was like a war.
    • EK : I would say that a shooting is a serious Football match. It has its goal, its defenders, its attackers. The director is everyone at the same time.
  • Do the historical events which are the background of your film interest the younger generation of Yugoslav spectators or do they think that it is the Middle Ages ?
    • EK : It is indeed the Middle Ages for the generation of today. But I've read that in the Middle Ages we lived quite well… a director should not take into account the tastes of such or such generation but jump into the vacuum; to think how he satisfies all the essential points of the existence and the everyday life. But let's say it frankly, the young Yugoslavian grew with the worst of the cinemas, cheap comedies, coffee jokes, some claim be art. Consequently, I do absolutely not take into account what a given generation likes doesn't like. If for it, it is the Middle Ages or another age. I try to do what I feel intimately.
  • The starting point of Father is the caricature of Marx sitting at his office with the picture of Stalin behind him. Is Politics the subject of your film ?
    • EK : You know, I didn't invent the drawing. It was really published in July 1950 in the daily newspaper “Politika”, the one that holds Meša in the film. The author was Zuko Dzumhur, a Yugoslav caricaturist. In Father, the Politics is pretext to tell the history of a child and his family. Moreover I think that any film is “political”. There isn't any important film that does not have a political background. But it becomes contemptible when Politics is the single matter. I don't like the films with a thesis, the films that want to give justice, that want to show that the State is not good, that the police is dreadful, that the C.I.A. prevents things… These are certainly truths, historical truths but the cinema doesn't support outrageous simplification. It is more exciting to see how Politics - as an instrument - influence the human life, the families, how it ruins them or helps them, how it disperses them or joins them together.
  • So, what kind of film do you make ?
    • EK : I am a convinced enemy of “films de genre”. The genre films are done in countries with huge cinematographic industries. The political films can be done only in these countries. Not in ours which produce about thirty films per year. I framed men and women, who love, who suffer and who are sad. They also have a smile from time to time…
  • Which generation of Yugoslav directors do you feel close to ?
    • EK : I am close to the generation of… of any generation of good directors.
  • Names ?
    • EK : Dušan Makavejev, Zika Pavlović, Srdjan Karanović, Rajko Griić, Goran Marković.
  • What do the 5 prizes at the Pula Festival represent for you, after those of Cannes ?
    • EK : Pula is a Festival of national Yugoslav cinema and Cannes is international. This is the only difference.
  • What do you say when you are classified as a director of the East ?
    • EK : I say that I am a director of the South-east of Europe. Yugoslavia is at the South-east of Europe, therefore I am a director of the South-east of Europe.
  • You had the Golden Palm in Cannes. You are internationally known. Do you feel like filming abroad ?
    • EK : I will be obliged someday. I have now a project from which the design is completely different from my usual work. I want to do a film in which the action does not occur in Yugoslavia. It does not matter that I shoot it here or elsewhere. The story would take place in the past, in a remote country, among immigrant Yugoslavians; but through the eye of the man I know well… I mean the man from here. A way of internationalizing my cinema without breaking with my roots…

Extracts of an interview ” Étoiles et toiles ” made by Martine JOUANDO and Dejan BOGDANOVIC, Sarajevo - July 1985, translation by Matthieu Dhennin

Sarajevo - juillet 1985

1) bogomiles : they followed between 13th and 15th century puritan and anti-hiérachical doctrines ; they claimed to be Christian but rejected as well the catholic form as the orthodoxe form of Christianity. But taking into account the inaccessibility of the Bosnian valleys, none of these three forms of Christianity could be established firmly. Kusturica considers rightly these bogomiles as pagan.
en/itv_85-07_papa.txt · Last modified: 2008/02/17 18:51 by matthieu1