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“The new system inevitably leads to an identity crisis”

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Bojan Vuletić • Director

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- BERLIN 2017: Serbian writer-director Bojan Vuletić spoke to Cineuropa about Requiem for Mrs. J., which world-premiered as a Panorama Special screening

Bojan Vuletić  • Director

Serbian writer-director Bojan Vuletić spoke to Cineuropa about his second feature film, Requiem for Mrs. J. [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Bojan Vuletić
film profile
]
, his aesthetics and approach, and how he works with actors. The film world-premiered as a screening in the Berlinale Panorama Special.

Cineuropa: What was the main idea behind the film? What inspired you initially?
Bojan Vuletić: The idea originates from my intimate acquaintance with a woman who, it seems, embodies a typical victim of the transition process in Serbia. She is a modest, quiet woman, who does not want to bother anyone, without a husband, job or redundancy pay. The film deals with one of the painful and unavoidable issues in Eastern Europe – social transition and economic crisis. The new political and economic systems are altering the old face of socialism, bringing big changes in the value system, which inevitably leads, as in this case, to a total identity crisis.

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You strike a very attractive balance between tragedy and humour. Even Mrs J's depression is funny at some points, and the funniest situations are related to very serious matters, especially the scenes with Djordje (played by Boris Isaković). How did you go about that?
In fact, this happened completely by accident. At the beginning, the script was very funny. It was pure comedy, in the tradition of the best Serbian comedies. And then, during the process, the entire film shifted, and it began to be more serious, even bizarre. When we realised that the genre was changing and that the film was becoming a bizarre drama, we instinctively knew that this was OK. We realised that this was a film about death, and as such it was alright. The humour was still there, but it was almost reduced to a minimum. This strange balance began to work. At some moments, it was even very emotional. Then we all started to realise what we had to do to maintain this balance.

There is definitely something magical in your approach (as opposed to magic realism), and not only in the dream/hallucination scene when Mrs J wants to commit suicide. But it is hard to pinpoint.
I'm so glad that you noticed this. I worked very hard on producing this atmosphere with my colleagues and artists: Jelena Stanković as DoP, Zorana Petrov as production designer and Lana Pavlović, the costume designer. From the beginning, we wanted to visually recreate the mental state of our heroine. We realised that her perspective, her point of view, on the last few days of her life was crucial. Since she already has one foot in the grave, she cannot see things in a realistic way anymore, and so a dreamlike visual style was established. At the same time, we wanted the film to stay realistic. In the end, I feel we achieved a very nice balance.

Was Mirjana Karanović your first choice for the role of Mrs J? How did you work together? And how did you pick newcomers Jovana Gavrilović and Vučić Perović?
From the moment I started writing the script, I knew Mirjana was the right actress for this role. Working with her is the best experience I’ve had so far. Emotional, honest and with a distinctive kind of energy, she is a versatile artist whose work as a pedagogue as well as a theatre director presents an indispensable part of the cultural life of the region and Europe. We went through all the stages of the process together: talking about the script, rehearsals with other actors, and during the course of this, I learned a lot from her because her experience is incredible and valuable.

I met Jovana and Vučić during a casting audition. Jovana is a character actress from the younger generation. Her special personal style provides her with a wide spectrum of emotions, often enriched with some authentic humour. Also, Vučić has drawn attention to himself thanks to his authentic, minimalist style, adorned with his distinctive emotion and sincerity in close-ups, making him one of the most exciting film actors of the younger generation.

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