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Petra Szőcs • Director

“Dangers, opportunities and the dynamics of roles”


- CANNES 2014: Cineuropa met up with Petra Szőcs, director of the short film The Execution, in competition at Cannes this year

Petra Szőcs  • Director

The Execution, by Hungarian director and screenwriter Petra Szőcs, was presented in the short-film competition at this year's Cannes Film Festival. The Execution is set in Cluj, Romania, in 1990, just after the Ceausescu couple’s execution. Orsi (around eight years old) and her older brother Örsi like to re-enact the trial and the execution. They play this game all the time, at home and at school, together with their friend Roro. It is a tense period for Orsi and Örsi, not only because of the political situation, but also owing to their family issues. Orsi discreetly overhears her parents’ conversation, discovering her mother’s intentions to leave the family home. While Örsi manages to face up to this trying time with maturity and calmness, Orsi absorbs all the aggressiveness surrounding her. All this tension culminates in an absurd act. Cineuropa met up with Petra Szőcs.

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Cineuropa: Why did you decide to tell this story?
Petra Szőcs: Because of an image. I imagined what children would look like in Ceausescu clothes, and that inspired me.

Is it autobiographical? You were more or less the same age when Ceausescu was executed.
They were very intense, euphoric and memorable days. I remember them quite clearly, even if I didn’t witness every single scene, because on that day I went to the ophthalmologist, who put some drops in my eyes just half an hour before the beginning of the execution. I only saw very blurry things; I can remember the voices and the sounds very well. Afterwards, my parents did not allow me to see the images of the execution; but as the television repeated it several times, I could finally watch some of them at my neighbours’ place.

I never role-played the execution, but I played at being a demonstrator during the revolution together with my sister and the children from my neighbourhood. My editor’s sister did the same, so it was quite a common game among children at that time.

It is also a film about how children are affected by what happens at a socio-political level and within their families…
Yes, but in a very subtle way. It’s about dangers, opportunities and the dynamics of roles, and how these tensions break through the boundaries of certain roles. There is a double role-play in the film: the first one is the Ceausescu game, and the other is what the girl says about herself, that she’s an orphan because of the tension in the family. At the end, she really thinks of herself as an orphan and becomes aggressive. Both roles are aggressive, and that’s why she uses violence as a method.

Was it easy to work with children?
One of the boys was very disciplined, the other not, and the girl was quite impulsive. We had to adapt to her rhythm, but she’s a genius, she can improvise very well and she made the scenes much better than they were on paper.

What about the photography of the film?
Eszter Csepeli did the photography – she was a schoolmate of mine at high school. We made our first short film together in 2007. I like working with her, but we had to find compromises, because she likes colourful and aesthetic pictures, while I prefer more simple and realistic ones. The result is a realistic picture from a child’s perspective, so it’s therefore more colourful.

You are also a poet. How do you combine poetry and filmmaking? How does poetry influence the writing of your films?
I really like writing poems – my first volume was published in 2013. Sometimes poetry is more important for me than filmmaking; sometimes it is the other way around. But for sure, poetry is simpler than making films: you don’t have to make lots of phone calls, you don’t have to organise everything and find the team that will work with you, which can all be quite exhausting.

Dialogues are very important to me, and this is influenced by my poetry. The editing in this film is also a bit poetic because it’s elliptic, it’s a more lyrical film, and the atmosphere is more of a determining factor than the story. On the other hand, sometimes my poems are about my films or about the characters playing in them. 

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