Karoly Ujj Mészáros • Director
“I don't think you can be really happy in life unless you accept death”
- Cineuropa met up with Hungarian filmmaker Karoly Ujj Mészáros, who screened his funny and romantic first feature film, Liza, the Fox-Fairy, at the Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival
Hungarian director Karoly Ujj Mészáros brought his first feature film, Liza, the Fox-Fairy [+see also:
interview: Karoly Ujj Mészáros
film profile], to the Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival after it won at Portugal's Fantasporto (read the news). The film, which demonstrates a heartfelt fondness of Japanese pop culture, tells a very romantic story with the help of dark comedy and fantasy.
Cineuropa: The film is stunningly original in terms of both the script and the tone. Where do all these ideas come from?
Karoly Ujj Mészáros: The origin of the film is in a Hungarian theatre play that has a similar story. The men who try to court Liza die, and there is no explanation for it. I also wanted to make a breakthrough film for the main actress, Mónika Balsai, as well as a movie with a happy ending, which I found really important as a Hungarian, due to the tense situation that my country is going through right now. Moreover, during the process of writing the script, my co-writer, Bálint Hegedûs, and I did brainstorming sessions, and from those sessions came the idea that we used in the film - the idea of surprising the audience, by hinting at a certain tone for a specific scene, and then undermining that tone unexpectedly with a completely different one. At the same time, filmmakers such as David Lynch or Luis Buñuel are true inspirations in my work, so I wanted that surrealistic mood in my film.
Mónika Balsai puts on an impressive performance and carries the entire weight of the film on her shoulders. How did you approach working with her and the other actors?
I have made many commercials in my life, and in the beginning, I always had many problems working with actors. But then I did a theatre play and everything changed. I learnt to enjoy the process of working with them. Therefore, I decided that for my first feature film, I would rehearse with the actors before filming. And that is exactly what we did in this movie - we rehearsed for a month before shooting started. We did character studies, and we established each character's background and so on. And what's more, all of the actors working on the film, from the least experienced to the most seasoned, took part in those rehearsals. And that helped me to avoid something that I really dislike in film acting, which is the coexistence of different acting techniques at the same time in a scene, such as when there is a non-professional actor, a stage actor and a cinema actor sharing a scene, and there is no common ground between their performances.
Despite being an extremely romantic film, death is very much present and even portrayed in a funny and laughable way...
I think death is a taboo in modern Western societies. Everything is about "now" and not about thinking about death. It is much more of a hidden topic now than it was before. We put old people in hospitals so that that idea does not become a part of our lives anymore. However, I don't think you can be really happy unless you accept death. But for many people, it would be too hard to try to accept this idea in a raw, harsh way, so that's why I try to use comedy. It will be much more easily accepted by the audience.
Japan as a cultural reference plays a central role in the film. Why Japan?
I like Japanese culture a lot. It is strange and unique. And in a way, some Japanese traditions are like some Hungarian traditions. There is also something that I find really interesting in Japanese culture, which has to do with a certain lack of resources. Like, for instance, the tradition by which old people who are no longer useful for society have to leave those same societies. In addition to this, I also like Japanese pop music very much. I am especially fond of Asian pop from the 1960s and 1970s, which is incredibly fun - it's just great. Moreover, I directed some commercials in Japan, so I learnt even more about them and their traditions.
This is a fantasy film with many special effects, but is spoken in Hungarian and not in English. Is this a miracle, or at least an exception, in the context of the Hungarian film industry?
Actually, having produced the film through film funds, as we did, it was much easier to get that money with the movie being spoken in the language in which it was produced, rather than in English. Even the co-producers wanted the film to be in Hungarian. I also had a friend who made a film with Hungarian actors speaking in English, and audiences did not seem to respond very well to that idea. So if you want to have an English-language film, you'd better have English-speaking actors. And if you want to make a good movie, you’d rather hire good English-speaking actors, so then the budget just gets much bigger. Moreover, I met a French producer at the Sarajevo Film Festival who spent 15 minutes shouting at me and saying that the idea of making the film in English was total nonsense. So I would say that in this atmosphere that we find ourselves in at film festivals, making the film in the language in which it was produced just seems to be the right way to go about it.
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