Branko Schmidt • Director
"I am a bit scared of the young people that are being brought up in our society"
- Cineuropa sat down to talk to Branko Schmidt about his latest film, Agape, now hitting national and regional screens
Branko Schmidt is one of the most prominent contemporary Croatian filmmakers and one of society’s most outspoken critics. His unofficial social criticism trilogy penned by fiction writer Ivo Balenović, which started with the lowlife milieu of Metastases and continued with systematic and human corruption in Vegetarian Cannibal [+see also:
film profile],reaches a conclusion with Agape [+see also:
interview: Branko Schmidt
film profile], a film about many controversial topics that sees a priest as the main character. Schmidt is determined to keep following the same socially conscious path with his future projects, and in the meantime, Agape is entering distribution. We sat down with him at the Zagreb Film Festival to talk about his latest film.
Cineuropa: This is your third time partnering up with Ivo Balenović, who trains the spotlight on the problems of contemporary Croatian society. But this time, it is an original script. Was that the reason for the high number of drafts you were talking about in Pula?
Branko Schmidt: It was not. Metastases was adapted from the novel, and there was a theatre production meanwhile, and we wrote 80 or 90 drafts nonetheless. For Vegetarian Cannibal, also an adaptation, it was something like five or six drafts before we got to the final one. Some screenplays are easier to write, while some are more difficult. Some of them are tricky because they are adaptations; others are tricky because they are original writings.
There are a lot of topics served up and elaborated on in a compact, 75-minute format. It is about the church, catechism, love of God, love of man, the taboo of paedophilia, intolerance... But is there a main topic for the film, or something that you wanted to pay particular attention to?
I think it is all about intolerance in our society. It is not only a problem for Croatia, but also for a number of European countries and the USA as well. It is obvious that we have chosen the path that I really despise, and we are losing the very thing that made our world beautiful: a rich tapestry of differences. The proverbial pendulum has swung to the other side, and there is not much we can do about it, as artists, authors and filmmakers. We can warn the elite and the general public, show them the signs and try to imagine the consequences, but the chances for real change are slim.
One of the topics you explore in your film is that of the differences between generations. You have inverted one of the preconceived ideas about young people being the more tolerant and open-minded ones. Why is the Croatian youth so conservative?
In the film, I never point out that the priest, the protagonist, is a paedophile; he is just different. His approach to the children is different than expected. Solely based on that, it is enough to label him, and to finally eliminate him from society. The church is not the only one to blame. There is also school, family... I am a bit scared of the young people that are being brought up in our society, be it Croatian, European or global.
The church in the film is a structure that was built and adapted for the movie. Why did you not just take one of the many churches that already exist in Zagreb?
We asked for permission in conversations with church representatives, and the answer was no right from the start – not with the issue we were examining. So we rented a beautiful object, a former French Pavilion at the Zagreb Fair. Luckily, it was renovated recently, and we decorated it as a church. The whole project absorbed a big chunk of the budget.
Aside from Goran Bogdan, the two biggest roles are played by Serbian actors, both of whom played in No One’s Child [+see also:
film profile], where they had quite a different chemistry between them than they have here. Why did you pick them, given all the administrative and production issues, vocal coaching and so on?
We did not have a lot of time on our hands when we started production, so we could not possibly have had a huge audition to try to find boys like those in Zagreb. I saw No One’s Child,and when the time came, they seemed perfect for the roles. They are simply great actors, and we were ready to get into the vocal coaching – it was even easier that way. Denis Murić, who is from Kosovo, speaks more properly, so he was not the issue, but turning Pavle Čemerikić’s distinctive Belgrade accent into Slavonian, eastern Croatian, was a bit tougher, so we hired an actress, Helena Buljan.
Agape is entering distribution in Croatia at the end of November. What about the international distribution and festivals?
We have just signed the contract with Blitz. The film will also be shown in Bosnia probably around the same time as Croatia, and we also have plans for Serbia. Unfortunately, I have had some health issues since we finished the shoot, so I could not focus my attention on it. Now we have reached a representation agreement with Soul Food, so we are working on distribution in other countries outside the ex-Yugoslav region.
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