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BERLINALE 2018 Panorama

Marysia Nikitiuk • Director

“The main idea was to combine the three worlds in a natural way”


- BERLIN 2018: Ukrainian director Marysia Nikitiuk discusses her first film, When the Trees Fall, and how magical realism can bring hope

Marysia Nikitiuk  • Director

We chatted to Ukrainian first-time director Marysia Nikitiuk about When the Trees Fall [+see also:
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interview: Marysia Nikitiuk
film profile
, which is screening in the Panorama section of the Berlin Film Festival.

Cineuropa: Your first feature combines a few storylines, themes and locations. What was your inspiration? A specific image, mood or character?
Marysia Nikitiuk:
 The story of the little girl, Vitka, came first. A few years ago, I was talking to a friend and I was trying to explain something about myself by telling a story from my childhood. While talking, I started to add things that never happened, and I ended up telling a false story. I was trying to explain to him how we were raised as kids in a post-soviet society and that we weren’t allowed to feel emotions. Normally, when you are crying, you need to finish, and then try to fathom the reason why you were crying. Figuring out the mechanism enables you to learn to understand your emotions as an adult. As a child, you can’t recognise and describe that; you only feel the greatest sorrow ever. I saw many people in Kiev who were so stressed then that when they saw a child crying, they would make him or her stop. They don’t want the child to be uncomfortable in any way to society. As a result, that person is ruined, and if many people are like that, this ends up harming society. My friend was very surprised after hearing all this, and I ran away to write down the story.

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As we see in your film, emotions that are bottled up in a child will explode later in life. Larysa and Scar do lots of crazy things.
Yes, but they are also teenagers. I noticed that there are only two kinds of teenagers: very emotional ones and somewhat artistic ones. And there are two ways of coming of age: people either do it in a very open, dramatic way, or they are closed and defensive. I wanted to make a film about that first group of people, who are open and have “no skin”. There is beauty in their wildness. They are very much alive, and step by step, life forces them into a cage. That is the worst thing I have witnessed in my country.

Why is there so little hope in the world you show?
I actually wanted to talk about hope in a hopeless place. In general, I see that time and society break people. Only a small percentage of the population can say that they succeed in life, in whatever they do – be it working or raising children. But I wanted to say that this has to change. And I was looking for an honest way to do that; I didn’t want to add a scene that would give hope, but which would not be truthful in my view. I found that the best way to do that was to introduce magical realism. Maybe the best thing we can do in order not to lose hope is to protect our inner child.

When the Trees Fall is a co-production between three countries: Ukraine, Poland and Macedonia. Since your film is very visual, how did you establish its aesthetics with Polish cinematographer Michał Englert?
My film blends genres, so I decided to use three things that would unite all of the elements: symbolism, meaning the horse that appears throughout the story; acting, which would be on the same “level” in all of the scenes; and cinematography, with which I wanted to present one “painting”. We discussed with Michał the feeling of space, the length of the scenes, the shots and so on. For the “magical” sequences, I wanted to convey the same feeling of continuity and time-stretching that Bela Tarr creates in his films. Michał laughed when I explained what kind of mood Hayao Miyazaki’s films have, and later on, on set, we started calling it a “Miyazaki filter”. There are some visual elements that are different, but the main idea was to combine the three worlds in a natural way and on all possible levels, so that there wouldn’t be a disturbing mixture of genres.

Which genre or style is most important and most challenging for you?
The most touching scenes were those with the little girl, Vitka. The car chase was extremely interesting, too. Larysa’s part, the social hell she lives in, was the most challenging, I think, because it was very hard and even depressing for me. I see situations like that in everyday life; it’s not an imaginary world, and our society isn’t changing much. The erotic scenes were difficult to direct, too, because all of the actors were debutants as well. In my short films, there are scenes that are partly sexual, but here I wanted to convey the feeling of wildness, the “rise” of young life. Not only were these scenes difficult for the actors, but also the death scenes and all of the “hysterical” scenes – they were verging on trauma. It’s all built on trust. If the actors trust me, I can ask them to do a little more.

What are you working on now?
I am developing my second feature, Seraphima. I presented a teaser during the Warsaw Film Festival’s industry event, Pitch & Meet. The actress that plays Vitka in When the Trees FallSofia Khalaimova, will be in this movie, in a completely different role. She is not open and cheerful; she is hypnotic and aggressive.

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