Kristina Grozeva, Petar Valchanov • Directors of The Father
"We were fascinated by how easily an otherwise completely rational person could fall for the supernatural"
by Stefan Dobroiu
- Bulgarian directors Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov talked to us about their absurdist tale The Father, world-premiered in competition at Karlovy Vary
After The Lesson [+see also:
interview: Kristina Grozeva, Petar Val…
interview: Margita Gosheva
film profile] and Glory [+see also:
interview: Petar Valchanov
interview: Petar Valchanov, Kristina G…
film profile], two films whose social and political messages earned them dozens of awards, directorial duo Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov offer a change of pace with their third feature, The Father [+see also:
interview: GoCritic! Interview: Kristi…
interview: Kristina Grozeva, Petar Val…
film profile]. Here is what the directors had to say about their new creative journey.
Cineuropa: When Cineuropa first covered your project, you said the story was very personal. Can you say anything more about this aspect?
Kristina Grozeva: The inciting incident in our film we borrowed from something that actually happened on the day of the funeral of Petar’s mother. Her neighbour’s phone started receiving some messages, and when she checked it, she gasped in shock and showed it to all those present at the memorial: the call was coming from the number of Petar’s mother, which was obviously impossible. And yet, for a moment or two, all of us there trembled in awe – we all wanted it to be true. We were fascinated by how easily an otherwise completely rational person could fall for the supernatural, as long as it gives them some sort of hope or cure for the pain. So that’s when the seed of the idea was planted, but it wasn’t until four years later that we revisited it and started thinking actively about turning it into a movie.
You called your film The Father, but the entire story is told from the perspective of the son, played by Ivan Barnev. Why is that?
Petar Valchanov: Like most people, we both live that perpetual, unresolvable conflict between children and parents every day. We know it best from our perspective, that of a daughter and a son. They teach you early on in film school to tell stories about what you know because that’s the only way to be completely honest. We just followed this basic rule.
In your screenplay, there are comments on the “communists” still in power and on the healthcare system. Do you think it is the duty of cinema to change society by exploring its issues?
KG: It’s more like our own personal need to articulate different topics and problems that we face in our society. Through our films, we try to take a snapshot of real life, to paint the image of the contemporary person living in this small territory in the eastern part of the Balkan peninsula. And this person, we believe, is very confused. Our society is being torn apart by extremes, ranging from strong hatred to painful devotion, and people do not trust the institutions – the police, the healthcare system – and that’s why they often prefer to trust random magicians and nature healers.
The Father is your third film together. How have things changed regarding the way you share directorial duties? Do you ever play good cop/bad cop on set?
PV: We don’t have a set recipe or formula; we just follow our creative impulses. Sometimes we do play good cop/bad cop. Sometimes we use the other person as an excuse – for example, if one of us is having an exhausting argument with a member of the crew and they ask why we want this or that, the answer would be “because the other one said so”. Another thing is that before, we used to say, “Cut” simultaneously, while now we often don’t say anything at all, which is a nightmare for the actors.
Five years have passed since your debut feature. Have you seen any improvement in how the Bulgarian film industry works?
KG: Thanks to the efforts of a group of filmmakers, a few years ago, the Bulgarian National Film Center finally introduced a call for low-budget productions. The idea was to allot smaller grants to a bigger number of projects. As expected, this gave great impetus to Bulgarian filmmakers and enabled the creation of award-winning films, such as Ilian Metev’s 3/4 [+see also:
interview: Ilian Metev
film profile] and Stephan Komandarev’s Directions [+see also:
interview: Stephan Komandarev
film profile]. Our second movie, Glory, was also financed thanks to that call. Currently, there’s an ongoing discussion about changes in the Film Industry Act, which we hope will be for the better.
Your next project, Triumph, is supposed to wrap up your so-called “paper-clipping trilogy” that started with The Lesson and continued with Glory. As the film has recently won funding from the Bulgarian National Film Center, can you describe the story?
PV: This time, the real events took place between 1990 and 1992, when Bulgaria was in free fall, governments came and went, inflation skyrocketed, and the scarcity of goods as common as bread and petrol shook people’s lives. And while thousands were out protesting in the centre of Sofia, a small group of high-ranking army officers set up camp in a quiet village in the mountains. Away from all the noise, they started digging a hole, searching for an obscure object that would change the course of history and make Bulgaria great again. Why? Because the healer of the chief of the General Army Headquarters was in telepathic contact with an advanced alien race who told her so. In the course of two years, they dug a 160-metre-long tunnel. The operation was classified, and all of the documents, if not destroyed, are still classified to this day.
It is our intention to explore what those people in the camp thought and believed in. As in our previous films, we won’t use their real names. We’re just fascinated by the dynamic in that strange group of people; we see it as symptomatic of the issues that plague our society even today, and that’s why we believe it’s an important story to tell.
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