Irma Pužauskaitė • Director of The 9th Step
“To attract the public to this drama, I have adopted a levity in my gaze”
- The Lithuanian director tells us about her film, which chronicles the efforts of a former alcoholic to rebuild his relationship with his teenage daughter, and was awarded in Lecce
The 9th Step [+see also:
interview: Irma Pužauskaitė
film profile], the feature debut from Lithuanian director Irma Pužauskaitė, a graduate from LMU Film School in Los Angeles, delicately tackles a difficult topic. After playing in Tallinn and Cottbus, the film, which chronicles the efforts of a former alcoholic to rebuild his relationship with his teenage daughter, was selected in Competition at the Lecce European Film Festival where it has won the award for Best Cinematography, the Audience Award and the Cineuropa Award. We met up with the director, present in Lecce for the awards ceremony.
Cineuropa: You hold a very tender gaze on a dysfunctional Lithuanian family.
Irma Pužauskaitė: The film certainly addresses a heavy topic. But I believe that even people who recover from an addiction have a certain lightness in cultivating hope. And I wanted to bring this lightness into the film. The levity that I have adopted in the gaze will serve to attract the public rather than repel it, because the topic of addiction and family drama tends to divide, not to unite, and I wanted the audience to feel involved.
You have however kept the dark side of the story, privileging warm tones and nocturnal environments. There are elements of North American drama in the film, combined with the "Polish school" look of cinematographer Jacek Podgórski.
I am a little bit stateless: when I'm in America, I'm too European; when I'm in Europe, I'm too American. Maybe I should move to Australia to find the right balance! I have worked a lot with light, I like being able to work with different shades. I believe that the night has characteristics that are particularly well suited to the story. People who go through a journey of recovery tend to wake up very late and stay awake at night. The night has an intrinsic beauty and brings greater temptations, but on the other hand, the morning is the time when you return to reality, when you have to get up and go to work. We wanted to maintain this duality, this contrast between day and night. A source of inspiration for the visual aspect and for the dramatic story was Barry Jenkins' Moonlight, and the influence of European cinema is undeniable both in terms of writing and style, because I grew up with that cinematography. We wanted to give the audience a taste of this diversity.
Music, which is a universal element, is what brings father and daughter together.
There is a lot of music in the film, because I think it represents the different generations of the characters well. There is a contrast between the teenage daughter, who plays classical music with a French horn, a difficult instrument that echoes her difficulty growing up, and her father, who was a dancer in a pop band. A dialogue is created between these two genres and in order to achieve this balance, I spoke at length with the composer of the score, Domas Strupinskas, whom I have known for many years. I used a lot of pop music in the background to characterize the father in particular, who is a person who doesn't go too deep but “goes with the flow”, he accepts whatever may come. In general, when I write, music is a source of inspiration, I need it to create a mood.
There is a joke in the film referring to a possible "Russian invasion", which suggests that the idea is a real obsession in the Baltic countries, one that is now confirmed by the invasion of Ukraine.
The first draft of the script dates back to 2016. The actress who speaks that line, Angelina Daukaité, did not understand it at first. The location where we shot the film is very close to the Kaliningrad “oblast”, where the Russian community is very present. This is why we preserved the Lithuanian-Russian accent of the actor Valentin Novopolsky. At that moment, we could not imagine what would happen. My grandfather was deported to Siberia, as was my great grandfather. More than obsession, I would speak of it as an instinct for safety and protection. When the war started, I had a broken leg, and I was able to participate in the protests from my sofa, through social media. It is a tragic situation, as a European I am afraid. When I saw the flags of the former Soviet Union in Russia, I was appalled, I felt violated.
(Translated from Italian)
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