Juraj Lehotský • Director of Plastic Symphony
“Every film I make reflects a specific phase in people's lives”
- Cineuropa talks to the Slovak director about his latest fiction film, which was shot during the pandemic and which stars Polish actor Bartosz Bielenia in the lead role
Slovakian filmmaker and producer Juraj Lehotský, who scooped the CICAE Art Cinema Award in the Directors’ Fortnight at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival for the docudrama Blind Loves [+see also:
film profile], premiered his latest feature-length fiction flick, Plastic Symphony [+see also:
interview: Juraj Lehotský
film profile], in competition at Tallinn Black Nights. Cineuropa sat down with him to talk about the movie, which he also produced.
Cineuropa: This is the first film you have both directed and produced. How did the experience differ from before?
Juraj Lehotský: This is my first film as a co-producer with Michaela Jelenek, for our company Arytmia. Being a producer on my own film gives me certain advantages. We are in control of our budget and can decide how best to spend those finances. The task isn't easy, for sure. If you're just the director, you can't control how the money is spent. Since we were shooting during the worst part of the COVID-19 pandemic, we had to think hard because we went over budget, especially owing to the group testing that we had to do every day.
Were there any conflicts between Juraj Lehotský the director and Juraj Lehotský the producer?
We do have a certain decision-making hierarchy within our company. Michaela, who takes charge of production, has my complete trust, and I have to respect some financial limitations. Michaela, on the other hand, is sensible and understands my artistic vision, so we can always work things out.
Were there any benefits to the COVID-19 pandemic?
The period certainly had some perks. It was possible to shoot in Austria in places where it would not have been possible otherwise. For instance, the Konzerthaus in Vienna is one such place, since it is usually fully booked. Also, due to the fact that Bartosz Bielenia had not been required to tend to his duties in the theatre, he had time to prepare for the role.
The story addresses dilemmas that are usually associated with the Millennial generation.
Every film I make reflects a specific phase in people's lives. Plastic Symphony focuses on settling down and gaining a foothold in a complicated world. It was our goal to make an impression and dive deep into the thoughts of someone who is on the road towards life satisfaction, desiring love and applause. In addition, we wanted to discuss how hard it is to figure out who you are, and why you are in this world. Life isn't just about us; it's about the people around us.
You worked with Michal Leščák on your previous projects. This time, you collaborated with DoP Timotej Kriška. How did this partnership go?
Initially, we wanted to make a simple story about a man of a small stature with Timotej. It was supposed to be a simple story about looking up at the world from below. However, the story went through various changes, and finally, a tale about two different brothers and their desires and paths to happiness emerged.
The film is a departure from your previous visual poetics and social realism. Plastic Symphony is more stylised, with long takes. What is behind this decision?
Every creator is defined by something. Timotej is specific in the way he likes to think in long takes. While making each scene as a single, long take without any cuts might seem extreme, the decision has its reasons. It’s certainly not a self-serving decision. We wanted to make a story where the audience would be able to stop noticing the interfering aspects of film language. Seeing all the banalities of life as if one were an invisible observer, a higher being, allows viewers to think about human behaviour. We can see things differently; we look at life according to our own, subjective feelings. Everyone will see the story differently, depending on who they are. In addition, the audience will see new meaning in things that we had considered normal until now.
How did Bartosz Bielenia come on board?
Casting the protagonist was the most challenging part. We had a hard time finding the right person for this part. My search was conducted through several casting companies, and I saw faces from the whole region of Ukraine, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. Suddenly, Bartosz's face appeared on the screen. His face radiated pride and wrongdoing at the same time, which fitted our story perfectly. We met in Krakow, rehearsed a scene, and it worked. He read the script, liked the story and came on board.
Eventually, Corpus Christi [+see also:
interview: Bartosz Bielenia
interview: Jan Komasa
film profile] was nominated for an Oscar, and Bartosz became a global star overnight, but he remained committed to our project, and after that great success, we started shooting. I saw Corpus Christi just before shooting started; I was excited about the film, and I was glad that we had found a great actor completely independently of his success.
The movie is a three-country co-production; what are your distribution plans?
The film has just had a theatrical release in Slovakia. Plastic Symphony opens in the Czech Republic on 2 February 2023, and the film should premiere in Poland in the first quarter of 2023. Our desire is to get the film into German and Austrian cinemas. Although these countries were not involved in the production process, I believe this movie really belongs to these territories. We are hoping for screenings in Vienna and Berlin soon, as negotiations about distribution are under way.
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