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Interview Peter Strickland - Director of Katalin Varga

Video - Brussels Festival 2009

The portrait of a man who always knew he would make films. Even if to do so he would have to challenge the traditional filmmaking process

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Fated to film
There is a theatre in my hometown, Reading, which is very supportive. It's one of the few places where you can just go in as a stranger and they would trust you with something. I directed Kafka’s Metamorphosis in 1992. From then on I worked in super 8, I did abstract films and then 16mm. There was no kind of question – I always wanted to make films. I always ask myself why, because life would so much easier if I didn’t want to. I don’t know what the reason is. Somehow I always come back to film. There were times when I forced myself to stop and just get a regular job but again, somehow, I always found myself getting back into doing something and losing lots of money again.

This went on until this film now. It was very frustrating to be invisible and ignored, but there was a luxury there, because you’re not afraid of any consequences. Nobody is going to write a bad review about you because nobody cares. You can actually try many things. Now obviously it’s fantastic to have an audience, but it’s actually quite nerve-wracking. For the next film, someone will be watching. So all the scripts I wrote before, I’d think, "Oh my God, maybe this is not good enough". There was a very new fear I never had before.

Initially a self-financed project, Katalin Varga [+see also:
film review
Interview Peter Strickland - Director …
film profile
got a Romanian producer once shooting was over.

That was not out of choice. That was the situation. We tried and tried and tried, and you get to a point and think, "OK, well, that’s the case, we just get on with it, and if we fail, we fail". There is nothing worse just sitting there waiting. I'd rather do it and screw it up. At least I know I tried. We were very lucky.

This is a film in two stories. When we made the film, it was like a home movie. There were no auditions or casting agents, it was very natural. You meet someone, you’ve never done a feature before – I had never done one, Hilda, who plays Katalin, had never made one – you just meet for coffee and say, "Let's do something". And then, obviously, the last year with this whole machine behind the film, it’s a completely different story. I’m not sure which I prefer. It’s very strange for us.

A complex character.
Katalin Varga is a good person turning bad. She reaches that point after she kills this character. She realizes that it’s not so simple. Something has died inside of her, her soul is corrupted. That's what I wanted to explore, in some way. What was interesting for me was the ending, when she is killed. The character who kills her is exactly the same as Katalin. He doesn't know she’s been violated. We were discussing this a lot with Hilda and Sebastian - the man that kills her. In terms of how she felt, I think for Hilda and many of the actors…they see something as a role, they express themselves that way by just acting, they love acting…. And there wasn't huge amount of time for talking, we had 17 days and we’ve just got to go on with it. I had to trust them.

Violence in small ethnic communities.
This is not a Romanian-specific film. In fact, those communities are very open, and all the actors come from those places, many of the people are relatives and so on. Definitely you read stories – whether they are true or not – about small communities that suffer some kind of disaster, or even ethnic cleansing. There had been stories about women who had been raped by soldiers and because the offspring have different blood the families reject the women. It’s just shocking! This husband should have been sympathetic. His wife had been attacked, but he sees her as this whore. That mentality is there, in some men. For me that is very shocking.

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