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VENICE 2018 Biennale College Cinema

Petra Szőcs • Director

“People are too complicated for simple statements”


- VENICE 2018: We met up with filmmaker and poet Petra Szőcs to talk about her debut feature, Deva, shown at Venice as part of Biennale College Cinema

Petra Szőcs  • Director

In her project Deva [+see also:
film review
interview: Petra Szőcs
film profile
, selected for Biennale College Cinema at the Venice Film FestivalPetra Szőcs tells the story of Kató, a small albino girl living in an orphanage in the Romanian town of Deva, who becomes fascinated with a new volunteer. Encouraged by the free-spirited woman, she slowly starts to explore the world beyond its narrow walls.

Cineuropa: You drew inspiration from a real girl, also named Kató. Is she the one we get to see at the very beginning?
Petra Szőcs: Yes. She played in one of my shorts, The Execution, and for a while, I actually thought about making this one together as well. But she didn’t want to. From the start, I was more interested in her character than her life; I wanted to show her friendships and this journey to lose the identity she was burdened with.

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The character played by Csengelle Nagy is quite withdrawn – it’s hard to see who she really is. Was that something you liked about her?
Originally, it was a more extroverted character. But there is a mystery about her that suits the film well. She has a lot of problems with the outside world. Kató is an albino, and while it’s not really a problem in our society, it can be a problem for her. She always stands out, even when she doesn’t feel like that’s the case. And she stands out alone. I liked this contradiction: she is easy to notice and yet somehow invisible within this sad, grey city.

She seems almost like a magical character – especially after she gets electrocuted drying her hair. It’s not a superhero film, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously. But everyone wants to be special, and when we survive something like she does in the film, it’s easier to believe that we’re special.

I was curious about her relationship with adults, as she really seems to be longing for their company.
At first, I wanted to tell a story about a girl and a boy, but later I changed it to the female guardian because I wanted it to be more ambiguous. People are too complicated for simple statements. Of course, a relationship between a man and a woman can be complicated as well, but in this case, it has its dangers. Kató’s approach to new people is very unclear, or maybe it’s just this hope to form a real bond. These kids, they know that all these people will leave – they always do. But they still long for this contact, and they get attached quite fast. They all want to be the favourite, and they need love and attention, just like everyone else. That’s what I felt when we were shooting, and that made my coming back all these years that much easier.

What took you there for the first time?
My mum told me about this place in Deva and the person who runs it – Csaba Böjte. I went there in 2005, and it was a big moment in my life. I still remember it very clearly. The footage I show at the beginning of the film was actually shot during that first visit. 

In what way did the Biennale College influence the project?
It certainly helped a lot. You have to work so intensely in such a short period of time, and they always ask questions during the workshops and keep you thinking. Last year, at this exact same time, I found out that I had been selected alongside the 12 other projects. And now, the film is already done – it’s quite amazing. Every tutor is completely different, and they would suggest very different ideas, but finishing the first draft was the hardest part. I wrote the screenplay with Gergő Nagy, and we didn’t sleep at all. We worked day and night. I can’t even imagine doing it on my own.

Every time there is a film with a child protagonist, everybody seems to have a different way of working with them. 
I didn’t treat them like children. I don’t see any difference between them and the adults in the film, maybe because I already worked with them in my shorts. I always try to be honest, even when it means showing some of the footage and discussing what was good about it and what not so much. I would ask: “Why do you feel so scared? Why are you so tense in that scene?” They had some very good ideas, but each child is different. There are those who are good at improvising, and there are those who prefer to prepare. You have to find out and employ a method that works. Csengelle Nagy, who plays the lead, couldn’t improvise, but she was a natural when she knew what we were trying to do, and I quickly noticed how subtle her movements were. In order to see them, you have to come closer.

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