István Kovács • Director of A Siege
“The desperate search for our humanity and dignity is something we will never abandon”
by Laurence Boyce
- Hungarian filmmaker István Kovács talked to us about his short film A Siege, which prepares to screen as part of EFP’s Future Frames at Karlovy Vary
A winner of a Bronze medal at this year’s Student Academy Awards, A Siege is a tense and moving story of Thea, a woman living alone in war ravaged Sarajevo. Amidst a ruined city, where even the basic necessities for human life are scarce, Thea decides to make herself feel like a woman on more time. With an astonishing central performance, the film is a look at the tragedy of way and the indomitability of the human spirit. Directed by István Kovács, the film prepares to screen as part of EFP’s Future Frames at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. Its filmmaker, who studied at the University of Theatre and Film Arts in Budapest, talked to us about it.
Cineuropa: One of the most remarkable things about A Siege is about how tragically timeless it is. It could also be a World War II movie – but it was only a few years ago. Did you deliberately try and avoid grounding the film in a date and place?
István Kovács: We do clearly set the time and date in the first seconds of the film, but I clearly understand your point. First of all we wanted to tell this story because we wanted to draw attention to this horrible war in the middle of Europe, 50 years after the Second World War. All the western powers failed for years to prevent the killings and the mass murders. I was born in Yugoslavia and I spent my childhood there, so the war and this story are very personal for me. But from a filmmaker’s point of view, one of the most fascinating aspect of this story is that it could have happened in any time or place. I think the theme is what makes it a timeless story. The desperate search for our humanity and dignity is something we will never abandon.
What were the things that inspired you to make A Siege?
Years ago my teacher Gábor Németh told me a story from a memoir. It was a very short 4-5 sentences memoir which told the story of a lone woman in Sarajevo. After years without any kind of comfort, she decides to wash her hair and body to feel herself as a woman again. There was no water at her disposal so she used the water in the radiator, but it was so dirty that bleeding scars appeared on her body. This story was so heart-breaking for me, that I immediately knew, I wanted to make a movie about it.
How did you come to cast Vedrana Bozinovic – she gives a an astonishing performances that combines fragility with an amazing strength…
For this story the best choice was to find the main protagonist in Sarajevo: an actress who was there during the siege, who knows what this story means. Then I started to search the Bosnian theaters and watched Bosnian films. At one point I saw an actress who was very strong but at the same time she could be very tender. Quickly I looked up her photos and it was amazing how many ‘faces’ she has. Then I asked my friend Andras Urban, who is a theater director, and he told me that I should send her the script very quickly because she is an amazing actress with a lot of work. So I did send it, and Vedrana immediately said yes to the role. We talked a lot about Thea’s character and we were on the same page. She is a very intelligent actress and human being and we understand each other very much and she knew what kind of performance the movie asked from her
Where did you find your locations? Again it seems such a contrast – desolate, empty places but also signs of life and hope amongst the ruins.
We had a very limited budget due to the fact it was my graduation movie so my production designer László Rajk (who was also the production designer of the Oscar winning Son of Saul [+see also:
Q&A: László Nemes
interview: László Rajk
film profile]) told me that we have to shoot this movie in real locations. Fortunately we found an old soviet military base near Budapest, which was used before as Sarajevo by different film crews. (One of them was Angelina Jolie with her film In The Land Of Blood And Honey.) So we had great luck with the external scenes though we thought that it will be much harder to find those than the internal locations. At the end we had to split the shooting into two parts, and with a two month delay as tried to we find the ideal location for the internal scenes.
Your latest stop with the film will be Karlovy Vary and Future Frames – what are you hoping you’ll be able to get from being there?
I hope that I could meet a lot of people there to discuss the movie and our next plan: a feature version of A Siege. I hope that I can find producers who are willing to work with us and develop this into a co-production. The writing has just started and I hope that the Hungarian National Film Fund will support us to tell this woman’s heartbreaking story of finding humanity inside those inhumane conditions.
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