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PALIĆ 2019

Ana Maria Rossi • Director of Ajvar

“I felt the urgent need to tell a story about inertia and a sense of powerlessness”

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- We had the opportunity to chat with Ana Maria Rossi, the director of the Serbian-Montenegrin drama Ajvar, one of the titles selected for the main competition at the 26th European Film Festival Palić

Ana Maria Rossi  • Director of Ajvar
(© Zoran Lončarević)

Ana Maria Rossi's debut feature, entitled Ajvar [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Ana Maria Rossi
film profile
]
, had its world premiere during the 26th edition of European Film Festival Palić, one of the most prominent film events in the Balkan region. The plot revolves around a Serbian couple, played by Nataša Ninković and Sergej Trifunović, who have been living in Sweden for a long time and apparently enjoy a comfortable life, but do not have children. We spoke about some of the director's narrative choices, the film's production process, its distribution plans as well as her future projects.

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Cineuropa: Why did you choose to tell this story? What was your main source of inspiration?
Ana Maria Rossi: I have a personal connection with all of the themes in the film. In general, I believe we cannot tell stories about things that we don't fully understand. I have seen many people living their lives with passivity; these folks let things happen and are overwhelmed by their existential troubles. Certainly, we all – to different extents – act this way over the course of our lives. I felt the urgent need to tell a story about this type of inertia and sense of powerlessness. Moreover, I believe that bringing this story to the screen has some kind of cathartic power.

The film opens with one of the lead characters, Vida, talking to her psychiatrist and complaining about her inability to remove a stain from a pair of blue jeans that are out of production. Why?
I thought that choosing to show the character complaining about something relatively unimportant could be a good metaphor for her strong desire to escape from real problems. That's why, in the first scene, Vida chooses to focus on something irrelevant, like a non-washable stain on a pair of Levi's. It's an easier route to follow and enables her to stay – temporarily – in her comfort zone. Psychologists find this attitude very common among their patients.

How did the two lead actors work together on set? How did they develop their characters?
They were both amazing. We’d known each other since the time the three of us were attending the same film school [the Faculty of Dramatic Arts in Belgrade]. I have already worked with Nataša Ninković and Sergej Trifunović, and they’re both great performers and experienced actors. I was very happy to have them on board. Previously, they starred in Some Other Stories [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
(2010), an omnibus film made by myself and four other directors from the region [Marija Dzidzeva, Ivona Juka, Ines Tanović and Hanna Antonina Wojcik-Slak]. We worked together for several months on developing the characters. Their continuous efforts and hard work during the rehearsals gave great depth to the characters of Vida and Bane on screen. I am very grateful for their help.

What are the distribution plans for Ajvar?
After the premiere at Palić, the film will be screened at other Serbian and Montenegrin festivals [Herceg Novi, Vrnjačka Banja and Niš, among others], and will then be ready for a theatrical release in October this year. The distribution of Ajvar is being handled by Belgrade-based firm Taramount Films.

What was the most challenging part of the production process?
Technically speaking, it wasn't a difficult film to shoot. We only filmed in a few locations and mostly in controlled environments. What was most challenging was securing funding to develop and produce the film. Perhaps irrationally, I hadn’t chosen to tell a story about more popular themes, which would surely have been more lucrative at the box office. For that same reason, I also knew I couldn't count on massive foreign production support. I probably did everything wrong in terms of marketing, but that was the story I wanted to tell. However, I believe that the audience will be able to establish some personal connections with my movie – there are many Serbians living abroad who bring home their jars of ajvar [the film is named after a pepper-and-aubergine relish commonly found in the suitcases of Serbians living abroad] and who may find the characters terribly familiar.

Are you working on anything else at the moment?
Yes, I'm working on two scripts that touch upon the same topic – namely, the collapse and the burdens of a Serbian family, influenced by the social and political changes that their country is going through. The story will cover a few decades of Yugoslav and post-Yugoslav history.

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