Milcho Manchevski • Director of Willow
"I go with my intuition, and try to listen to the voice of the characters and the story"
- Macedonian director Milcho Manchevski chats to us about his latest feature, Willow, his approach and the most prevalent themes in his career
We talked to Macedonian filmmaker Milcho Manchevski, whose latest film, Willow [+see also:
interview: Milcho Manchevski
interview: Sara Klimoska
film profile], has just screened at Luxembourg’s CinÉast, about the topic of the film, his approach and the most prevalent themes in his career, as well as his observations on the pandemic.
Cineuropa: In Willow, you have returned to the topic of mothers and motherhood, which you have tackled before. Do you think it is now especially relevant?
Milcho Manchevski: It is indeed a relevant issue, not only from the perspective of the personal, of human yearning and ambition, but also as a focal point of societal tendencies, especially in view of how religion, the law and tradition interact with scientific developments. What exactly is progress? I do not start out with an agenda or a message. The starting point for me was the personal, the emotions, the dramatic conflict. Everything else we develop in the process. Basically, I go with my intuition, and try to listen to the voice of the characters and of the story, almost as if I am a vessel for the story that wants to be told.
The film deals with many other issues that are directly or indirectly connected, and the approach is similar to what you did in Before the Rain. How do you go about constructing such a complex narrative?
I play. I play with the plot, with the drama, with the characters’ reactions to what is happening to them and around them. I let my imagination have fun when writing. This often leads me to use structural experimentation, partly because of my life-long interest in experimental and contemporary art. In Dust, I explored a unified fragmented structure, whereas in Before the Rain, it was the circular structure in a triptych. In Willow, I was going for an asymmetrical triptych. The narrative is not neatly tied together by the end; rather, I was looking for echoes, rhymes and contrasting elements. The links are emotional and thematic, rather than narrative, starting with the overarching theme of motherhood. Still, the issues of love, loyalty and freedom (control over women’s bodies) are equally important.
Visually, this is one of your most lavish films to date. How did you pick the locations, and how did you balance the urban with the rural, the contemporary with the old?
I like contrast in film. It helps keep things fresh; it also emphasises the individual elements at each end of the scale. I like scouting and do a lot of it myself, often with the production designer David Munns, who designed all of my features. We go for locations that speak to us, but also for those that are reflections of the characters and of the general ideas in the film. Often, they have a mythical or epic quality to them – which is in stark contrast with the intimate locations. This was the case with Before the Rain, Dust and Bikini Moon [+see also:
film profile], which was shot entirely on location in New York City.
In Willow, I returned to Mariovo, a deserted region in the south of the Republic of North Macedonia. The region used to be practically cut off from the rest of the country. It is a plateau dotted with volcanic rocks, and the traditional architecture features stone houses covered with thin stone slabs or straw. The Southern Front in World War I ran through the area, creating a very interesting encounter between different cultures when the French and other armies came into contact with the local population. Thanks in part to the films, the area is experiencing a bit of a tourist revival, and I feel conflicted about that.
How have you been dealing with the pandemic?
I often discuss it with my shrink friends, and we agree that the consequences are going to be significant. Some of the data are not widely available yet, but what is emerging is that the pandemic will affect society in profound ways. On a day-to-day basis, it affected the distribution of Willow, a number of engagements were cancelled, and many festivals (including CinÉast) went hybrid or fully online. We are planning my next film, Kaymak, and are wondering how exactly we will ensure our safety. I hope that society will use this global crisis to realign our priorities in a constructive way.
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