Dávid Csicskár and Balázs Zachar • Writer and producer of Elephant
“Women who drink are hiding it, but that doesn’t mean their families don’t know”
by Marta Bałaga
- We talked to the winners of the HBO Europe Award at MIDPOINT TV Launch 2021, hosted by Tallinn Black Nights’ industry strand
The 2021 MIDPOINT TV Launch event, held within Industry@Tallinn & Baltic Event, concluded with the HBO Europe Award of $5,000 going to the Hungarian drama series Elephant (see the news), in which writer Dávid Csicskár and producer Balázs Zachar will tackle the alcoholism of a “perfect” mother and wife. After causing a car accident, she decides to quit drinking. But for her and her family, that’s just the beginning.
Cineuropa: Everyone knows women like Anna. With the help of alcohol, they hold their families together. What made you curious about it?
Dávid Csicskár: Alcoholism is something we have all encountered. In Eastern Europe, in Hungary, it’s a national disease, and yet we don’t talk about it. It’s considered acceptable somehow, even though people are poisoning themselves to death. Mostly because, as I said in my pitch, it’s just easier not to see certain things. Otherwise, we would have to confront them. Most of us had this kind of mother, a woman who is the centre of the family. I used to wonder: what would happen if she suddenly disappeared? I didn’t want to tell another sad story about someone’s demise, so here, she is present – she just stops functioning.
Balázs Zachar: We know that you have to be very precise about the genre you choose; otherwise, people won’t understand what you are trying to do. This project has always had this very specific, dark humour. We hope that thanks to this, it will be easier for people to understand and identify with her struggle, even though we are not trying to hide the gravity of the situation.
I was really intrigued by the idea, about finding a new way to talk about such an issue, which can be really tough and cruel. And yes, it’s a complex family story because alcoholism always affects other people as well. It affects this whole unit.
Some claim that women’s drinking is not as easy to spot as men’s. They are discreet; they use coffee cups. Are you planning on showing all of these details?
DC: I have been doing my research and attending AA meetings, and I have talked to many women. They have been telling me about their lives, about why and how they did it. There were many stories about these coffee cups and water bottles, all of these tricks. They are hiding it, but that doesn’t mean their families don’t know. They do. It’s all about denial – we just convince ourselves that something doesn’t exist, even though we can sense it. I met a family therapist once, working with people who have been affected by the alcoholism of someone close. Her mother was sick, and when she went to visit her, she would always find an empty vodka bottle hidden behind a trash bin. This expert still convinced herself that her mother was using the vodka to clean. All of these families, they always find an excuse for whatever is happening.
But the problem doesn’t just stop once you acknowledge it, does it?
DC: This is where our story begins – when she decides she is going to quit. Once you do that, you start to change, and so does the rest of the family, which makes for good drama. Anna is fighting this battle herself, then with her family, and at the end, she realises that she needs some professional help. That’s what the second season might focus on. When you are a bit ill, you can’t really focus on your environment. You are focusing on yourself, in order to heal. She is trying to be kind and patient, and funny, but she is not as effective as she used to be. She has strong withdrawal symptoms and can’t be the same “super mum” she used to be.
She always wanted to be a puppeteer. She quits her well-paid managerial job, starts to learn the craft and realises that it is when she is coming back to her family that she starts getting nervous again. So maybe that’s why she was drinking? Because she is a mother and it’s her “duty” to make everyone happy? She forgot about her own needs for the last 20 years, and now she can find herself again. This change is very exciting for us.
What are you planning to use this award for?
DC: We haven’t received any funding, so we were developing this project for free, basically. We will use it for development, and I think it gives it this stamp of approval [which will come in handy] to find co-producers and broadcasters. We hope it will open some doors for us and for this project.
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