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Miloš Pušić • Director of Working Class Heroes

"I wanted to give it the feel of a punk song"


- BERLINALE 2022: The director discusses his film, which mixes genres and actors and non-professionals to tell the story of the mafia-like aspect of the construction business in Serbia

Miloš Pušić • Director of Working Class Heroes
(© Miloš Čubrilo)

We caught up with Serbian director Miloš Pušić whose third feature film, Working Class Heroes [+see also:
film review
interview: Miloš Pušić
film profile
, has world-premiered in Berlinale's Panorama section. Mixing genres with actors and non-professionals, it tells the story of the mafia-like aspect of the construction business in Serbia and disenfranchised workers.

Cineuropa: The story in your film is local, but the topic is very universal. What made you decide to make this film?
Miloš Pušić:
After screening the film in front of an international audience, I realised how much everyone can relate to the story. It’s set in my hometown, Novi Sad, but it’s about what liberal capitalism has become, which is the same story everywhere. And it’s disgusting. At the top of the food chain are those who can't get enough, and at the bottom there are people with nothing but battered dignity.

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I had a feeling this film could be the voice of the oppressed. I grew up amongst people from a working-class background, they hold a special place in my heart and it’s more important to me to make a film about this subject than many other topics. I’m on their side, but I didn't want to portray a romanticized version of labour.

How did you develop the story and the film? Some parts of the movie feel improvised.
I stumbled across a bunch of newspaper articles covering accidents on various construction sites. They happened very often but no one was ever held responsible. I couldn't believe that no-one cared, as if the lives of those people didn’t matter at all. It was scary. Also, Novi Sad has been destroyed by chaotic real estate developments over the previous 20 years. These two motifs joined together to form the foundation of the story. Later, I decided to gain a woman's perspective on this very male world of construction work. That's how Lidija's character became our guide through this bizarre world.

There are scenes in the film that are improvised, but most of it was in the script. I discussed the dialogues with the actors, and we changed some of it together before shooting. We were open-minded: if something interesting happened, we wouldn't stop filming, we’d just carry on and, often, it would end up in the film. I think that imperfections like these lent the film its charm and special quality. They feel true.

How did you go about working with your actors?
I always try to listen to the actors because they can usually feel it when something sounds wrong or false in a script. We agreed on most of the things we wanted to try before the shoot. That way, all of us felt safe and free on set.

We didn’t rehearse on set a lot, but there were scenes which were acted and captured in different ways in each new take, so that I'd have more options in the editing process.

Our actors knew the whole script whereas our non-professionals only knew their own scenes. Some of the workers in the film are real-life workers; I asked them to play film versions of themselves without insisting on exact lines from the script. I love mixing professionals with non-professionals. It always brings something good to the film.

How did you come up with the film’s visual approach?
Initially, I thought it might be a realistic drama/comedy that turns into a thriller. I believe life is usually a mix of genres and I wanted to have that in the film.

As the shoot date approached, we found our main location and we were aware of our production limitations. So DoP Aleksandar Ramadanović and I decided to use a very light camera with only two lenses, and to shoot using a handheld device so that we could move freely with the actors and workers, allowing them to improvise and react quickly.

I also felt that a lot of contemporary films dealing with similar topics were somehow overly polished and over-produced. That's why they look a bit fake to me, as if the make-up and lighting were more important than the characters or the story.

I wanted the complete opposite of that: for the film’s images and sound to be documentary-like, so that people and their stories are the main focus. Aleksandar loved that and we just jumped right in with the actors, following the story wherever it took us. We did the same for the film in post- production: we went for a realistic colour grading and stereo sound mix. I wanted to give it the feel of a punk song: simple and angry without any effects or processing.

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