Croatian director and screenwriter, Ognjen Sviličić (38, born in Split), first attracted international attention with his comedy going by the unusual name of Sorry for Kung Fu [Oprosti za Kung Fu], released in 2004. He became more widely known with another comedy, Wish I Were a Shark (1999). In 2007, he made the critically acclaimed Armin (www.armin-the-movie.com), a warm story about a father-son relationship, which further consolidated Sviličić’s growing international recognition. He has also co-written The Melon Route [Put lubenica, 2006) directed by Branko Schmidt, and What Iva Recorded [Šta je Iva snimila 21 listopada 2003] by Tomislav Radić (2005). Ognjen Sviličić talked to Southeast Europe: People and Culture about his work, exploration of emotions and relationships, and the need for storytelling as a drive to make films.
What are you working on right now?
I am completing a film called Two Sunny Days, which is about two tourists who come to Croatia; he is American, she is Italian, they live in Berlin; their relationship is uncertain, they have some emotional problems. Then they come to Croatia for a holiday, meet a Croatian travel guide and things happen which in some way help them rebuild their relationship. The female lead role is played by Maya Sansa, who is a well-known Italian actress and the female supporting role is played by Sylvia Kristel. I hope the film should have its international premiere by this summer, whereas its national one should be at the Pula Film Festival in July.
In some of your old interviews you said you weren’t watching movies as a child, that you weren’t interested in film. How did this come about then?
Back then I thought that being a film director was the easiest job in the world, and that I would get by easily. I was not good in maths or the natural sciences, and I thought artists get by easy. It turned out I was wrong, Also, I wanted to be a rock musician, but I did not have any musical talent, and this was the closest thing.
How did you get to love film then?
I still think of film as a way to tell a story, and I think that this is the best thing you can do in a movie. In a way, I just wanted to tell stories, and film is the vehicle for telling them. I wrote a lot, and somehow, from writing I ended up making films. I still write more than I direct, for many people in Croatia, and also outside.
How do you come to the conclusion that exactly this is the story you want for your next film?
The motivation for a story comes from without and this is not a conscious process. It is something you simply feel, akin to how a musician knows he is singing in the right scale. For example, like when you meet a person and you know if this person can be your friend or not. It is the same with the story. Otherwise the story will be only a construction. Some people expect they should jump out of the water tub and yell ‘Eureka”. No, it can start as a mild, comfortable quiver for example, but it does not go away, and this is the sign this is the story. It is an emotion, as in towards a person. If you feel an emotion for the story, it means you have to invest the next two years of your life in it, which is how long it takes to make a film.
You said in the past that the Armin story was personal to you. Also in Sorry for Kung Fu you explore some of the same moments, such as family relationships, rural origins.
I haven’t lived a strange life, I have had a regular life, and everything that I know about interpersonal relationships comes from the knowledge deriving from my relationship to my parents. I do not know how war looks like, or how adventure looks like, but I know a lot about relationships. And I always find a story which allows me to explore certain emotional dimensions. So this is the personal moment. For example, in Armin there is a lot of my relationship with my parents, and also in Sorry for Kung Fu. In addition, these films take place in settings which are familiar to me. Honestly, people are not always aware of their mentality which is, let’s admit it, stubborn. Exploring such frames of mind in my stories is interesting for me. I am not interested in a globalist story, whereby everything everywhere is the same, but I am interested in exploring the local context.
Why did you make Armin without any music?
We did record music for Armin. We had a German co-producer and we went to a small Bavarian village where we recorded for a week. It was wonderful. We ate sausages, drank beer, and those perfect cookies of theirs, and after a week we realised that the film does not need music. We actually had it recorded already, and then we realised that the music tells what the images say by themselves already, that it says what the audience already knows. I kind of had the feeling that in a way the music would have underestimated the audience.
How difficult is it to make a film in this part of the world, given that it is expensive and finance is limited?
I would not complain really. I think that if someone wants to make a film, they can do it. The issue is whether you can live off filmmaking. The answer to this is no. For one, the big blocks do not exist any more. Let’s not forget that Yugoslavia sold films to the Eastern Block, for example to Hungary and was buying films from Hungary. So, you can make a film but you cannot live off filmmaking, you can live off television. Today it is not so difficult to make a film given that the technology is available practically to everyone. In this sense, I think that in this part of the world it is neither harder nor easier to make a film than anywhere else.