Interview with Nikola Spasic
Where did you meet Kristina and how did this film project come about?
Five years ago, I enrolled in doctoral studies, and I wanted docufiction to be my Ph.D. topic. I started looking for a person whose personality and life would inspire me to start the research. My screenwriter, Milanka Gvoić, told me about Kristina whom she saw on a show on YouTube. I watched that video and we agreed to find her and meet her. Kristina liked the docufiction idea and our next meetings were taking place in a café, always with a list of prepared questions so we could get to know and understand her better. I quickly realized that I could work with Kristina on her acting skills, and that made me feel at ease. An important moment in the film development happened when Kristina invited us to her house. The space where she lives, that she decorated herself with a lot of dedication, made a deep impression on me because of its authenticity and photogenicity.
We are invited to share her intimacy and slices of her life. Can you tell us about the writing of the film and how you collaborated with Kristina? How did she participate in writing the story and the dialogues? How did you work together on the progression of the story?
We quickly gained each other’s trust, and that trust is, in fact, the foundation on which this film was built. Kristina did not participate in the dialogue-writing process and the story development, but we built her character on her real-life interests and life perspective. The lines were written in a way that it seems like they are emerging from Kristina’s sensibility and often from her experience. That enabled her to accept them easily and to deliver them very convincingly. At the beginning, we shot the scenes where she was only given some input on what to say, while other actors and actresses had their lines. Kristina’s talent led her to be able to respond to all of the acting challenges.
You compose very beautiful shots, often still, from her intimate spaces and the places she goes through. What were your thoughts on the formal choices and the treatment of the image? How did you select the locations?
Due to another project and just before we started working on this one, Milanka and I were dealing with the period encompassing the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. While we were having long conversations about how prostitutes were being treated in literature, art, and on film until now, something just clicked, and everything we were doing until recently and the things we were starting to do merged. At that moment, it seemed logical, the only thing possible, really, that the film about a sex worker should be visually inspired by French impressionists. The end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century was actually a period in which prostitutes and courtesans were given their spot not only in art but also in French literature.
Precisely because of the impressionists, Igor Lazić, our director of photography, and I agreed that we should use static shots in the film. Another reason is that I wanted the film to seem more observational and the only way I could achieve that was to use long, static wide shots so that the viewers could not differentiate between documentary and fiction. We wanted the exterior shots to follow the impressionist’s motifs, so Milanka and I were not only authors and producers but also the location managers. We spent a lot of time traveling across Serbia and taking pictures of the landscapes. As a result of Igor Lazic’s talent, the chosen locations in the film became magical.
Can you tell us about the shooting? In what ways did you accompany Kristina in the interpretation of her own role? How much of it was improvisation?
The shooting lasted five years and was done in stages. Each fall, we gathered the crew and started shooting, and right after that, I edited that material, and Milanka wrote new versions of the script. Practically, the editing and the writing process were happening simultaneously. We had to do it that way because we did not know what we would get from the observational scenes and improv scenes, but we always managed to fit the documentary into fiction and fiction into documentary. Some beautifully weird stuff happened to us as well. For example, before every shoot, there was an idea to embed the bare feet motif in the film, and then, totally unexpectedly, bare feet also appeared in the scene with the regression therapy which was shot in the penultimate phase on which we did not have any effect on whatsoever because it was strictly observational. It was a sign that we managed to catch that right screenwriting thread. I finished multimedia directing studies and I have experience in working on short fiction and documentary film, but also in theater, and with this film, I wanted to have a process through which I would get to various solutions as one does in the theater. I thought that was the only way that I could have something authentic because, on film, directing is often reduced to a mere realization of a script, and the end result is a product and not artwork.
Of all the actors and actresses, only Marko and Kristina play their own roles. In which way did you feel it was necessary to give the secondary roles to professional actors?
Not all roles were assigned to professional actors. Some of the actors are professionals, some are amateurs, and some are not actors at all. We hired professional actors for roles that had many lines, like the role of Mrs. Maria, who Kristina visits to find antiques, or the role of the curator at the Art Gallery “Sava Šumanović”. The lines Mrs. Maria and the curator are saying are based on historical facts, so even though those scenes are fictional, they have a factographic basis. Jelena, who is playing Kristina’s friend, is also a professional actress and that is why, at the beginning of shooting, I had to shift the acting load of their joint scenes to Jelena so it could be easier for Kristina to work. Their friend in the movie, Zvonko the painter, is an amateur actor, but he really is a painter, and that made him feel relaxed while delivering his lines.
How did you write the beautiful confessional sequence between Marko and Kristina? Did this discussion really take place?
When we decided that Marko would be the male leading role, I realized that their talk on the bench should be authentic, and I think that was a good idea. Then a hard task followed. We thought that it was important for their first deep and honest conversation to take place in front of the camera to achieve authenticity, and they really wanted to get to know each other better. We decided to explain to Kristina why it was important for her not to talk with Marko before the shooting of that scene, she understood and promised not to be in contact with him. She kept her promise because – that is who Kristina is. Only a few lines at the beginning of the conversation were written, and after that, they were honestly sharing their experiences and perspectives, and behind the camera, our screenwriter directed the conversation toward the topics we needed so we could complete the story. We are extremely grateful for the honesty they shared with us.
The film ends, Kristina does not join Marko and leaves. Can you shed some light on this enigmatic and open ending? What does it symbolize?
Milanka, the screenwriter, has a philosophy degree and she wanted us to deal with the notions of faith, love, and freedom through this film. Our goal was to make us wonder what we really talk about when we use words like family, moral, coincidence and time, and I think we managed to do it because I believe that this film really does urge us to question ourselves and the world we live in, and the questioning itself is enough because it is the beginning of understanding.
Interview by Claire Lasolle