Vesna, a nurse, lives with her two grown-up children in Zagreb. Vesna’s son is married and his wife is expecting their second child; her daughter is engaged, and all seems well in the world.
But their name poses an obstacle to all of them. When Vesna came to Zagreb twenty years ago she intended to put behind her memories of the war in Bosnia in which her husband Žarko played an active role. But one day the phone rings out of the blue and Vesna hears Žarko’s voice on the line. This unleashes in Vesna a mixture of hatred, love, hope and disgust. Should she trust a man who once caused her and others such unbearable suffering?
With ‘On The Other Side’ screens at the 66. Berlinale’s Panorama section again on Saturday and Sunday, we spoke with the Croatian director about his seventh film, the political subject behind the story, the casting process and more.
Find more information & tickets to ‘On The Other Side’ at the 2016 Berlinale HERE
You are from Croatia and also wrote the screenplay. Is the film based on a personal story?
I didn’t write the screenplay by myself, I co-wrote with Mate Matisic, one of the leading screenwriters in Croatia. All my films are personal stories. The topics I explore in my films refer to real problems, but it doesn’t mean they are my private stories. It’s not something I lived through myself but are rather about things that move me. There is a psychological phenomenon of projection and, I could say, I’m projecting my emotions on the stories through my characters.
The film explores many layers, such as trying to move on, leaving the past behind, the struggle to survive, and family unity. It also covers the past war in Croatia and Serbia. Were you trying to make a political statement?
Yes, the film has a political aspect, but as a Croatian director, I didn’t want to be in the position of judging one side or the other. I just wanted to try to understand both sides.
The character Zarko, who is responsible for war crimes and living as a fugitive, were you trying to create a resemblance to Radovan Karadžić?
Interesting question. There have been many generals at the Hague war court, but my character is not referring to Radovan.
The lead actors Ksenija Marinkovic and Lazar Ristovski are well-known veterans in Croatia. How was the casting process?
I never have an actor in mind until I finish the screenplay. After this, when I thought of the actors who were going to play in the film, it had to be them. Usually, I do a lot of screen tests with actors. After I cast them, during the rehearsal process it didn’t work at first. Not at all what I imagined. The solution was very simple. In the story at no point are they in a scene together; they never meet. They are on the phone. So the reason why the rehearsal didn’t work was that they were both in the same room. When I separated them into two different rooms, the scene went well. Maybe a movie has never been done this way before; one camera in each room.
You also teach at the film and theatre school of the University of Zagreb. Any advice to student filmmakers?
I had the opportunity to attend one of Krzysztof Kieślowski, Polish film director’s lectures a few years ago, during a festival in Copenhagen. He was speaking in front of 200 film students. Kieślowski asked one student what her problem was. She replied that she didn’t have any problems. He asks another student and got the same response. At the end he said ok when you find out what your problem is, call me and he leaves. That was brilliant and my answer to your question. If you don’t have problems don’t make films.
That is a great piece of advice.
What was the audience reaction to the film here at the 66. Berlinale?
Yesterday we had our world premiere in Berlin and I had the impression the audience was really moved and touched by the film. I noticed this by the audience’s questions. This was really my goal, so I am really happy about that. Although the theme of the movie explores a regional issue, I hope that the movie reaches an international audience.