Ukrainian Maryna Vroda’s winning a Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival for the best short film is an extraordinary, honorable and highly interesting accomplishment. It is the second time that Ukraine has beaten competition in this category – Ihor Strembitsky blazed the trail six years ago with his Wayfarers (Podorozhni). The Ukrainian Week spoke with Vroda about why Cross was selected by the jury and how the awards ceremony went.
U.W.: On your way to Cannes, did you have doubts about entering the same river twice? Ihor Strembitsky with his Wayfarers was, after all, the first Ukrainian to win a Palme d’Or and for the best short film at that.
I did have my doubts. But on my way to Cannes, I knew I could win it, because the film is interesting, I think. It is hard to watch and describe in words. In fact, my victory came when my film was chosen for participation. Everything that followed was just a show and a reward for this first victory. As they announced the winners, I was confused and couldn’t grasp whether I won the main prize or something else. When I realized it was the Golden Palm, a thought crossed my mind: “Now I’m in for it.” I exhaled and decided to get it over with as soon as I could: I received the prize, met with the journalists and spoke to the media so that I could return to work.
U.W.: Did Michel Gondry, who chaired the short film section, tell you why the jury picked Cross?
I was not his favorite as I learned from the jury members themselves after the awards ceremony. This is only understandable: he is not my director, just as I am not his director. He plays with other forms and speaks about other things. But he is quite nice. I like being friends with people I don’t understand. By the way, the first thing he asked me was whether I was going to kill myself with this prize. He said he knows many directors who were content to win a Palm d’Or and that was the end for them. It’s not that I am indifferent to this prize, but what can it change? After I said this, Gondry relaxed and we had a laugh at a French director who, as she received the prize, was “dying” on the stage, was obviously nervous, stuttered, etc.
U.W.: Regarding your speech, we were not fortunate to hear it, but I remember what happened to Strembitsky: Joel Chapron, a great Russophile and former vice director of UniFrance for East European countries, asked him to speak in Russian, but he chose Ukrainian. How was it this time around?
First, everyone knew that I speak English. Second, I said some general things. Everything was simple.
U.W.: Was it easy to shoot the film? You had financing from France, didn’t you?
Initially, our cooperation relied on friendly relationships. Since the time I studied at the institute I have never counted on anyone very much. I made all my short films thanks to personal contacts. A girl I made friends with several years ago happened to be French. She was able to properly submit the application and the film script to France. This is how we obtained financial support. Ukraine was represented by my team, the idea and the intellect.
U.W.: So the French as it were gave the award to their own film?
Ukraineand France share the rights to the film in equal measure, even though the latter paid all travel and operating expenses. I shot the film with my camera, but the French also paid for the conversion to meet DCP requirements and then to 35-millimeter film; they covered the labor costs of post-production and my trip to Cannes. Breaking down who paid what to whom is boring. The interesting thing is that it all worked out and my team members were able to work as free artists instead of just toiling for people here.
Actually, this is what I made the film for, because I believe my team is no less professional that those of world-renowned directors. We edited the entire film in Ukraine and only did the audio and such similar things in France. When we worked in the studio, our work was praised, both the audio and color correction. The latter was praised even by the person who worked on Aleksei German Sr.’s Khrustalyov, My Car! In a word, we felt confident and capable and realized that our work could generate interest in Europe and beyond. Now Cross will be screened at the Kinotavr festival in Sochi. I am interested in obtaining criticism.
U.W.: So what do you want to say with it? I understand that, as Wilhelm Wenders, Alexander Sokurov and Yuri Lotman said, the author does not have to explain anything. But still, is Cross a symbol of life or of continuous pointless motion?
I have always been interested in contrasts and contradictions, such as life and death. This film emerged at the crossroads of social and personal things as a reaction to the environment: as I wandered in the park, I was overwhelmed by disgust with our way of life and, at the same time, interest in why things are the way they are. Therefore, the social aspect of Cross was transformed under the influence of the poetic one. At its foundation lies highly compressed time. I tried to understand it and myself in it. Indeed, I raise more questions for myself in the film than give answers. These are the questions that come up every day: Why is our standard of living so low? What am I doing about it? What can I do? We are in massive hibernation, but people themselves are largely to blame for it.
U.W.: Can visualized issues like this command the interest of our viewers?
Our viewers have long stopped taking interest in anything. But then there’s the question: What viewers? My neighbors in the building where I live will not be interested.
U.W.: All right, do you target any viewing audience, or do you make your films regardless of it?
In Cannes I watched the Turkish movie Once Upon a Time in Anatolia. It is fairly complicated and long. It runs for three hours but is simply marvelous. Emotionally, it is a closed film which in no way encourages you to continue watching it. Only after two hours of watching it do you begin to feel something. I had such profound emotions only when I watched Andrei Tarkovsky’s The Sacrifice. And I don’t really know who will endure watching it here. But then, maybe they will.
What does it depend on? What makes a person read books and listen to music in general? In a word, I am not responsible for the viewer, only for my work. Honestly, the viewer’s reaction to my film now depends more on you than on me. Whether people will watch it depends, perhaps, even on one’s interpretation and one’s review.
The Arthouse Traffic distribution company wants to show my short film before feature-length movies. First, the viewer needs to be respected in any case, so I will not lower the bar. Second, the viewer has a choice and can simply ignore the film, because watching it is not a must. And in general, you can feel great without cinema. You can grow cabbage and be supremely content with everything, while remaining a spiritually rich person at the same time. Life is not limited to cinema alone.
U.W.: But not in your case, I understand. A short film means “short” responsibility. Are you considering a feature film like Gondry did when he finally shot Human Nature 12 years into his directing career?
I would like to do another short and then move on to a feature film. I have an idea and the same producer that I worked with on Cross, even though I can now choose.
U.W.: Are you starting to take advantage of the bonuses the prize has brought?
What are these bonuses good for? Do you need them for living? No, you need them, of course, for work, and that’s their essence.