"If I think about the future of cinema as art, I shiver" (Y. Ozu, 1959)

FUTURE OF CINEMA IF YOU WANT TO KNOW - Interview with Vlado Škafar

Monday, 11 July 2016 10:50

Donatello Fumarola

Secrets beyond the open doors: Mama by Vlado Škafar

Vlado Škafar is the co-founder of Slovenian cinematheque (Slovenska Kinoteka) and after a period when he used to write for the review “ekran”, in the early 2000’s he starts to make films. The first long-feature was Peterka: leto odlocitve (2003) a strange and strangely dark portrait of a young sky-jumper who finds the deep and sad feeling of the falling after a big succes he got in his beginning career. There’s something that let us think about Herzog’s The Great Extasy of the Woodcarver Steiner in that film, not just for the subject, but for the subtle ruggedness of the approach of the filmmaker to his subject, that could be also taken as a metaphor of cinema (and his history) in itself.


His ‘family trilogy’ began in 2009 with a Letter to a Child (Otroci) that still follow a documentary tendency, broken here and there by the cinematic sensitivity of Škafar, who know very well its tools and allow himself the possibility of letting him be surprised from the unknown (that in the successive film, Oča / Dad, take place in the end of the film as a discovery, as a flagrancy of the reality and as an opening door to a freedom to be taken). Now Mama arrives with his strong sweetness and his seductive smell of everything-is-hidden/everything-is-possible; Mama is the portrait of a reality to be discovered at his highest (and heaviest) point. We just can flew over it, or - eventually – dance. And the film follow this beautiful flow, becaming mother of the two other film, in some way.


His slowness, his not-exotic-way to spend time with what he see, his incredibly and admirable lack of spectacle, puts this filmmaker quite out of the loop of the trend that dominate the international panorama, more or less the same everywhere. But there’s still some exception: the International Film Festival Rotterdam, the FIDMarseille and I Milleocchi in Trieste (next september).



First of all, I have to ask you about this trilogy that you have accomplish: Letter to a child, Dad (2010) and now Mama. From which thinking or from which necessity came those three films? Can you tell me something about that? My impression is that the three films hide something, a kind of a secret... In this last one it looks evident (to me, at least). There's a secret that the films carry on, and it looks that the films cannot tell it (as it is natural in every good film, all the cinema hide a secret that cannot be tell). Now I don't want that you tell now this secret, but I wonder what a secret can be so strong to drive and to let a film exist around it without revealing the naked substance...


There was no trilogy in my mind going forward. Letter to a Child (Otroci) was a layout for further exploration of human life, human being and film language. Three films followed, also A girl and a Tree, each bringing a more profound view of being - transcending the human being point of view. Looking back I can see some sort of trilogy, I call it “trilogy of pain and beauty” or “trilogy of suffering and beauty”. One comment said that in my films suffering is shown with so much beauty that it becomes its opposite. Gabriella, the music therapist in Mother, says there is too much suffering around suffering - suffering needs beauty. So pain, suffering and beauty are in the core of these films.

But to me there is more to these films. Because suffering and beauty are mostly human notions. They are connected with the sense of time. Having a sense of past, present, future, having the sense of self creates this notions. But then there is a sense of eternity of any given moment. Timelessness. If you look at even the most painful moment of your life from the perspective of timelessness (which is also selflessness) it becomes something that is maybe close to what you call a secret. I like your idea of secret connected with my films. Thinking about Mother I wrote in my notebook: “Every human being brings to the world a secret - a silent message that cannot be revealed (at least not with words etc.). This secret is his deepest solitude And it is his mystery that touches other people the most.” To me this kind of mystery is the most attractive thing about individual human being.

And then there is a secret that transcends human being (we can sense it without knowing about it) - the sun that appears in the scene with mother sleeping in the twilight landscape is this kind of secret. And in the monastery scene there is an eruption where all existence joins the mother in a choir of resonating mysteries.


I was happy to hear from different people that this film succeeds to express what is unutterable.


Vlado Skafar



In the very beginning of Mother the characters come out from a white ‘fog’. It makes me think about two russian film-makers: Larisa Shepitko and Aleksander Sokurov, that had worked - each one in their personal way - with the shape of the frame in a very particular way, using the colors, the cross dissolve, the vanishing point of the shaped images, as you do. I wonder if there’s an intention from your side, if you did think about this film-makers in doing your film (and, if I can add more, I would like to ask you what do you think about Terrence Malick, who works in a similar direction...)


In Dad I used long dissolves that created a third image between the two scenes. I wanted to convey my feeling of a moment - that each moment consists of many layers, that these layers resonate with each other making every moment a crystal reflecting all of your life. It was a simple but effective form. Some compared it to haiku poetry. In Mother I wanted to go deeper, add more layers to the moment especially those that transcend human existence or the reality of human existence. Soviet cinema is very close to me and Shepitko and Sokurov are among closest. But they were not in my mind while working on Mother. I was in conversation with some poetic silent cinema like Vigo f.e. but mostly I was in conversation with literature and painting. The scene with mother sleeping in a twilight landscape with the sun appearing from somewhere else is a paraphrase of one Chagall painting. Then there was the simplicity, purity and metaphysics of Giotto, Fra' Angelico, Piero della Francesca. The beauty in pain of Stabat mater by Pergolesi and Vivaldi. But most of all the literature of Marcel Proust and Virginia Woolf. They are able to convey the immenseness of each moment in their writings and I wanted to do that - at least in small part - in my cinema.


(I have some respect for Malick’s filmmaking. The Tree of Life unfortunately was an empty experience for me. I like Badlands a lot. But he is not an author I would think about in connection to my filmmaking although you are not the first one to mention him.)



Why – or: how - did you decide to shoot in Italy?


At the beginning there was only the title: Mother. I didn’t know what the film will be about.

Then the first image appeared in my mind and it was exactly like you see it in the beginning of the film.

The mother and the daughter travelling somewhere against daughters will.

So I thought the mother is taking the daughter far away from her life - in another country.

Italy is close and far enough (and is well known for rehabilitation communities).

At first I thought the daughter has a drug problem. 

But it’s not about dealing with specific problems. It’s about contemplating alienation (from the world, from each other, from ourselves).

That’s why I didn’t want to specify it in the film. So that anyone can identify.

I came to filmmaking not to tell stories but to create a poetic space where the viewer can contemplate him or her self.



You cross the boundaries of the classical definition documentary/fiction film. You do - as differents film-makers of your age - something which is at the same time both and none of this two categories. You make something even not ‘in the middle’, but over this separation. Can you tell me how do you prepare the shooting before the real starting of it? What thinking do you share with your d.o.p.? Do you improvise arriving on the set or you know exactly where to put the camera, what the actors are going to do, how they will move in the space of the set...?


I am looking for miracles. True miracles cannot be scripted, documented, acted. If you take your time, if you immerse in any given moment everything can become a miracle. I am looking for birth. Every scene must be born in front of our eyes like a miracle. 

The camera is a witness and also a creator of this new thing being born. We never use screenplay for shooting (but I do write it), we don’t use written dialogue, most of the time I don’t want to give direct orders and the protagonists don’t even know the “storyline”. No tryouts, no improvisation, no experiment. Just pure birth. With Marko Brdar (the DOP and cameraman of my last three films) we discuss each scene from poetical, moral, philosophical points of view. We discuss technical aspects only when necessary. We create a nest for the birth to take place. Some shots are very precisely outlined others are left to the spirit of the moment but in all cases its about being attentive to what is being born in front of our eyes.

With protagonists its another process. It is about creating a relationship that can be fruitful for the film. Usually this means keeping some distance while getting to know them intimately. I have to be careful not to get too familiar with them to keep the mystery about them but at the same time I have to give myself to them to gain their trust in order to immerse freely in their universe. And to invite them to discover new territories inside themselves that correspond to my sensibility. Normally this takes a year or two. Their universe is the clay for modelling authentic texture of the film according to my visions and the people are the instruments that I must learn how to play well.

In Mother I wanted to create a look at human beings from the perspective that transcends the human being point of view. For that reason I had to be more distant from the protagonists while shooting which was not always easy for them.




Abbas died.

So my answers are in memory of him.

Many of the things I am talking about I learned from him. 



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