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Our fear of growing up. A conversation with the director Alexander Voulgaris
© André Dias
First Publication: André Dias Blog 14/08/2009
 
 
   
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Having seen this amazing minor film – ROZ / PINK (2006) by Alexander Voulgaris – twice at IndieLisboa International Film Festival in 2008, I had the chance to have this small conversation with the young Greek director. His incredible formally inventive and deep film soon became my favourite of all seen that year. Unfortunately, it’s not so well known as it surely deserves, not even in the somewhat pretentious film festival circuit or throughout online cinephiles. So, now that I could present the film in the context of the “Under Construction” series, organized by Adrian Martin at Monash University in Melbourne, it was time to finally publish our conversation here. My thanks to Alexander and to Adrian, for letting me present it...

ANDRÉ DIAS – It’s strange how your film ROZ / PINK seems to be in a state of grace. Audiences end up kind of enchanted by it. Why do you think that happens?

ALEXANDER VOULGARIS – The main thing we did, and I think it works, is that we re-recorded the whole sound, including the voices, in order not to have emotions on anything. I wanted every actor to behave as if he had taken some pills to stabilize his senses. I wanted them to be like the faces we create when we read books; we read something and we create an image of a character, and he doesn’t move or talk... That’s why some of them, like the one played by me, wear the same clothes and are somewhat comic characters.

A.D. - There’s also the singular editing, mixing very distinct sections like the dream or the family setting, accompanying a lot of different characters and including your own voice-over. What was your attitude towards the editing of the film?

A.V. - When a character, like the main character, is in a depression, and he is, he tends not to realize time. He remembers something that happened ten years ago, but it’s so strong inside that’s like it happened today. Or he fantasizes so much with something that it is like it really happened. I wanted to move from reality, let’s say reality, to dreams and to the past with no big changes. All this was happening now. That’s why, for the scenes in the past, as in the school, we didn’t change a bit the clothes. We didn’t want to come up with another era. The substance is what’s happening, and we don’t care about the rest. And there’s only one time, the time that he has in his mind.

A.D. - At a second vision of the film one senses the music much more. It’s always there, following... But you do have a subtle way of putting a lot of music in a film. And you’re a musician also... How did the music appear regarding the film?

A.V. - I think a lot about music, simply because I also play it. But thinking about the music in the film, I couldn’t really decide. I considered not having music at all. Then I chose to create a soundtrack with several different sounds and music, but to be felt as if just one person had made it. Not having a soundtrack like, let’s say, a Scorsese or a Tarantino’s film. In my soundtrack there are music from ten different musicians, but felt as if a written soundtrack for the film, not songs put together. I also put some of my own music to stabilize this feeling.

A.D. - And at least the Greek music does feel local, like what people are actually hearing on the radio... Usually music overstates in a film, but here, if we except the last scene that does have a building up with it, in general the music stays very low profile...

A. V. - Music and film is a very sensitive subject. I don’t like when people put a super-song under one scene and you feel it’s so powerful... but because of the song, not of the scene. I tried not to do it. I wanted to have music that was not specific or part of a style. Melodies, mostly...

A.D. - How about the set, with the buildings made of cardboard? Maybe you didn’t have any money to film the exteriors? Also, in the beginning, then it kind of fades away, you have this feeling of old Super 8 movies, with a very sharp editing, and sometimes you even get the flashes from the end of the roll... How did came about with these options?

A.V. - The first film that I’ve made showed a lot of the city. In a way, the main character was Athens. When I did this one I was in a more Kafkaesque period. I hated my city. I was in a war with it and didn’t want it to be in my movie to ruin the things I had in my mind. So I created this city. Which is close to what the main character does. Whatever he doesn’t like, he simply creates what he wants in his own mind.
I was seeing a lot of Guy Maddin and Méliès’s films at the time, so I had the feeling that when something is beautiful or true, it doesn’t hurt if it’s not realistic. For this film, if we were to be realistic, whatever that means, it would be less true than now. I’m only interested in what is true, not the realistic... I tried to approach the soul of the subject, the substance, so to say. So I had to build everything...

A.D - I sense that you emphasise the state of mind aspect of your character, the dreamlike condition, etc., but... How can I say this? Somehow, you could be stating that to avoid a possible dangerous lecture of your film as being related to paedophilia. Not that the subject of the film is paedophilia itself. It has surely much more to do with the relationship between people from different ages. One feels that not only in the relation of your own character with the young Snezana, but in every other... It’s a very courageous film in that sense. But if you emphasise the dreamlike condition and the state of mind, you protect yourself or the film, but maybe also kind of diminish its power to think relationships today. Your film could be an answer, a wonderful answer to the fear of the body, to the fear of intimacy. You offer tenderness as opposed to fear.

A.V - The subject of paedophilia came a lot in the discussions about the film. I was wondering if maybe film critics (good film critics) could be a kind of director’s psychoanalysts. When I did the film I was just following an instinct. When you paint a wall, you have certain colours, a dark grey or a bright grey, and you just choose one because you feel like it... I did the film that way. So I can’t really say what the film is about. But having past two years discussing it and doing the psychoanalysis of it, I still don’t think the film is talking about paedophilia. It’s talking about the fear of growing up and childhood memories. Paedophilia is a childhood memory that most people lived in a way or another. Maybe not as a real fact, but at least as a fear. I mean, when you were small and your parents told you “don’t get candies from strangers”, what they really meant is “you’ll get fucked by them”!
Actually, I was really thinking about fairytales, which are very close to this: getting to know the fears, getting to know the outside world. So the film is mostly about everything that has to do with life and growing up... Every relationship here has this age difference. This is the way the main character chooses to see his universe, and also the way I was seeing relationships at the time. Relationships not with real communication, but with dependence because of a few reasons: trying to find your childhood, or your mother, or your father, etc. None of the characters are mature, in this sense. Cause mature means you take responsibility for your actions and stop blaming your parents.

A.D. - You’ve mentioned that you see the last scene as a closing down. Actually, I saw it completely different, as a kind of a utopian dream where that kind of honesty, that kind of tenderness, would be possible... But you don’t show the kiss! And if you did it would surely be a problem for today’s society...

A.V.- When I wrote it, I considered the kiss. But in the end, I thought the interesting thing to be to have him just waiting to be kissed with his eyes closed. Cause this shot speaks about the whole movie. Maybe everything he tries to do is to find tenderness... I was listening then to the “All you need is love” song. Whenever I heard it I felt it was a really happy song. Suddenly, I heard it last week and thought it to be one of the cruellest songs ever written. I mean, it puts everything down to zero. It just says that everything else doesn’t matter, cause all you need is love... Like you’re some addict!
In the last three or four scenes you see the girl looking more mature. It’s the way he wants to sense her, since he wants to grow her up a bit so he can kiss her. I thought of it like a Hollywood film end scene with a kiss... But you have the music, that although it’s a bit sentimental, it’s also tense and a bit scary, and all that blood that comes down. He’s really getting into his own mind with the kiss, getting into his own reality and forgetting about Emily, which is the reality that does exist. He takes this step forward into his own imagination. That’s why the set of this scene doesn’t exist; it’s not a room, it’s just a wall with painting...

A.D. - The film has this incredible scene of a school massacre. Maybe it was not constructed in that way, but it almost seems an ironic comment on Gus Van Sant’s ELEPHANT. It’s very violent, almost brutal – you see the gun in the kid’s head, for instance –, and at the same time has this completely fake white blood coming out of the wounds, which doesn’t resolve the violence. It’s very powerful...

A.V. - I felt sad when I saw ELEPHANT, just after writing. What I understood is that I came from the same generation as those of the Columbine shooting. I was really dreaming this stuff when I was a kid. Not that I would do it, but dreaming that I would save the girl, etc. I think it was a form of communication, like a film is a form of communication for me. I can’t really say what I want to say through my girlfriend, my friends, my government or other people.
For the white blood there were two references. One was BUGSY MALONE (1976), the film by Alan Parker, which was very brutal... but with yogurt. But the main reference was Andrzej Zulawski’s POSSESSION (1981). I saw a lot of that film in the period, and also Cronenberg’s. I had read an article that mentioned his, not just simply horror movies, but psychological horror movies. When I saw Zulawski’s, I was seeing the monster and all the rest, really frightening, but not in a slasher film kind of way. It was very deep. You were really afraid deep inside you. This monster was searching inside to find something to hold you. I was thinking about juices in general in the film. Something that comes out of the imagination...
I wanted it to be a really violent scene, but at the same time like a kids play. It was weird because all the children were waiting for this shoot. They really wanted to play with the white stuff, the guns and all. And this kind of influenced us. Something really scary and also like a school performance, some of it with no blood. Made as if very rough or amateur, so as to have mixed emotions about it...

A.D. - As I’ve said before, you tend to emphasise the state of mind of the main character represented by you as the creator of that universe. In some way, it might diminish the kind of utopian aspect of those relationships, which I find very moving. And even the secondary characters’ importance, which are truly developed and all of them very interesting: the brother, the mother, the father... and the amazing Snezana, the Ukrainian girl! Does she exist? Did she make those puppets and drawings?

A.V. - No, it was another girl just my age, an artist... I didn’t have money to shoot the film. I started with 800 Euros, which is no money. We used old stock of film, borrowed cameras, etc. Everyone worked without money, of course. I wanted to find a crew that was very close, cause at first I was thinking of doing a children’s film. In the way STAND BY ME is a children’s film, or maybe ALICE IN WONDERLAND. So I wanted a young crew for the film. The costume designer was sixteen; the set designer was eighteen. All of them, except the director of photography, were around that age, sixteen to twenty, so that the kids in the film felt more close to us. And I would have more respect because I was twenty-three. I was the old one! And it really worked well.
As for the other characters, at first I had them on my mind or in my life. And the actors who played them were very near to what the characters are like, in a way. We didn’t rehearse at all. In my first film we did a lot of rehearsals for six months. In this one I didn’t wanted to rehearse at all, because I wanted them just to say the words to come out smoothly; not feeling anything, not getting into anything. Just being able to tell the words that I thought were adequate and no need to act more than that. Since they really liked the screenplay and understood it, it helped.
The structure of the script was not that straight. I was considering Salinger’s books, where we move on the psychological, not throught the plot changes. At some point, while writing the script, I felt the need to focus on something. My first film suffered a bit from that lack of focus. So I felt the need to focus on the main character and had to pull the others a bit back. Although it doesn’t seem that way, the film was shot and edited completely as it was written. We didn’t throw one shot away and didn’t change a thing. Because I have trouble stating my opinion to my editor, saying to her what I want, a way to do it was to invent something that couldn’t really change, since everything depended on everything else.

 
 
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Category
 
 
 
 
  Pink
  Are you Crying?
 
  Alexander Voulgaris (The Boy)
 
  Minimalist Narrations in Greek Cinema: Rose (Pink)and Valse Sentimental (Sentimental Waltz)
 
 
 
 
 
  Our Fear of Growning - Original Publication
 
 
 
 
 
 
       
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