Ivana Mladenović: “Ivana the Terrible” was inspired by my crisis

With her second feature film Ivana The Terrible, a comedy about a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown, director Ivana Mladenović stood out with her talent and distinctive work. This fictional autobiography, in which Ivana plays herself, won the Jury Award in Locarno, and the film was also well-received by Zagreb Film Festival’s audience.

Interview by: Nino Kovačić

After the documentary approach in Turn Off the Lights and fictionalization of writer Schiop’s life in Soldiers, in this film you fictionalized yourself, your family and hometown. What prompted you to move in that very seismal film direction between documetarization and fiction, the Godardian ideal form?

My first and second movie were also more or less in that direction. Adi Schiop, the writer of the book on which my first feature film Soldiers. Story from Ferentari is based, plays the lead role and in a way re-lives the events from his autobiographical book. He took on the role because a lot of film actors rejected me because they did not want to be in a gay film, and the other reason is because I did not trust anyone enough or could not imagine anyone other than him could portray what I wanted to say with this movie. In Ivana the Terrible I step in front of the camera because the film is inspired by a real life crisis which occurred in the summer of 2017 and we wanted it to have a therapeutic effect, so I invited my friends and family to once again re-live those moments in front of the camera.

How did the script writing process, which you did with Schiop, as well as preparing the “terrain” for shooting look like? What were your main applied lessons from previous shootings?

The process was very weird in both instances. First you try and remember how some things happened in reality, but we realized our memories do not coincide and everyone is pushing his agenda or simply has a different viewpoint. Then you start drifting from reality, to the point when personal is no longer personal and you no longer have a feeling it’s about you. When writing a story based on someone’s life experience, it’s always difficult to distance oneself from the stories themselves in the sense of the strictest revealing of reality. I think what we realized by working on these scripts is that the most important thing is to convey the experienced emotions into the film, and not the accuracy and parts of real events.

Considering you’re a full-fledged author, because apart from screenwriter, producer and director, you are also the lead role, what were the main challenges when crossing the thresholds of those different responsibilities? How did you decide to build your own film character?

It was not my intention to act in the film in order to show my acting abilities. When I decided to start shooting, what was unimaginable for many because we started with borrowed money, I asked my friends for help. Both me and them knew well it was very important to make that film in order for me to be able to move on, but now I hope others will recognize themselves in this film as well. You inevitably want to protect yourself from showing some of your own negative traits, but this film talks about manifesting very vulnerable parts of my personality. Before filming even began, I decided I need to find ways of avoiding two things: the attempt to protect myself and hide some personality traits I wouldn’t want everyone to know, but also not to fall into some kind of pathos. For both problems, I tried to find the right associates, my film friends who will be able to help with that, so Ana Szel and Andres Rus helped with directing, and Adrian Schiop in screenwriting.

What are the main challenges, i.e. limits of directing and discovering your own family and surroundings?

Most of the situations seen in the film happened in reality, if not to me, then to some of my close friends. As far as my character is concerned, Adi tried to play with it in a more cynical way and I find his vision of her reality is very interesting. We decided to show Ivana in all her contradictory behaviours and try and find humor in it. The most difficult thing for me was to cross some of my personal limits and fears in depicting the reality of the people around me, which meant dragging your friends and family into the whole process. But given some time and following sincere talks with them about my intentions, everybody started to like the ideas. There was no difference here from an approach in a documentary film. The main difference was working on acting for 6 months with people who never had to learn any lines by heart or have any clue about acting. As much as I liked it, it also drove me mad.

Considering the partially documentaristic nature of the film, did some events during filming alter the course of the final story?

The film was envisioned as an even larger parody of the whole course of events in a small town. Some of the scenes were hysterically funny in the script, but when we started filming them, aside from being extremely difficult to act out, somehow they didn’t fit into the film, so we just started editing them out. That’s when the film became more intimate and the scenes which made it more fictionalized no longer had their place in it. In the end, the film tailored itself according to the things as they truly are.

The dualities of different identities and frictions between them, from personal and group, male and female, to the Serbo-Romanian, are the realities from which Ivana the Terrible is built. Why did you decide to approach them through absurdity and (self)irony?

Those are some serious topics, but I believed I would be able to bring them closer to people through a more humorous approach, i.e. if they are not judged through the film for their opinions, but that in those different ways I try to bring closer my understandings of problems through the characters I am building. For instance, my favorite character in the film is the feminist Anca who organizes the clitoris festival in Romania and tries to talk about it with Serbian women. I think their short dialogue through that small humorous scene says a lot about the position of women and girls in both countries.

Archive footages are also an interesting approach which gives a specific commentary of the historical context, and generally speaking, the Romanian New Wave “style” of the film can be felt. Who were your direct film role models?

I worked with two directors in Romania, Florin Serban on the film If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle and Radu Jude on Scarred Hearts. Florin introduced me to the documentarist approach when working on that film with young men who were in juvenile detention at the time and I witnessed his approach in preparing those young men for the film. I acted in Jude’s film and the approach was completely different because I had to learn the lines to the letter. Those two approaches probably merged somewhere in me and inspired me.

What were the reactions of the family and people in Kladovo?

I still haven’t managed to screen the film in Kladovo, but we probably will when it gets warmer, on the beach. I took the actors and some family members this summer to the Sarajevo Film Festival and for them it was a big experience. As it wasn’t easy for me, I believe it wasn’t easy for them as well at times, but when people started stopping them in the street and congratulating them on their part, it all became much better. They were happy that next to their name, it stood – actor.

What are you working on next, will you be returning to only one film profession after this experience?

Yes, I can’t wait to only direct because that is my biggest interest. We are currently working on a script which is taking place in London and follows a family trying to succeed in the music world.