“Five Stages of Grief: Interviewing Juraj Krasnohorsky” by Steven Yates

Slovak director Juraj Krasnohorsky’s debut, a 15-minute short film entitled x= x+1 (2009), is an ambitious production, and not just for filming with a Red Digital cinema camera at 4,000 resolution and transferring to 35mm film. The story concerns a husband and wife (Mr. and Mrs. X) who enter their apartment only to find another married couple entering soon after, who also believe they are the only ones at home. At the 18thArt Film Festival in the Slovak spa town of Trenčanske Teplice, Krasnohorsky talked about his film and the challenges of short film distribution after festivals. One of the film’s leading actresses, Lucia Siposova, was also present and spoke of her own impressions of working on x= x+1.

Krasnohorsky got the idea for the film’s story from the psychological model of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s book On Death and Dying (1969), which deals with the five stages of grief people go through when refusing to accept their fate: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. He says, “I came up with the idea and then used the psychological model, a bit like writing music and then coming up with the words.”Visually, he cites Alfred Hitchcock and draws on Henri Bergson, but allows the comedy to come from the characters acting autonomously (similar to robots). He adds, “We are all trying to be very original but, in these extreme situations, we all act in the same way.”The comedy found in everyday situations was part of the motivation for Krasnohorsky and he states,“The film is not realistic; artistically, it is pushed in a very definite direction.”Not coincidentally, the two main characters in the film, Elisabeth and Henri, are also the forenames of Kübler-Ross and Bergson. Krasnohorsky’s other major influence is Stanley Kubrick, and he also draws inspiration from aspects of Charlie Chaplin, Ernst Lubitsch, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Ingmar Bergman, and Federico Fellini.

Juraj Krasnohorsky. Photo by Andre Bonzel.

It took two years to get funding for x= x+1with an initial development fund and assistance on the screenplay. A second funding of €15,000 was awarded from the Slovakian Ministry of Culture and another €15,000 was raised privately. Local film production company Film Park loaned Krasnohorsky a Red Digital camera for free as well as the use of their post-production facilities. However, filming in his native country wasn’t so simple; Krasnohorsky says, “Suddenly, after fifteen years away from Slovakia and the film industry, I needed twenty actors who were between the ages 28 and 32 and beautiful.” Other problems included persuading the actors to work pro-bono and travel outside the Czech Republic.

Regarding the resurgence in Slovakian cinema, Krasnohorsky notes that many projects finished this year were started five or six years ago and some suffer from shooting over such a long period. “It’s all about energy and the theme of the time. Over a period of time, it becomes a composition of different things.” Though not entirely convinced about the quality of the Slovak films he’s seen, he singled out the documentary by Peter Kerekes Cooking History (2009) and noted six or seven other new films. However, he is still cautious,saying, “With feature films, I think we have a lot to learn. Slovak directors are very much influenced by magical realism and the Slovak directors of the 60s, and I really think we should move on.”

Still from "x= x+1"
Production still from x= x+1

Siposova had known Krasnohorsky for two years when they made x= x+1. By contrast, the last film she worked on was a feature set between the wars. Siposova thought the screenplay was very original and something to which she could contribute.

Krasnohorsky’s next film, which he co-wrote with Siposova, and using Film Park’s most recent Red Digital Camera, will be a low-budget feature called Tigers Ain’t Happy Here. The shooting is scheduled for this August, with the story taking place in present-day Bratislava.

Krasnohorsky also has projects lined up with Amos Gitai and André Bonzel, the French co-director of Man Bites Dog (1992), a film that won two awards at Cannes. Krasnohorsky met Bonzel in Paris and the two became good friends, working on documentary projects together in the past and most recently, a screenplay which Krasnohorsky hopes to find a producer for in Slovakia. The film with Bonzel will be a road movie called Heaven for the Devil and will be shot in winter. Siposova is also scheduled to appear in the film.

Steven Yates is a British freelance film journalist and member of the International Federation of Film Critics,and has sat on the critics’ jury at numerous film festivals in Europe.

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