István Kovács: The Topic of War Keeps Finding Me

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A happy person is one who is not only healthy and has bread and water on the table every day, but also the one who does not know from his own experience what war means.

István Kovács

The director of the Hungarian film A Siege knows this topic firsthand, and he believes that it is necessary to talk about it. Otherwise, how can you keep something human in yourself and learn to appreciate simple comforts, such as hot water, clean clothes, tasty dinners and the opportunity to meet any person you like any time you want?

István Kovács’s film A Siege was presented at the 54th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in the Future category: Generation NEXT of the European Cinema section.

From the movie A Siege

You’ve won several prizes for this film already. What does it mean to you? That people heard you, that they understood how important the topic is?

Well, to be honest, it’s really very nice to get all good feedback in the form of those prizes. I think that’s the most important thing – to constantly be recognized. This film has had a really good run at the festivals, and it’s really been good for me and for the team. This film was created by a really talented team, including my writer, my cinematographer, my editor. We worked together for many years at school.

Those prizes are very important for us, because they just seem to say to us: “Okay, guys, you are on the right track, keep on.”

“Tragedy can happen to anyone”

I know that this was your graduation movie. So you aimed it particularly at younger audiences, or not?

That’s an interesting question, because I actually don’t remember that I was thinking about that, whether we were telling the story to a younger or to an older audience. I think this topic at first glance has more appeal to older audiences, but the connection with the younger generation is in history and current times. War is near, in Syria or in Ukraine, and in a lot of places in the world the tensions are very high. So I think this movie speaks to both the older or younger generation, too. I hope so, at least.

The movie shows a woman’s story. But does war have a gender?

No, I think, tragedy can happen to anyone. We picked up our main hero as a female protagonist, because the core story was this, and it was a true story. My teacher told me that he read it in a memoir. I never found the book, but there were like four or five sentences only, the story of a lonely woman who just wanted to feel herself a woman again and used battery water to wash her body. That was the core of the whole idea. I was born in Yugoslavia and I always knew that I wanted to explore this topic. When this little story came to me, I immediately knew that I wanted to work with it. It’s been two or three years since we started to work on this film.

You mention you spent your childhood in Yugoslavia. How did your growing up shape your personality?

I don’t want to go into psychotherapy or the like, but obviously it has some effect on you as a child and it lives with you as an adult.

“I think you have to talk about it. You have to show people what happened 25 years ago in Central Europe”

Okay, let’s have a look at it in another way. Does this experience help you in your current life, or not?

Yes, it helps. Somehow it’s very strange. We had the luck to make a 65 minute TV movie, which was a First World War movie, then I made two short films about the Second World War and the Balkan wars, and I also made a documentary about the Balkan wars, so somehow this thing about war always finds me. It’s not on purpose, for example the documentary film came to me by accident. I realized that maybe I have to say something about war and about the little man inside, the war situation, how it affects her soul and her mind. That’s what I’m interested in, and maybe I have something in me that can add to this topic.

Since you have worked on several war films, I guess that you have had to look through a lot of terrible documents. How to rehabilitate, to refresh your mind after that?

It takes a lot out of you, to be honest. It’s not an easy topic. I’m working on two feature movies right now, both of them set in the Balkan wars, so when we wrote it; and mind you, read all the materials about it, watched documentaries about it, spoke with the people who survived and it affected your soul a lot. But in the end I still think you have to talk about it. You have to show people what happened 25 years ago in Central Europe in the Balkans.

Do you feel like you’re changing the world by filming such stories?

I won’t go that far. It’s good if somebody just thinks about it for two minutes or five minutes after the screening. Everybody has individual problems, so if viewers have given the time to watch the movie, it’s all I can ask. Then you achieved what you wanted.

What to do, when life you knew doesn’t exist anymore?

The core movie story is about the woman who wants to keep her feminine nature in spite of everything. Is it really possible for beauty to survive in war circumstances?

I think there is only this moment. The film tells the story of a woman who knows how to survive in the city, but suddenly something happens to her. She decides that she wants to live the same way as before, to prepare herself as a woman as she did before. But – that’s what we wanted to show – you simply cannot do the things you’ve done before. Now the life you knew doesn’t exist anymore. So it’s not about maintaining yourself, but there’s something you cannot abandon. It’s humanity. It’s a part of your humanity – to be a woman, to be a man, to have those kinds of moments in your life when you want to look good and to meet somebody.

So in the end the film is more about hope than destiny, right?

Yes. We wanted to frame it in a way that audiences will know that the woman will survive. She will be there. Another day will begin.

But what about love? That date she tried to prepare for?

Well, that’s a question for you, what do you think of it and how do you imagine it? We are working now on a feature version of this movie, so this question stands up there right now too.

Bio: István Kovács

Born in the former Yugoslavia in 1984 as part of the Hungarian minority, István Kovács was enrolled at the University of Theatre and Film Arts in Budapest in 2011. His BA graduation film, The Sound of Concrete, screened successfully on the international film festival circuit in 2015 and received numerous awards. He is currently finishing his MA studies under Ildikó Enyedi’s supervision. His thesis film, A Siege, also received much praise, circulated far and wide, and went on to win the Student Academy Bronze Award in 2018.

Films:

Csúszópénz (2014), Idegen fold (2014), Betonzaj (2015), Szürke senkik (2016), Asszonyok lázadása (2017), Ostrom (A Siege, 2018).

Photos: KVIFF

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