You arrive at FEST straight from Berlinale, where “Requiem for Mrs. J.” had its world premiere in the Panorama Special Programme. What are your impressions from Berlin?
B.V. - All film screenings were sold out and people asked for an extra ticket. Reactions in discussions with the audience showed that the film transcends our Balkan frames and communicates with the world audience at every level. Reviews published in the "Hollywood Reporter", "Screen Daily" and several Russian and German magazines are really fantastic. There is also great interest among distributors in buying and screening the film in various countries of Europe. I am glad that after a long time Serbian film demonstrated once again that it can stand shoulder to shoulder with the world's largest film industries at such a prestigious festival like the one in Berlin.
What do you expect from participation at Fest, in the National Competition Programme?
B.V. - First of all, I'm honored that the film will have its premiere at FEST, with which I, together with most of the colleagues I worked with on the film, grew up and formed my taste in films. It is certainly a privilege to participate in the National Selection especially if the rich last year's production is taken into account. In any case, I expect that the film will appeal to the audience and the Jury.
How did you get to the idea for the screenplay about a Serbian widow whose country’s bureaucracy makes it difficult even for the planned withdrawal from life?
B.V. - The idea for the story "Requiem for Mrs. J” was born from a personal acquaintance with a woman who, after all, is a typical victim of the transition in Serbia. She is a quiet, modest woman who does not want to bother anybody. Without work and severance pay, no husband or the will to get out of the apartment, feeling rejected and unneeded in the family where the one who first "gets the gun in the morning” commands, Mrs. J. finds an old family gun and decides to assemble it. The film deals with the painful and inevitable subject for most countries in Eastern Europe - the social transition, which inevitably leads, as in this story, to the overall identity crisis and depression.
Foreign critics were pleasantly surprised by your film, describing it, among other things, as a Kafkaesque comedy. And how do you define the film, what genre does it belong to?
B.V. - This is primarily a black comedy about the transition that ate their children, about people who have always worked honestly, but were unable to find their way in the new transition period, ruled by corruption, bureaucracy and double moral standards. They no longer have the strength to adapt, they are confused and tired and the only transition they see as the salvation is the transition to the other world. I wanted to tell a story about a serious subject, transition and depression, in a humorous way. Comedy suits me, and I think sad goes better with funny. We have a long tradition of comedy perhaps primarily as a defense mechanism to protect us from the harsh reality we live in.
"Requiem for Mrs. J." is deeply rooted in our transitional reality, while at the same time it appears to have a universal appeal. How did you manage to achieve that?
Humor is the main reason for this. Also, we focused on emotions. I think that is where universality lies. Life problems we face do not apply only to the Balkans. Unfortunately, alienation, identity crises, disturbed family relations in the context of a failed social transition and general economic crisis are a universal framework that is recognized even in the most developed countries. That is where the universality of the story comes from. It could be happening anywhere. Only a costume and set design would look a bit different.
Having Mirjana Karanović in the title role is already quite a guarantee of success of the film. How was the collaboration with our great actress, but also with a young actress Jovana Gavrilović and other members of the ensemble?
B.V. - I can only say that working with Mirjana Karanović for me was one of the most creative and beautiful collaborations so far. Her vast experience as a first class actress, but also as an educator and director helped me realize how much trust is vital for a good result. I have known Jovana Gavrilović and Vucić Perović ever since the Academy and two of them are among the most talented actors of the younger generation. I met Danica Nedeljkovic, who plays the younger daughter, in a drama school for children, led by Borka Tomovic. During long and thorough rehearsals we all became friends and made some kind of a conspiracy family, which is important for a good atmosphere.
Praise was also given to the director of photography Jelena Stanković in Berlin. What were your expectations from the crew members?
B.V. - Working with Jelena Stanković, a director of photography, Zoran Petrov, a set designer and Lana Pavlović, a costume designer, we wanted to tell the story of Mrs. J in the simplest and most honest way. These are the three artists, who are responsible for the visual identity of the film. Together we worked on every detail, trying to translate the mental state of the heroine into the composition, color, shape and rhythm. We often changed ideas, trying to find the best detail in the scene or the frame. It was one of the finest and most creative processes on this film.
Everybody says that shooting a film in Serbia is a job that gives you a headache in terms of production and finance. What was it like this time around, with the SEE Film Pro Company and the co-producers?
B.V. - It rarely happens that there is such harmony between author and production. I must say that we, as authors, have been supported and protected from the production throughout the entire process. The executive producers Nenad Dukić and Miša Mogorović helped us concentrate only on our work without additional stress, which by all means existed. Of course, the Film Centre Serbia plays the key role and it is obvious that after a long time there is now a systemic care for cinema.
What are your plans after the premiere at FEST? Did a positive reception at Berlinale lead to calls from other festivals?
B.V. - Absolutely. We have already got calls from several festivals and confirmed the participation. Berlin is one of the three largest festivals of A category and participation in any programme is a great success, especially when you come from a small country. This represents a springboard for further marketing of the film. We should all be proud of that.
When does the film start showing in local cinemas, and what kind of audience do you think it will most successfully communicate with?
B.V. - Shortly after the premiere at FEST, the film will start on March 16th in theaters. Every director wants his film to be seen by as many people as possible. I think we made a black comedy which is a universal emotional story that is easily accessible to audiences. In Berlin I also had the opportunity to talk to ordinary citizens, Germans who were also enthusiastic about the film.
As you await the premiere of your film to start at FEST, will you watch films from other programmes? What films are you particularly interested in?
B.V. - There are many authors, some of them are among my favourites. I'll be sure to watch "On the Milky Road" by Emir Kusturica, "Elle" by Paul Verhoeven, the new film by Javier Dolan, Farhadi, Ozona, Scorsese, Kaurismaki, Andrea Arnold ...