Featuring a spectacular acting performance by Val Maloku in the role of the 10-year-old Nori, Babai (Father) is the remarkable feature fiction debut of the extremely talented Kosovan director Visar Morina. Set in mid-‘90s Kosovo and Germany, Babai is a film about the difficult relationship between a father and a son, the violence prevailing at the time in Kosovo in every aspect of life and a (failed) attempt to integrate into a new society abroad. Visar Morina’s film recently had its Greek premiere at the Balkan Survey section of the 56th Thessaloniki International Film Festival. A few days before its Athenian premiere at the 28th Panorama of European Cinema (26/11-2/12), I had an enlightening discussion with the director, who is already working on the script of his new film, that will be shot entirely in Germany.
Your protagonist, the little Nori (Val Maloku), seems to be far more mature and grown-up than the actual grown-ups in the film. Why did you decide to portray him in this light?
This is a difficult question! I left Kosovo when I was 15. I don’t know how much you know about the ‘90s in Kosovo or former Yugoslavia, but, if you looked at it from the outside, it was a very interesting time. If you looked from inside, it’s absurd how normal it was. Fear was part of everyday life and you had no clue as to what would happen- yet you knew that it was going to be bad. As a kid, you thought that this is how the world was. Maybe this is one of the reasons why I chose a kid as the person who would tell about that time. The main subject of my film, however, is the constantly changing boy’s view of his father- trust, in a way. I was trying to think of the father as a system of values and as part of the identity of the boy, which I considered loving all the way and very idealistic.
When is Babai placed time-wise? Early to mid-‘90s?
I was always thinking of 1995, during the period when the Bosnian war was going on and the situation in Kosovo was settled, in a way, and the people got used to it. At the time, it was normal having police on the street making fun of you, or having policemen at your home doing whatever the fuck they wanted and feeling afraid like hell. In the ‘90s, we also experienced huge problems with electricity- you were doing something and, all of a sudden, there was no electricity. As soon as it returned, we forgot about what had happened.
So, a great deal of your personal background, your personal experiences, are reflected in the film.
I wouldn’t be able to make it, if I didn’t have a very strong connection to it. Of course it’s personal, but not in the sense that it’s my story. For me, it’s very important that I believe what I’m seeing and writing.
You describe a very patriarchal society. Has it changed over time?
Many things are changing in Kosovo now, but I have to admit that I haven’t been living there for more than 20 years.
There is an important, I feel, scene in your film: the gay sex one, shot, discreetly, in the dark. Is being gay a taboo issue in Kosovo?
As in all ex-communist countries, though, by law, you are allowed to be married to a person of the same sex. However, gays usually have a double life. When I was 17 in Germany, I heard that a gay person was called “schwul”. So, I asked my brother at home: “How do you say “gay” in Albanian?” And he responded “péder”. I wondered how could I have not heard this word for 15 years, although I knew that there were gay people in Kosovo? When it comes to script-writing, it’s very important to me not to judge people, not be moral in a “cheap” and cheesy way
What I also like about your film is its open and realistic ending.
The funny thing is that, when we had the festival premiere in Albania, a guy commented that the film is sometimes like propaganda, telling refuges not be refugees.
It definitely doesn’t portray Germany as the paradise on earth awaiting immigrants and refugees.
The refugee issue has become very big now, but that was not my subject. Instead of Germany, the characters in my film could have immigrated to Greece or Switzerland. But there is something similar in Germany and Kosovo: in both cases someone else decides about your life.
Anyway, I’m very happy that you appreciate the ending, because I just felt during the editing process that it was the right way to end the film- and also because you have a child making all this journey and ending up in this nightmare, from which, when he wakes up, the only thing he can do is scream. Moreover, when I was young, I read a play by Brecht, The good man of Szechuan, and I was very impressed. In the end, the main character speaks to the audience and choosing this ending to my film gave me a similar feeling. There was nothing else to tell. The father and the son will be trying and failing, but it was not important anymore and I liked the last line very much: “we have to go”. Many were confused, others loved it, some hated it, though.
Having yourself emigrated at a young age, I assume with your family, how has it been for you adapting to a new society with, perhaps, different mentality and new rules?
It’s true that I have immigrated to Germany, but I received over 1 million Euros to make this film from the State. I am one of the lucky ones. This experience had a huge impact on me, for sure. It changed me from the scratch. It was definitely a fucked-up time, as it is for everybody! When I first heard German people talking, I thought they had no clue what they were talking about, the language sounded to me like Chinese. Like putting my head in a washing machine, while I was trying to understand what those sounds meant.
Of all the characters in your film, which is the one that you feel closer to?
Actually I don’t know! I understand or have sympathy for each of them- there are scenes when I feel closer to one character, or the other.
Your film does well, so far, in festivals- either being awarded or, generally, appreciated. I guess this is a reward for you, considering the fact that it is your feature fiction debut.
In its world premiere in Munich we won 3 out of 4 prizes. And then in Karlovy Vary, we were also awarded. There has hardly been a day without a screening of the film.
Any ideas for your next film?
I was writing the script before our conversation! I don’t know to what extent it’s visible in Babai, but it was quite a hell organizing everything and I’m looking forward to focusing on 2 characters in just 3 or 4 locations- not more. My new film will be about a 45-year-old father of 3 kids working in a company, feeling that his colleagues are not treating him well and somehow experiencing a crisis. It will have nothing to do with Kosovo.
I wish you all the best with Babai and your new film, whenever it is shot and completed!
After having its Greek premiere at the Balkan Survey section of the 56th Thessaloniki International Film Festival earlier this November, Visar Morina’s Babai (Father) will be screened at the Competition section of the 28th Panorama of European Cinema, taking place between the 26th of November and the 2nd of December in Athens.
More info on the festival’s programme http://panoramafest.org/index.php/en/
Visar Morina’s personal website is https://www.visarmorina.de/
The film’s facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/FILM-BABAI-716298931716915/?fref=ts