Boasting sublime performances from the entire cast, the highly accomplished low-key family drama Our everyday life is the fictional feature debut of renowned Bosnian documentary film-maker Ines Tanović. Focusing on the story of a middle-class Sarajevan family, which is falling apart under the weight of the disheartening economic and political conditions prevailing in today’s Bosnian society, until a dramatic discovery enables its gradual reunion, Our everyday life had its world premiere this August at the 21st Sarajevo International Film Festival. Ahead of its Greek premiere at the Balkan Survey section of the forthcoming 56th Thessaloniki Film Festival, taking place between the 6th and the 15th of November, I had a conversation with the director.
Your low-key family drama is modestly, if accurately, titled Our everyday life. Whose life does it aim at fictionally recreating? Does it have autobiographical elements?
When we started thinking about the title of the film, many people told me to change it, because it’s not so suitable or popular. However, this is really what I wanted to show, our everyday life here, in Bosnia. Of course, it’s a story related to me and my family. It’s about a middle-class family of intellectuals, a kind of family I know. After the war, you don’t see such families in Sarajevo, the population of the city has become mixed. I wanted to depict the other side of Bosnia, not to make another film about the suffering of the poor, the refugees or the raped women. You always expect such topics, when it comes to Bosnia. They are very common. The impact of war is always bigger than the everyday, ordinary life. 20 years after its end, we experience its consequences in the city, how it affects a middle-class family, how its members struggle to connect with the current situation, how they change with time. Of course, what was also important to me was to show the emotions of the family members, how the family is falling apart, due to the economic and political situation.
One of the great assets of your film is that it transcends the topical references, which would probably restrict it to a smaller-scale audience, by “opening up” to universal themes, thus making its impact potentially wider.
The story had to be universal from the beginning, to be understood by spectators everywhere in the world, because I know that every family faces similar problems.
Does family in Bosnia still play a significant role in society? Would you like to tell me more about your extremely well-crafted characters, starting from the son?
We are a Balkan country and live in this family organization. Family is very important to us. In my story, the biggest problem, of course, is that the son, who’s in his early forties, is still living with his family, something very common in our society, not only due to economic reasons, but also out of passion and love. This is often the case, that a son stays at his parents’ home and brings over his wife and family. This is a “southern” story, also happens in Italy.
The son, who is divorced and looking for work, belongs to my generation, a generation feeling “stuck” at this time: you cannot move further, because you feel too old, but still are young enough to give up life, so you’re somewhere “in between”. When we were young, we were very passionate about peace, hoping it would bring a better a life, work and money. But the years passed and nothing changed. We don’t have war, but there is war in other aspects of life. We don’t have the possibility to find a job, earn money or make a family, or, if one manages to do so, it’s a hard struggle. As a consequence, people between 40 and 50 are very pessimistic about the future.
The father in my film is someone who can’t change himself and adapt to the new society. It’s very common for people, who are aged around 55-60 and were raised in a particular political system, the socialist one. Another aspect of the story is the mother, mediating between the father and the son. She then gets seriously ill: she’s like a “sponge”, keeping everything to herself. The sister lives abroad, another familiar issue, as, during the war, the parents wanted to save their children, by sending them off abroad. We all have someone in our family who lives outside Bosnia. In the summer, they return to the city and we then say “it’s the time of refugees”. Our everyday life is, essentially, a story about Sarajevo and Bosnia today.
All of the actors’ and actresses’ performances are absolutely stunning. Our everyday life looks and feels like a collective work. Did you co-operate with them during the shooting?
The actors and actresses fell in love with the story and “felt” the characters. I approached Uliks Fehmiu (White, white world), a Serbian actor of Albanian origin living in New York, with the scenario and we worked for 2 months. Once he understood what I wanted to depict through his character, he played the role of the son perfectly. He’s a very emotional actor, doesn’t need to rely on a script. And, as a family, they all played perfectly.
As a female director- and there’re not many of you in Bosnia, as far as I know- did you have difficulties, while trying to establish yourself as such?
I cannot answer this question as a woman. I’ve been in this business all my life. My father was a producer and my mother, originating from Berlin, a film editor. I was some kind of co-production “element” in my father’s firm. I see myself as an author, not as woman director, or something different from my other colleagues. They all know me from the time when I was young and was making documentaries and short films. It was difficult to finance my first feature film, though, because the situation in Bosnia became very complicated after the war. We had been gathering funds for Our everyday life for 5 years and we decided to shoot it on a low budget, in order to be able to show it. Otherwise, if I applied for the “big” money, it would never be screened.
Your new film is underway. What is it about?
It’s again about a family. Its older son is adopted and has problems finding his identity, his place in Sarajevo. He then meets a girl from eastern Sarajevo and they want to start a relationship, while divided politically, as the eastern Sarajevo is Serbian. The fact that, after the war, the city became divided is not so well-known abroad. I was interested in showing how young people have a totally different look on history, their own truths regarding the war. We teach different history to our children, which is quite bad for the future. So, I place these teenage characters at the center of my film, in order to ask a question: what will be the future of a divided city?
Ines Tanović’s Our everyday life screens on Friday 13 (John Cassavetes, 20:00) and Saturday 14 November (Stavros Tornes, 18:00) at the Balkan Survey section of the 56th Thessaloniki International Film Festival.
More about the Festival’s program can be found at http://tiff.filmfestival.gr/default.aspx?lang=en-us&page=1277