Winner of this year’s Heart of Sarajevo for best feature film, Take me somewhere nice, the debut feature by Bosnian-Dutch director Ena Sendijarević is a cinematically “fresh”, original and youthful take on the issues of identity, longing and sexuality.
In conversation with the filmmaker.
Do you enjoy watching coming of age films or road movies, hence your choice you shoot Take me somewhere nice in a way that incorporates elements from both genres?
Not at all, actually!
You could argue that every film is a coming of age film. What does it mean, though? It’s a forward movement in a plot related to the knowledge of a character in life.
In that sense, my film is a coming of age one, but it’s a difficult genre.
And worn out.
Especially when you look at it in the teenager sector, it’s very worn out.
What I try to do with this film is actually, instead of avoiding clichés and stereotypes not only in film form but also in society, to “dive” into them. I wanted to use them.
I wanted to apply the Brechtian way of storytelling, utilize these elements that we all know very well from stereotypical depictions of certain people in society and in film form and then invert them.
These film forms are mostly used in in a social-realistic way and they try to capture the reality of what it is to be alive.
You do try that, as well, in your own manner.
In a different manner.
I think that my film is confronting us with how “mouldable” our reality is rather than saying: “This is reality”. That’s a different approach.
How much did your female lead, Sara Luna Zorić, contribute to the film’s and her character’s reality, since she is a Dutch citizen of Bosnian descent in the same way that you are?
Very much so. In a certain way she also became an object of study for me as a director, because I could see her navigate these two different identities and of course I could see different things than other people would.
She’s also a very rebellious girl and in a way I wanted to be in touch with the rebellious Earth mother inside of myself (laughs). So, it also has to do with this quest of what it is to be a woman, a feminist.
Do you, then, see some aspects of yourself in her or do you try to re-enact some aspects of your own personality through her character?
I’ve tried to reconnect with this rebellious state of being you are in when you are a teenager. Growing up, you feel that society, in different ways, can cut you short and your position can become more and more difficult.
To be in touch again with the rebellious spirit was what I could do through her and through the two boys that I casted. I wanted to grasp their playfulness and not put them in this box of victimhood through cinematic language.
How did they interact with each other on both the human and the artistic/acting level?
The acting style was very demanding for them, because we used this Brechtian approach.
The biggest danger -and I see it happen a lot- is that people become blank, and this is not interesting at all. What is interesting is to see a lot of things happening in the eyes. You have to see that their spirits are alive. This robotic acting can “kill” a film, as well.
I feel that all three of them formed their own small world on the film set, disconnecting themselves from all of us working people (laughs).
Had any of them acted before?
No. First-timers, all three.
All of you, in fact. In total, many challenges to be faced, on many parts.
There were many challenges, but there also was this performative aspect of the acting where, as a teenager, you are also a performer.
You can see this very clearly in A Swedish Love Story by Roy Andersson, an inspiration for me: young people perform coolness. For me it was beneficial that they were first-time performers, because they knew how to perform being young.
And the camera would show the human being behind the performance.
It was more challenging to work with known actors who play the side roles, because they have very clear ideas about cinema.
Such as the lovely Emir Hadžihafizbegović.
For example, yes. They have to “unlearn” and this process, taking place early, is a lot more difficult than that of learning.
The three main characters were open to everything. Of course, as first-timers, it was difficult for them to get used to waking up in the morning for five weeks, going to sleep late at night and working all day. The physical thing was the biggest challenge for them.
Still, they made it- and I would say efficiently, if not brilliantly so. They do seem to have a future in the field of acting.
There is also a lot offbeat, weird humor in the way that the script is written and the characters are drawn and being brought to life. How important is the comic element for you?
It is not only because I enjoy it, but also because it’s an act of resistance to the notion that there is one sense of reality.
Using humor in a detached manner is for me a way to show that society is changeable.
In general, not just the Bosnian society.
Exactly. But in this case the Bosnian- or Dutch, you could say. Every filmmaker has to ask him/herself either inside the narrative or with regard to his/her profession: “Is change possible?”
I’m making a film. Why? Because I want to achieve change. But if you don’t believe in change, you cannot make films.
I assume you believe in the possibility of change, at least.
Right now, at a festival like this, is easy to say “yes”.
On the other hand, what happens when this festival is over, how much has changed in the Bosnian reality, how we handle differences in privilege or freedom of mobility... When I reflect on these, then it can sometimes be hard to believe in change.
If you look at the history of the world, you realize that it’s hard to get rid of the violence, the pain and the hurting. This is what change is about, though, we want to get rid of those things. In the end, if I don’t believe in change there’s no use making films.
Constructing something that might be capable of changing something is my way of making films. This is where my decisions in film form and the depiction of a stylized world come from.
Stylized, but not pretentious at all.
I don’t care about aesthetics when it’s not connected to meaning.
Aesthetics has meaning, it’s inherent.
Through the pacing and the humor I also try to look at life in a different way, not the “efficient” one presented in our neo-liberal society. Life is about humor, unexpected moments- then is when you feel alive.
Your film indeed gives off this youthful vitality.
I wanted to celebrate that kind of look on life.
Being an artist, do you feel, as Sara mentioned with regard to herself in the Q&A after the press screening of the film at Sarajevo Film Festival, privileged, compared with other Bosnian migrants to the Netherlands?
It’s a good question.
Yes, in the sense that my passport gives me access to free travel more than a Bosnian passport would do. I do feel that Bosnian society is going through a crisis. The Dayton Agreement is ripping up the country, so it’s very hard to do things here.
At the same time, it’s very hard to become a filmmaker everywhere. You have to dedicate everything to the job- and it’s not a job anymore, it’s life.
It’s much easier to gain access to film funding in the Netherlands. Simultaneously, I feel that where I arrived in my career so far is due to discipline and not just to the fact that I’m living in the country.
Otherwise we would have many more Bosnian-Dutch filmmakers, for example, but we don’t, because systems are still quite closed up to newcomers.
Of course we are living in the age of post-colonialism and all the people who have connections with exploited countries are now finding a way inside the system of the exploitative countries.
Does the very prospect of the screening of your film here makes you anxious with regard to how it may be perceived by the different parts of the domestic audience?
There’s always a great deal of anxiety that you have to deal with as a filmmaker. How the audience perceives and understands your work, how close it is to what you wanted to communicate is part of the anxiety.
As long as people don’t see this as some kind of a fascist film, let it be. This is the purpose of cinema, anyway, to challenge, and not only to entertain.
Will Take me somewhere nice be shown in Greece?
The Heretic Outreach people, our sales agent, are working around it, they are up to date with the list of festivals. There’s a Greek festival in the list, but I’m not sure which one.
In my past life maybe I had Greek roots. Any opportunity for me to be in Greece, I will take it. Maybe one day I’ll make a film there. I hope so!
Photo credit (Ena Sendijarević and crew): Yannis Kontos.
The conversation with Ena Sendijarević was conducted during the course of the 25th Sarajevo Film Festival (16-23 August 2019).
More info about Take me somewhere nice may be found here.