Ena Sendijarevic is a Bosnian-Dutch screenwriter and film director. Her short film Import premiered at Cannes’ Quinzaine des Réalisateurs in 2016; her feature film debut Take Me Somewhere Nice premiered at the 2019 IFFR - International Film Festival Rotterdam, where it won the Special Jury Prize.
In an exclusive interview with Filmatique, Sendijarevic discusses filmic form as content, the constructed nature of materialist society, casting via Facebook and her next project.
FILMATIQUE: Take Me Somewhere Nice traces the return of Alma, a young woman living in the Netherlands, to her native country of Bosnia in order to bid farewell to her ailing father. Like many aspects of this film, this narrative premise functions more as a point of entry to other explorations— of fleeting adolescence, female desire, time, our origins and our material connection to the self— than strictly a matter of plot. What role does the unexpected play in your work?
ENA SENDIJAREVIC: The unexpected plays a big role in my work, because it embraces the human desire for adventure, for letting go of control, for playfulness and magic. Unlike Hitchcock, I feel much more attracted to surprise than to suspense. This is why the magician in the end of my film announces the snow that suddenly comes falling down as 'a surprise.' You don't see it coming, but at this point the viewer hopefully embraces it anyway.
I feel that in life, a lot of things happen that you don't see coming. Instead of constantly feeling overwhelmed, or afraid, I think surrendering to all the crazy twists and turns in life is a better way of living. I have put this approach to life at the core of the film. I used the minimalist plot just as a vehicle to make this approach tangible.
FLMTQ: The film furthermore possesses a unique temporality which, like its narrative, does not unfold linearly but is rather subject to divergences, departures and interruptions. In this sense the film challenges both orthodox storytelling techniques and the spectator's expectations of what a film can and should be. As a director, what is your philosophy regarding form vis-à-vis content; how can these structures be re-conceptualized to communicate more diverse versions of reality?
ES: To me, form is content. There is no division. Form is all you experience from cinema. There is nothing more. I get very surprised when I hear people say that a film is 'too focused on form.' As if using form is optional, and you can use too little or too much of it. Even filmmakers who are not aware that they are using form, who think that socio-realistic narrative cinema is an objective, form-less way of storytelling, are using form. Form is the combination of images and sound to transmit a cinematic experience. This experience is the content of the film. Thinking about form is being aware of the relation between the film-world and the real world. Form-less films do not exist: only filmmakers unaware of form.
To me, it is very important to communicate to the viewer that the film is subjective and personal, that I am the one behind it. I want to viewer to feel the perspective of the film because this re-balances the power relationship between the filmmaker and the audience. When thinking about form, this is what I try to achieve— a certain kind of transparency.
FLMTQ: In what ways does your philosophy implement itself practically in Take Me Somewhere Nice? How does the manipulation of filmic form resonate with this story in particular?
ES: We used humor and a Brechtian way of presenting the materialistic world that our characters are lost in. I wanted to create a stylized world, a world that would feel constructed, because I wanted to show through this film that this materialistic bubble we live in is a construct as well. And when you feel that our society is constructed, then you understand that change is possible.
By often using a 25 mm lens, the world presented becomes a bit absurd. I wanted to focus on bodies, on the way our animal part tries to break through constructed materialist society. A lot of times parts of bodies are shown, but cut off by the 4:3 instagram frame. In this way, the girl and her body are deconstructed by the film form. This film is also about sex, loneliness, the relation to our bodies. About borders. The static and kitschy film language is focused on all these subjects.
FLMTQ: The film's unique treatment of form reaches its apotheosis in the concluding sequence, a simultaneously detached and tantalizing depiction of young female sexuality. Can you briefly discuss your casting process; how did you discover Sara Luna Zoric and how did you work with her to achieves the film's unconventional representations of desire?
ES: We found Sara Luna Zoric through Facebook. She was just 16 years old when we started working together. She perfectly represented the conflict of the film; she's a child in a woman's body. I noticed how she still had to get used to this newly acquired, very feminine body. How she was enjoying it, but also how easily it made me forget that she was so young.
Especially when we were shooting the sexual scenes in the film, which are quite unconventional, this became a challenge. Suddenly I could feel her vulnerability as well, and it put a lot of pressure on my own freedom of artistic expression. We talked a lot about the distinction between Sara Luna herself and Alma, the protagonist of the film. Creating more space between them helped both of us to feel free and make bold decisions, to represent female sexuality in a more rebellious way.
FLMTQ: Can you briefly discuss the process of getting the film made? What obstacles did you face and how did you overcome them?
ES: One of the biggest challenges in the process of making the film was language. As a writer-director I have sensitivity for words; it is very important to me to be able to express myself in a precise way when giving directions. We shot this film with three different groups of people. There was the small, hard-core team of longtime collaborators, my Dutch colleagues. Then there was a bigger group of Dutch people I did not know, who came along as crew or assistants. Then there was the Bosnian team, and most of the actors were also Bosnian.
This was not a problem for me in the beginning, as I could easily switch between languages. But as we proceeded into shooting, the whole process became very challenging: fatigue and chaos set in and I found myself constantly and sometimes quite desperately in search of words. At a certain point I decided only to speak English, although that didn't really help either. Somehow I managed to pull through, but this was definitely a very challenging part of shooting this film.
FLMTQ: Are you working on any new projects, and if so, can you tell us a bit about them?
ES: Yes, at the moment I'm writing my second feature. It will be a period piece, set in 1900 in the Dutch East Indies. It will focus on the female colonial experience, and again I will touch upon subjects such as sexuality and migration.
Interview by Ursula Grisham Head Curator, Filmatique