László Nemes at 59th TIFF

59th THESSALONIKI INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL [1-11/11/2018] || 1-11/11/2018

László Nemes Press Conference


The 59th Thessaloniki International Film Festival welcomed the Hungarian film director László Nemes, who came to Thessaloniki on occasion of his latest film Sunset screening in this year’s event. The filmmaker gave a press conference on Saturday November 3, 2018 in the Thessaloniki Museum of Photography, moderated by TIFF’s head of international program Yorgos Krassakopoulos.

Mr Krassakopoulos welcomed László Nemes and asked him whether he believes that the unwritten rule of music industry, according to which an artist’s second work can be a huge challenge following a successful debut, also applies to cinema. The question was asked in relation to the Hungarian filmmaker’s latest work, following the huge success of his film Son of Saul, which won the award for Best Foreign Language Film at the 88th Academy Awards two years ago.  

László Nemes thanked TIFF for the invitation and said he was happy to have his film screened in this beautiful festival, in front of an audience that he described as open-minded and committed. He explained that in any case Sunset was an even more complex and demanding artistic attempt than his first film. “In Sunset I attempted to capture the innermost reality inside the main character’s soul. Therefore it was crucial to use a more complex cinematic language and angle than I did in my first film. The attempt to approach the idea and sense of subjectivity, which always expresses itself elusively, arguably set very high and not easily manageable artistic and technical challenges”, he said.

Consequently, after Mr Krassakopoulos’ cue that the concept for Sunset was already there in László Nemes’ mind even before making Son of Saul, the filmmaker talked about how hard it was to find money for his first film, and about the stifling framework as to film funding in Europe. “Actually, it was hard for me to find money for my first film and thankfully the Hungarian Film Fund came as a gift from heaven. Things were easier for my second film, thanks to Son of Saul’s success. I’m sure that if I had sought funding for Sunset as a debut film, I would have zero chance of succeeding. My experience tells a lot about the conditions you encounter trying to fund your movie in Europe when you wish to escape the preset norms imposed by TV and the Internet. Today, all stages of film production, script development, direction, photography, editing, are forced to comply with a prevailing pattern that is constantly reproducing itself.

Consequently, asked about how he manages to make films that escape the status quo, László Nemes talked both about his vision as a film director and his intentional and steady choice to shoot 35mm, avoiding CGI (Computer-Animated Imagery). “My films carry a very intense personal hue, they crystallize my own idea about modern times and past accomplishments. I try to depict experiences and thoughts that escape preset boundaries and plunge the viewer into a state which allows them to unfold their imagination and create lasting thoughts that will not be ephemeral”, he noted.

Speaking broadly, he criticized the current trend, the gradual transformation of cinema into nothing more than a subcategory in the vast funnel of the so-called Information Technology, with the risk of losing its unique place and identity in the world of art for good. “We have come to a point where we rely excessively to computers, renouncing cinema’s right to identify itself as an autonomous art with special attributes. The way that we are willing to irrevocably abandon traditional film condemns the audience to an increasingly shrinking aesthetic experience. It won’t be long before cinema becomes a business for producers only, with film directors settling for the role of data collectors for a machine to process. If cinema does not defend itself, it will soon degrade into a meaningless parade of images, accompanied by popcorn, another alternative source of easy entertainment, comparable to video games. I guess I am one of the few people lamenting for the gradual loss of traditional film, but I honestly believe that the audience is worth better than a mere reproduction of information and pixels”, he said.

Mr Krassakopoulos asked László Nemes to make a comment on the historical context in both his works so far, as well as whether this retrospective is a means to comment on current reality. The director replied that his main goal, especially as to Sunset, is to show that such a refined and elegant world can hide elements of self-destruction; and that the seeds of disaster have an invisible way to grow and bear fruits, with no sign of the imminent disaster. “My wish is to travel through History, yet not in the way of studying a history book or historical documents, but trying to palpate the coarse lines of historical evolution, which are not obvious today. When History becomes visible and perceptible, it’s usually too late”, he said.

Consequently, László Nemes revealed how he connects to the story of Sunset; it is by means of having listened to the stories his grandma told him about her personal experiences in that particular historical period. “I strive to convey the texture, the hue and the feeling of a historical period, plunge in it instead of watching from a distance. Due to the dominance of Internet we are now watching things self-righteously and delusionally, and this I am trying to avoid in my films”, the Hungarian filmmaker said.  

Asked about it, László Nemes explained how he chose to approach, via the costumes, two contradicting yet coexisting aspects in Sunset: the luxury and elegance of the surrounding setting on the one hand, the darkness of the main heroine’s personal story on the other. The director also talked about the hats and their importance in his film, as they reveal a lot about the particular period. “Imagine that there was a time when there were hundreds of women’s hat shops in Budapest and every hat was unique, tailor made for the woman who bought and wore it. Hats are a symbol of that period’s splendor, yet at the same time a heavy shadow falls upon this stylish and elegant setting. The approach I and my costume designer ended up with was a blend of instinct and strategy.  We did not want to over-analyze how we wished to proceed, but we kept in mind that the female heroine’s hats and costumes had to reflect the fragility of her character and her airy nature, and at the same time the darker paths in which she enters gradually”, he said.

László Nemes was asked again about film funding in Europe. The filmmaker said that his experiences as he was seeking the necessary funds for Son of Saul could make a case study for the broader dimensions of the issue. In fact, he added that he would never receive a positive answer if he ever wished to fund a future project under an alias, pretending that he was a debut film director. “Wherever you turn to, either to EU funds or producers and festival “Market” sections, they all ask you to follow the beaten path, emphasize on the film’s topic and the characters. The only thing that is important is the general storyline, addressing an audience that will see the film as a stale citation of facts. Scripts are forced to comply with the modern needs and standards of TV and the Internet, giving in to not just external censorship, but to an even more painful self-censorship. This trend, already obvious in the 80s on TV, has now become a real plague, depriving cinema of the complexity and diversity which are intrinsic to it”, he said.

Concluding, László Nemes revealed his plans to make his first English-speaking film; he did not wish to reveal more for the moment, but explained this step does not by any means suggest that he won’t be back to his country soon to make films.

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