Four years ago, Hungarian director Gábor Reisz sat down to write the script of his second feature film, Bad Poems. His debut work, For Some Inexplicable Reason, had received the Jury, Audience and Script Awards at the Turin Festival, and the Best Film Award at the Montecarlo Festival. His personal life was going through a deep crisis, and, in his professional life, he realized that, while digital images were widely used in reality, characters in films still appeared in medium shots and got into cars through a wide-angle frames. What intended to be the script of his next film ended up becoming a tale of his childhood memories as a form of therapy. The combination of these personal and foreign elements was the starting point of the film that opens the 34th edition of Cinema Jove.
How did you face your second films after the excellent reception of your debut? Did the international awards and the excellent box office results in your country give you any kind of pressure?
Yeah sometimes, but honestly just when I wasn’t deep in the work. During writing, preparation, shooting and editing you don’t have time to deal with any kind of that pressure. It started when I was in a party and met with other directors, or talked with journalists, or people who really liked the first feature.
How did the residence at the Cannes Film Festival’s Cinéfondation help you develop the script?
Officially the Residence is not a script development scholarship. They give you the opportunity to focus on your next movie and also they present you as a talented young director. I have a dual feeling if I remember this half year in Paris. My girlfriend left me in the first month so I was depressed, but Paris, the people around me, Cannes film festival and a lot of special experiences created an unforgettable period in my life.
To what extent is the protagonist an alter ego?
Even if the inspiration is from my memories, it’s a fictional story. Memory is always a fiction, you change details, sometimes drop out a few things, sometimes magnify others.
Throughout the film there are successive references to the over exposure to advertising and the invasive presence of marketing in our lives (the blows against advertising posters, the work in an advertising agency) Do you share with Tamas your apprehension?
As an artist yes. However, it’s really hard to live, work and create something valuable and honest at the same time. I studied at the Hungarian Film Academy where we learned about big artists, masters of the cinema. When you finish school you realize that if you want to pay the rent, the food and everything else, you have to work in the advertisement industry or somewhere else, which has never been your aim.
What significance did Nirvana have in your youth?
I was really jealous when Nirvana was active. Try to imagine that every girl in your school wore a shirt with Kurt Cobain, no exception. But when we started to play guitar with my friends and made a band, it was so obvious to play Nirvana. It was cool, and really basic, actually it still is. I think grunge was the last real change in the music history. For me it wasn’t a step in the evolution, it was something which is totally the opposite of every genre. I really miss it, and I am really happy that Pearl Jam does still exist.
The film pays tribute to various film genres and directors (nouvelle vague, German expressionism, classic horror films, Woody Allen, De Palma, Tarkovsky, Hitchcock…) What were you looking for by this cinephile review?
Bad Poems is an eclectic movie. When I decided to do it in this style, there was only one thing that I kept in my mind: how you think, how you dream, imagine and remember. And I think it’s never structured, it’s always a chaos.
In the film there are references to Magritte and Duchamp, Surrealism, Dadaism and Impressionism. How important are fine arts in your professional career?
Of course it’s important but these references were not conscious. My childhood was exactly as you saw in the film with 14-year-old Tamás always painting and drawing and I really preferred to paint in surreal style.
Bad Poems also alternates different formats and devices (black and white, grainy images…) to look at the past and relate the duel for a sentimental break up, were you looking to transform the ordinary into extraordinary by that?
I think there are two stories in Bad Poems: one in the reality which looks like a documentary film, and the other one is in Tamás’ head: imaginations, dreams and memories. We need the contrast and I think it’s more exciting like that.
Why did you also assume the role of the leading actor?
It was the last big decision during the prep. We did a really long casting and during the process I realized that it’s impossible to find somebody who is exactly the main character. So I thought that if we find an actor we will change the script but around at this time it was too late. My casting director asked me why don’t I try it and I answered that it’s not a good idea, because every time I did something in front of the camera before I felt uncomfortable. She still persisted and it was a surprise for me as well, that I didn’t feel any frustration. I also thought that it could be more personal and special if I played the role.
Do you have a universal ambition by telling this very personal existential reflection?
I think if you tell a story there is always two purposes: to generate a change in yourself and a change around you. In yourself there is restlessness, frustration and something which is not in balance. You need the change. But this unbalanced situation is an outcome of something that is coming from the outside world too. This interaction generates the real change.
Although you do it in a subtle way, the film also raises the experiences of a generation that went from the Soviet regime to a capitalist one. How did you experience this transit?
I remember the happiness around us and those few months when the political parties were not enemies, only people who wanted the change. And then I remember the disappointment as well. I think people thought that now that we are in a new life so the waitresses will be kind, policeman and ticket controllers understanding, and of course the tram will wait for you in the station. I was 10 when this is happened. The only challenge I remember is that I wanted to my classmate Anna Schiller and be a champion in water polo.