The main characters of one of the sections that compose the film Genezis is also a child that runs into the adult world, but he has tragic outcome. Bogdán Árpád’s film originates from a documentary the Hungarian director produced for the BBC about a neo-Nazi attack on a Roma gypsy camp in 2009, with dogs and carrying guns and Molotov cocktails.
The fictional story he has braided together echoes Alejandro González Iñárritu’s first films. Much like the Mexican director of Amores perros, 21 gramos and Babel, Árpád divides the storyline into three interwoven episodes, with great attention to photography and sound design.
The filmmaker uses visual poetry and biblical symbology to address extremely serious topics, such as the confrontation of justice and brutality or the rise of White supremacist groups that use violence against minorities in the western world.
The origin of the movie comes from a BBC documentary, how did this prior research help you when preparing the feature film?
When we produced the documentary for BBC in 2009 about the racist murders of romas in Hungary, it was a shocking encounter with the Evil (with capital letters) in Biblical sense. In a European country where democracy, acceptance, tolerance should be kept compulsory after the horrors of the Second World War, well, this protection intent was destroyed from one moment to another. It was shocking that this could have happened in the middle of Europe.
This pointed out that something should be reconsidered and interpreted because the most basic foundations of mankind were attacked by this event.
I say all of these because the background work, like it, was similar to a post-mortem job. Although a responsible society would have to diagnose the phenomenon and find solutions to it. Those whom I met at that time obviously could only inform the technical side of the phenomenon. Sociologists, policemen, politicians, judicial professionals, but they were just as puzzled about this incomprehensible hatred as I did. But it does not even close the fear of the scared Gypsies. When will be that,, when a Molotov cocktail (a bottle filled with petrol) is thrown to their family once in a dark night, and a series of shots will pouring on them when they save their children from the house. Because that happened. The eyes of these people were deep, broken wells. For them, the world has perished forever. Perhaps this was the experience that meant actual research for me. To look into these wells and ashamed of myself, instead of the society, which allowed this to happen to them.
You’ve commented that you needed to find an answer to what lied behind all of the hate in the neo-Nazi incident of 2009, have you found it?
No answer. However, I was able to answer my question. I think. My belief in man, my confidence in man, was the answer. That we are a couple of people, many of us, who can make difficult and good decisions in this field of life, with storms and calm winds. The fact that between the two paths life affirmation is what they choose, along the moral-ethical values that characterize man. I want to believe in man as a creative force. Even if that sounds terrific naive.
Why was it personally important to speak about the family?
The family is the smallest unit of society, its cell. If these cells lose their function, it is like a starting disease. If we do not pay attention to this, it will eventually become a tumor. This, of course, sounds very like Dr. House, but it is a fact that the family is the primary socialization and emotional space for everyone. It’s terribly important. My goal in my film was to show: that these tragedies break down these units. People need to understand that this is not a social event that can be removed from our own. It is not for the little boy who’s mother was shot. For him the family was destroyed. In the fire of the mouth of the rifle.
The film fosters comparisons with Iñarritu’s filmmaking. Did you have any of his earlier films in mind when you divided your story into three sections?
Innaritu’s films had and have a great impact on me. They are also triple-structured, and not triads. I do not hide it. However, I came from the world of theaters to the film industry, where the triad is not a white raven. It gives you an opportunity to negotiate a story with greater coverage, it is true, it has the difficulties as well. There is time to extract a character and things like that…
Why did you decide to give the story a biblical symbolism? How relevant is religion in this film?
The Bible is one of our most ancient literary heritage. Ever since I was a child, I’ve been reading and I am grateful for their stories and teachings. But I’m not religious or not particularly. No matter. Sometimes it’s not a simple name the things. The Bible has a story about the Pharaoh’s daughter. Very nice story. When the Pharaoh’s daughter goes down to the Nile’s water and he sees a frail (basket). And she finds a child inside. And at that moment she decides, that she will be the mother of that child. This is the most beautiful story of selflessness, of love, of humanity. About what I believe in. Pharaoh’s daughter found the answer to hate. I clung to this story when I started writing the script. To the purity of the Pharaoh’s daughter.
Fire and water are very present throughout the film. What are the meanings you give to these natural elements?
My first story is played in an archaic environment where these ancient elements draws the moment of those living there. Fire, water, untouched proximity to nature. In modern times, these elements have become symbols. It has a different effect on us. But it is present. In our sorrows, in our loneliness, in our hatreds. The state of the mother’s womb like water, when it surrounds us it can be just as destructive as life-giving.
To introduce your three main characters, you use a camera focusing on their backs. This idea reminded me of László Nemes’ film Son of Saul. Has it been an influence?
My first film, Happy New Life, co-operated with similar visual solutions. However the film debuted at Berlinale in 2007. But obviously I got the idea from somewhere. Like Aronofsky, when he often followed his main character in his 2010 movie Pacrator, There is a term in sociology: participant observer.
This means we follow the observed person constantly and record his habits, gestures, sentences, feelings. We have so much time with him that we become unnoticed. This is covered by the presence of my camera. It’s watching, following.
As a member of the Roma, how relevant do you think it is to portray the problems of your own people, which tend to be ignored by the media?
I’m a real Gypsy, a Gypsy from the forest, whose witchcraft and black magic are in their blood. For example, my mother was dead-sighted, before her visions, she ate from the soil picked from base of crosses. My father was a famous storyteller. I was cut off early from my parents, I grew up in an orphanage. But that little time was enough to draw my attraction to nature, to the roots of my people, to their fabulous, superstitious world. However, I am a filmmaker. What that means if I were not a Gypsy, I should also aim to make my representation authentic.
You use visual poetry to address political issues. Is it you way of making pain manageable?
In this case, visual poetry had a dual function. On one hand, it is that invites the spectator’s empathy. In order not to see a hidden, excluded social strata in the Gypsies, but to those who just as well desire, love, they are good and bad. They also hurt when they lose a mother. A brother. The second goal was to realize that: these problems are not a problem of a country. Hate and its exclusion are not a local phenomenon. But it’s universal.
How did you develop the sound design for each story?
n the script these needs were indicated quite specifically. During the post-production, thanks to a highly talented sound design (Gábor Császár), all these could be realized. The music played a big part of the movie, and I’m proud of it. Béla Tarr’s permanent composer Mihály Víg managed to get this project I’ve been listening to Misi’s movie music with admiration since I went to the cinema, I never thought I’d be working with him once. The miracle how sensitively accompanies the transformation of my characters into man, amazing.
Co-operation has been so successful that he composed music for my documentary film Ghetto Balboa since, and he is also going to compose my third feature film.
Visually, the film is very rich. Why were you interested in working with Tamás Dobos? How did you work out each of the sequences with him? Did you have any other director of photography or visual artist in mind?
I have a strong visual attitude, many of DoP’s are happy with it, but some do not. Tamás, thank God, belongs to those who specifically require the director’s vision, I had no shortage of that. I made pre-production of the film for more than one year, and I took thousands of photos/pictures/ so the stories play in the most authentic environment. Then Tamás got involved and then two of us were dreaming further about the Genesis.