Michal Hogenauer’s new film Tambylles will be presented at the Cannes Film Festival by the Cinéfondation. However, this is not the very first time we heard about him. He just completed the Visegrad Shorts on Tour with his previous film, Children Watching Night Trains, so we are very glad to see him again and ask him about his expectations.
I think I have seen your film, Children Watching Night Trains something like ten times, but I still don’t understand the connection between the film and its title. Is there any, and if yes, what is it? Will we know by the end of your film what Tambylles stands for?
I don’t like it when a film title gives away everything about the film, its story and its characters but, on the other hand, the film title is the first thing you will read or see in the festival catalogue, so it’s very important how you name your piece of work. In my amateur opinion, a title should abstractly describe the mood and atmosphere of the film, and rouse the audience’s imagination and interest. In my film there are no night trains, but to me, trains are like water: there is life, rhythm, infinity and movement in them. Children Watching Night Trains is a poetic and emotional phrase that to me indicated a feeling of looseness and infinity. Children left alone to themselves, behaving in an unconcerned and aimless way, expressing a young mind’s passive and melancholic view of the world.
It is very difficult to put in words everything about Tambylles. It’s looks English, also a little bit French, but in the end, it is just three Czech words, which even Czechs don’t see immediately. “Tam” means “there”, “byl” means “was” and “les” means “forest”: they are words which, I think, create some kind of mood and meaning together. Of course, it doesn’t work for an English speaking audience but still, people are curious about it. There was a forest is, again, a poetic sentence which touches upon more emotional points than reflective ones. If the forest is a symbol of life, the title is about how something you imagined to be beautiful and full of possibilities and life turns out to be a lost dream from the past, something you can never rebuild in its original state. The title points to the disillusion of life. And apart from showing what our paradoxical society expects of criminals, the film is somehow also about how you lose your life when you look back on it instead of looking forward to it.
Tambylles can be considered more or less the continuation of the story of Children Watching Night Trains. It seems to me that you had so many things left in you after Children that you had to continue the observation of your character. Was that your starting point?
Both films were made in school, in the school system, so they are just school exercises. When I worked on my bachelor film Children Watching Night Trains I used a storyboard, and I shot it in HD. I didn’t know anything about lenses, and the actors didn’t know the script. But with Tambylles we didn’t have a storyboard, we just had quite a strong visual concept. The actors knew the script, but I didn’t rehearse with them, and we shot the film on 35mm using mainly 135 mm lenses. So, in technical terms, this is not really a continuation. Considering the theme and the main characters, after Children I really felt that the theme was much deeper, that it could be much stronger, and I knew that Ivan Říha could offer me much more. And I was still fascinated by and scared of the violence of teenagers and young murderers. Suddenly, there were a lot of cases like this in the news: about the search for unknown suspects. I just had the first and maybe the last chance to shoot a graduation film longer than 20 minutes so I risked it with this concept and theme again.
In Tambylles, you are mixing two films and two techniques: your film and an imaginary documentary, a 35 mm technique with video. Was this your original plan? What was your aim with mixing techniques like this – what do you think you can win or achieve by doing this?
First of all, I think that filmmakers, and artists in general, should experiment and try to find the borders of their medium, break them down, and try to expand their limits to go higher. Creative people should deny the classic ways. These days in the Czech Republic, there is a big boom of documentaries. Making documentaries is cheaper, faster, there is more freedom, not that much responsibility, not that much focus on documentary directors, so they experiment and they very often use a lot of different tools, techniques and methods from fiction films; they manipulate and lead the people in front of the camera, they pay them for their roles, but they always present these footages as the truth: people expect them to be “true” in the same way they expect TV news to represent reality. I just wanted to let the audience realise that there is always a manipulator who shows and tells them things with which he wants to raise emotions and opinions. And I just did the same, but the other way around. Another reason is that I think that a fiction film can say more about the reality than a documentary film. There are limits, people behave differently when the camera is on, so the documentary part in our film ends when you can´t go further with this documentary medium.
You wrote your thesis on Michael Haneke’s film language, and you are very focused on using your own voice, style, and language. You can easily speak the European arthouse film language: where do you see your place in the tradition? Do you follow any Czech traditions?
When one talks about the tradition of Czech Cinema one mainly thinks of the Czechoslovak New Wave: long unscripted dialogues, non-professional actors, absurd, black humour, plebeians and folk characters. It’s important to follow tradition but I think it’s about time to get beyond it, it’s time not to live from it. I wrote the thesis about Haneke to learn something about film language itself. My school is more theoretical than practical so I decided to study it by myself and then, on my bachelor and master projects, to try it in practice. Honestly, I am not sure about my own film style or language, I am still in the process of finding the original one. And yes, I am influenced by Haneke, Dumont, von Trier, and Andersson, but I am even more open to American filmmakers who combine arthouse with intelligent pop genre films like Gus Van Sant or Soderbergh, and at the same time I focus on young filmmakers like Joachim Trier, Rúnar Rúnarsson, Jeff Nichols or Ruben Östlund. There is no point in trying to make films like Haneke when Haneke still makes his own films.
The first cut was around one hour and a half, but it was quite difficult and boring to watch. When a scene consists of one long shot then it’s quite impossible to make it shorter, your only option is to cut it out. So after a few weeks of editing we had this 58-minute-long version and we were satisfied that we had a film that worked. At first, I thought that this length was OK, but when I started to consider festivals I realised that it was the worst duration ever. Short films are less than 40-45 minutes long, while features are over sixty minutes. I got a number of negative answers from festivals about the length: perhaps it’d be good for TV, they suggested – but that was the last place where I wanted to premiere my films. After a few months of depression, I got the official letter from Cannes, where the maximum length is 60 minutes.
What do you expect from Cannes? I see you have changed your profile picture which now shows Lars von Trier – are you planning to do anything shocking there?
The picture of von Trier at the press conference is really just a joke. I am not planning to talk like that there. Honestly, I don’t have any big expectations, I am working on my first feature so maybe realising it will be easier now, maybe I will find some international producers. When the organisers of the Cinéfondation let me know the big news, I answered them that they had just given a sense to what I had done in the last few years. I really don’t care if I will win or not: thanks to the nomination, I just know that I made the right decision when I became interested in filmmaking ten years ago.
text: Anita Libor