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Balada

About this film

An apartment. Spacious, dark, empty. Cardboard boxes are stuck up in the hallway. There is little left of what has been a love nest, of what has been a loving relationship. One last night together, cleaning the flat, cleaning the past. Tensions are boiling underneath the surface until deep-seated feelings erupt; something that has long been waiting to be released. Petersen’s smooth traveling camera creates a mysterious atmosphere, the idea of an unknown, invisible character witnessing what we see, witnessing on our behalf the couple’s breakup, the man’s persistent rejection of his ex-girlfriend, and listening to their brutal honesty.

Nadin Mai (tao films)

Interview with the Director
Your film deals with the subject of relationships and the ways in which love can turn almost into hate, albeit there is an ambiguity between the tension in the film and the characters’ behaviour towards the end of the film. I don’t want to say too much about the end because it’s important to see it rather than read about it. So I’d like to ask you first of all where you got the idea for the film from?

The story is based on personal experiences going through a break-up - nevertheless it is by no means auto-biographical and highly dramatised. Selling all the stuff in the apartment or throwing it away and feeling a complete loss of identity - and, on top of it all, lose the person you've come to care so much about without having the energy to part in a respectful, caring manner. The image of two people in the desert landscape of their own apartment, only having each other to cling on to, yet unable to reach one another.

The aesthetics of your film are very peculiar. The more the film progresses, the more it becomes evident that it is a film to be viewed in complete darkness. And then there is the superb, very smooth traveling camera. Did you have all of that in mind when you were writing the script, or maybe even before you started writing it? I’m wondering because the aesthetics feel as if the film is really happening in your mind. It’s something I can imagine you had in your head over and over again, and at some point the “feeling” and the timing was right to turn these images into a film.

The Danish painter Vilhelm Hammershøi inspired a great deal of these images - at least in regards to the lighting. He has some wonderful paintings of single persons in very sparsely decorated houses/rooms and the compositions are made as if there should be another person or thing in the image, but he/she/it is left out, so there is this profound sense of a subtle/undefinable loss, grief and longing.

This was the first time I've worked with long traveling shots - simply because I have not had access to the equipment needed earlier. So we tried our best to make it work, and it definitely was a trial and error process. Working with a dolly and zoom lens combination is really demanding technically and as we were filming in a authentic apartment we really needed to listen to the space and the characters when working out the images and the choreography of the dolly and camera. I did have a notion that the traveling camera would work really well when writing the script and used a lot of time and energy on trying to work out a specific coherent aesthetic, but these traveling shots are really a technical/practical beast to conquer and you need hands-on experience in order to have a proper sense of this type of film-language - so most of the shots are worked out on the day of shooting the scene. Not exactly practical, but we had a limited amount of prep time.

I want to return to the camera. I know this from Béla Tarr’s films, in particular. But other filmmakers use a similar camera movement, allowing the camera to move freely and independently. In effect, the camera is the third protagonist in the film.

What really draws me to this type of shots is that it enhances the physical/tactile qualities of cinema as well as working with film's quality of time - rhythm and tempo, as is the case in music. These qualities are often lost when too much emphasis is placed on the exposition of story, where every cut aims to propel the story/drama forward. I really wanted to bring forward the apartment as the third character - a physical surrounding which the characters are bound to, related to and forced to interact with - almost an antagonistic force.

Something struck me when the landlord, who inspected the flat, advises the woman to get rid of the wardrobe, which, she thought, would be useful to the next tenants. He says, “If you just followed the regulations, you would not have to think.” This is quite a strong statement, and even though they both smile, it’s got an eerie undertone to it that speaks of suppressing individual thinking. Can you say a little bit about this?

I did not have any political statement in mind, when writing those lines - The landlord is a quite rude and I've heard a prick say that once or twice. Funny that you mention that they both smile, when the camera is only on her - that's another thing that I love about a one-take, where there is no reverse shot to cut to some reaction - the audience imagines the reaction anyway, and the effect can be much more powerful.

What stays with me is, of course, the atmosphere of the film. At the same time, I cannot help thinking over and over again about the black patch on the wall in the living room. We don’t know where it comes from, or what it is. All we see is its getting bigger the more they try to clean it. Over time, I have begun to wonder whether this mysterious patch isn’t a metaphor for the split and the pain that you deal with in your film.

It's clear that when such a small thing is given so much time and weight, the audience will project a lot of meaning into it. But it's very important that whatever is projected into it remains subjective, so I will not give an answer to define what it means exactly - I have a very specific interpretation of it, but it's to no use to the audience.

Can you tell me a little bit about the title of the film?

The title is based on Chopin's Ballade No.4, which also plays at the end of the film. I kept listening to this piece when creating this film. It was somehow an emotional connection that summed up the entire thing for me and it provided an endless amount of inspiration. I try to always have something like this - a piece of music, a painting or photograph - to return to, when I feel completely lost in regards to what whatever film I'm making. Like an anchor of some sort, that keeps it all together.

The acting in your film is superb. Are your protagonists played by professional or non-professional actors? Did you do a casting?

Yes, the actors are professional, and they had to be in order to go through the roller coaster ride of emotions which is required in some scenes. The coupling of the main actors was really important and it took about six months to find a match. I decided to find the lead female part first and then find a matching male part afterwards. I found Ana-Mia Milic in Sarajevo after a couple of months and then we looked all over Ex-Yugoslavia for the male part. We ended up doing a casting with Filip Krizan in Zagreb and after reviewing the footage, I was really confident that it was a match. It's really wonderful to experience that you've made the right choice and when filming it just lifts off, and more or less the only thing you have to do, is not to fuck it all up by over-directing the actors, but instead believe in them as people and not only as characters in a (your) story.

Are you working on a new project?

Yes I'm working on my first full-length feature in the Faroe Islands, my native country. It's a combination of a chamber piece, similar to Balada in form, followed by a courtroom drama where the events of the prior part are examined and questiond through the recollection of the protagonist, contra the arguments of the prosecutor as well as evidence. Hopefully it will premiere by spring 2018.