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Centaur

About this film

First, a black screen with a woman’s whisper in the background. Then, a naked man with a horse-shaped head walking towards the camera. Aleksandra Niemczyk’s film begins obscure, almost otherworldly. It poses questions the film may or may not be able to answer in its forty minute running time. Vlado, a man in his late forties or early fifties, struggles to cope with polio. He is paralysed from the waist down and is dependent on his younger wife. He is humiliated, loses all interest and is ready to give up. Alma, however, goes through more and more pain as her husband is struggling a bit more every day and inadvertently pushes her away. What remains are long, painful scenes; scenes of Vlado making his way from his flat to the exit of the building, alongside a balcony-type structure. Sitting on one chair, he uses a second in order to lift himself over, and gain a few metres under the watchful eyes of a neighbour across the street.

A film.factory graduate, Aleksandra Niemczyk uses her photographic eye for stunning shots. Her aesthetics reinforce the narrative in a way that is evident but not overdone. The long, slow and static takes perfectly illuminate the stagnation of the relationship between Vlado and Alma, both literally and metaphorically. And then there is the Centaur, half-horse, half-man, which appears time and again. Centaur is a truly intriguing piece, mentored by Béla Tarr.

Nadin Mai (tao films)

Interview with the Director
Centaur is a film very strong on aesthetics, both visuals and sound. I often found the sound intriguing. If you watch the film with your headphones on, it gives a very intimate soundscape. I know that you’re not only a filmmaker but also a painter. How much has this artistic background influenced your film?

Sound often makes one see things that are not on the screen but which lurk in the unconscious layers of the audience’s own memory, so it was a very important tool to focus the perception with haunting yet not dominating sound. My roots are in Fine Arts, painting, lithography and video installation so I am aware of how image and sound can carry emotional value above the plot of the film. Image is my first tool of narration. I work with every scene of my film, as I would work with creating a single painting. My artistic background is a major influence on my films in the way I build a project. Script writing goes parallel with drawing the scenes, planning the visuals, collecting references or materials for costumes, lighting and scenography.

You made this film as a student at film.factory, Béla Tarr’s film academy. What has led you to make films in the first place?

Yes, Béla Tarr was my mentor through two years of my master program. My awareness as a filmmaker expanded immensely during those two years. Centaur was the first film I made at film.factory. In general, what led me to make films was my curiosity about motion picture and its ability to carry a story and emotion that painting can’t. Painting is a static, meditative process for me, where I am alone with my work , but film is dynamic work in a group of enthusiastic people, so I needed both of these energies in my life, I guess. As for the reason to make Centaur, it was the idea to make something personal yet fictionalized. And Centaur is based on the story of my grandfather who, in 1953 was paralyzed by polio during an epidemic that affected the whole world. It is very much abstracted from the reality, more like a vivid memory.

What I found most stunning, and what got me hooked is your use of the actual centaur. The first scene after a black screen with a whispering voice is that of a naked man with a horse head walking slowly towards the camera. The colour palette is very cold. It’s a striking image.

I wanted to blend the dream-like world with harsh reality and use cinematic tools to do so. The first scene establishes that abstraction and allows the dream logic to flow into the narration of the rest of the film.

Your film contains several long takes. I do not want to ask you why your film is so slow. I think this would be inappropriate. But let me try to frame this differently. Can you perhaps speak a little about the film’s use of duration?

I chose to tell my story in a composition of tableaux to let the audience be with my characters in real time. Long takes sometimes underline the struggle of my characters but also, used consequently, bring a certain meditative rhythm to the visual narration.

There is something rather interesting about the relationship between the woman and her husband. He appears to be substantially older. It reminded me of the image I had when I saw Tarr’s The Turin Horse (2012). In this film, it was a daughter caring for her ailing father. There seems to be something very similar at play here.

Centaur is based on the personal story of my grandparents. Their age difference was 20 years, so the similarity is there naturally in terms of young woman versus older man.

How involved were you in the filmmaking process? Some directors are auteurs in a way. They write the script; they are in charge of the camera; they prefer editing the footage themselves. Are you similar, do you like to control your own work, or was the film a team effort?

Both. I mean I wrote and created the project, both image and script, I edited the material, so it is totally my vision, but without a team I can’t make a film. That is part of the magic of cinema for me, the union of like-minded people in one direction, that a filmmaker comes up with. I was very lucky to have a team of film.factory colleagues like DP Kim Namsuk and others, all very talented filmmakers. From project development consultations to painting walls and creating the scenography it was a team that made it possible and later made it happen.

Where was the film shot? Centaur is primarily shot indoors, which renders the story you tell universal. Was that the aim?

Centaur was shot in Sarajevo, consciously choosing universal looking locations and creating a space that wouldn’t indicate a place and time. The events from the film could happen anywhere.

What are your new projects?

The next film, which I also shot at film.factory, is a feature film called Baba Vanga - a fictionalized portrait of a Balkan prophet, treated very abstractly with the focus again on spending time in the main character’s space, without conventional storytelling. This film is to be released in 2017.