Kinoeye: New perspectives on European film

Vol 2
 Issue 4 
18 Feb
2002

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Ibolya Fekete's Chico (2001)HUNGARY
The smell
of things

Ibolya Fekete interviewed

Chico caused controversy for exploring the issue of taking sides in the context of the Croatian war. However, Fekete tells George Clark and Laurin Federlein that explaining the war's roots is "not my film."


Chico (2001), Ibolya Fekete's second feature film, premiered at last year's Karlovy Vary film festival, causing heated reactions for its depiction of the recent history of central Europe and especially the war in Croatia. Fekete, however, came away with the Best Director prize and the prize of the Ecumenical jury, and this year the film snapped up the Grand Prix from the Magyar Filmszemle (Hungarian Film Week) in Budapest. The film's narrative is built around the identity crises of Eduardo Rozsa Flores, a "Spanish-Hungarian, Catholic-Jewish, communist" who ends up taking up arms in the break-up of Yugoslavia. The film is a dense hybrid of biography, documentary, recent history and "ideological adventure," and is a fictionalised retelling of the life of an amateur actor from Fekete's previous film Bolse vita (1996), with the lead character being played by his real self. Kinoeye met Iboya Fekete last November at the London film festival, where Chico was screened.


Where did the idea for Chico come from? How did you develop the project?

I started making documentaries in 1989. I was very interested in what was going on around us, and I said we have to record this, otherwise we will forget it. There were too many things happening, too many radical changes, and things changed rapidly. So why don't we try to record it for better understanding? I just tried to follow the story of events, which became more and more confusing and contradictory. Then the war began next door.

You are talking about the situation in Hungary?

Ibolya Fekete
Ibolya Fekete

Hungary, but I would say: the whole of Central Eastern Europe. Because the main problems of the whole region are just reflected in our problems, we are just one version of it. The story was essentially the same for all these countries, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, former Yugoslavia, Ukraine. The core of the story was always the same, even if it came out in different versions, "What do you do after the collapse of the system?" All these countries had suffered more or less under the same system and the same pressure. We had to find out how we'd emerge from this and how we'd deal with our long awaited freedom.

This is something all these countries have in common that we try to forget, but we have to face it. It is very important that these stories are available to be shared, that we understand history. Everybody tries to forget everything that was before, just because it seems to be such a hard job to make clear what it was exactly.

It feels like this Chico character, this stateless figure, floating around, is linking up all these people, linking all these different places and all these conflicts, like you say it is not just Hungary or former Yugoslavia, it is central eastern Europe. He creates this unity.

Look at the conflict in the former Yugoslavia: One wanted to quit and the other one didn't want to let them go. Then look at the same story in Czechoslovakia: One of them wanted to quit and the other one said, Okay, you can go if you want. No bloodshed, no shooting, nothing. But then the problems started afterwards. It is all the same. One of the problems was that, traditionally, democratisation and so-called nationalism were confronting each other. In these countries, after 40 years of having a super power sitting on our neck, democratisation and the need for national self-definition and self-determination happened at the same time, it was the same process. But the West in its traditional thinking was frightened by the dangers of this so-called nationalism. They did not realise that the nationalism was actually still soft. Any resistance towards this desire pushes it towards extreme nationalism, very quickly. But at the very beginning, at the starting point it was very natural that these small countries craved for an identity.

How do you find the events in former Yugoslavia reflected in cinema?

It is difficult. My film touches this problem and everybody jumped on this—but this is not my film. It is hard to explain it. It is not the story of the Yugoslav war, it is not even the story of the Croatian war, it is the story of someone who is searching for something and he finds it at a certain point in a certain war, in a certain moment. I was interested in this personality, in this special kind of human being, who is restless, who needs to find something.

All the historical events we go through are seen through his eyes.

Juggling with the grains

I wonder whether you could talk about the opening statement of the film that proposes the equation that "the film is fiction plus documentary which makes it a fictional film."

I adore documentary footage, the rich, deep meaning of every shot, every frame. But at the very moment when I put them into my story, into my context, they cease to be documentaries, they are, let's say, being utilised for my story. So putting them into a different context means to fictionalise.

Did you start with collecting and working with the documentary footage or did you follow a story, an outline, or a script?

Iboya Fekete's Chico (2001)
Fiction with a documentary attitude

I had a script, of course. The script defined the structure of the story, the events, and most of the dialogues. But not each scene in detail—partly due to the lack of money, partly due to the exciting reality on those locations where we shot—I wanted to give chance a bigger part and rely on the circumstances we met. You have to be open. That is kind of a documentary-making attitude. Just be open and catch everything that adds to your overall direction.

It is a very textural film, with the different film stocks being used, how did you construct the rich tapestry of the film? Do you move back and forth between filming, researching and writing until you reach a point where you say, "That's it. The film is finished."?

In an ideal case, yes. But this wasn't an ideal case: I didn't finish the film, I stopped making it ... [laughs]... you know it was too complicated. There was a lot more to it, but I just knew that if I would try to go on, more and more and more, that I could spend my whole life making this film. According to my approach, or my concept, my feeling in the world, there is no point to arrive at. You are just stopped by something. So there's no ideal point; of your purposes or aims any more, you just go on, go on, go on and—then suddenly stop.

Chico—a UFO in Europe

How did you come across Eduardo Rózsa Flores and develop the character of Chico?

He was playing in my previous film, Bolse Vita. He was an amateur actor and played the role of a Chechen mafioso at the Russian black market in Budapest. We started to talk, and he is such an interesting guy, not a typical Hungarian character. I asked him about his background and he started to tell me his life story. I found that his story addressed so many of the problems that emerged around us, such as the collapse of coherent ideologies, the problem of the old categories not describing anymore the situation we are living in. There are more contradictory events than the ways we use to understand them. Also, the very basic questions of identity, faith, etc. His basic life situation, which is one real life element, seemed to reflect these things. His confused identity: to be a Spanish-Hungarian, Catholic-Jewish, educated to be a communist, that is enough for a human being to have a troublesome childhood. Also the fact that he had fought in the Croatian war. These were the two basic elements that were taken from his real life.

Wherever Chico appears he seems wondrous and at home at the same time. His inherent strangeness changes and reflects the situation around him.

Ibolya Fekete's Chico (2001)
Chico : A film with no answers

That's his special talent and charisma. Look, he is different, because he is from Latin America. I used to say that European mentality is to "think about it" [laughs]; and then, maybe, if you are forced to, you will act. That it is much better to think about it and to analyse, you know... Between making the decision and executing the action there are many, many further steps. He is a kind of personality that thinks and acts. That is a different temperament, for sure. In a way, this character is like a UFO in Europe. But these are the characters that are always sharpening the situation. We used to say "it is very complex, the situation is complex" [laughs]. This is always a good reason to think a little more about it instead of doing anything. But these special kinds of characters are sprouting up in one second, no more hesitation, make your choice. They are the ones that are always making the trouble. But what if you would not have them anymore? Then we will forget any of our urges to decide or to make any choices.

So I don't have any answers in the film, I just have the questions. I tried to collect all the questions in this film that were coming up around me and I couldn't find an answer. That's it.

The world of war is a very male world, it is ruled by the concept of masculinity. Still your main character seems to have many female traits. He is not a masculine superhero or fighter. How did it feel for you as a woman to make a film that is set in this male domain?

I was curious. Normally, the female film used to be concerned with so called "female issues". I was accused of not being a real woman because I wasn't dealing with these things. I am curious. I am interested in men. I understand women, what they do and why they do it. But I don't really know why men are doing what they are doing. What is their motivation for acting that way? Because these events and these times were definitely dominated by men. I just wanted to find out what it was all about.

I think if there is a female feel to the film, and I think there is, it is not the story, it is not the theme, it is the touch of the material, how you handle your heroes, how you handle the scenes, the events. There are particular questions and points of the human behaviour, which I think women used to look for, used to ask about, or used to touch upon.

An ideological adventure

You have described your film as an "ideological adventure". Chico keeps on redefining himself and asks what is it that is missing from his life. Instead of just sitting there he moves about, trying to establish a new identity…

Ibolya Fekete's Chico (2001)
A revolutionary sing-song

First of all, faith and identity are almost the same thing. But, still, everything is very confused about Chico... In one scene he quotes a sentence "that you better want to die standing than to live on your knees." That was from the speech that Dolores Ibárruri had delivered to the International Brigades back in the Spanish civil war. This is an absolutely left-wing story, this is a communist story, and she is a communist hero. But then, not even two seconds after he quoted this line, they start singing the Lilly Marlene. In Croatian!

This is everything, all in one! Probably, if you want to make an order in this world, you have to choose different categories than the old ones, different from left or right, liberal or conservative, national or international, they do not apply to the situation anymore. You cannot orientate yourself with these alternatives or oppositions any more.

Really the problem is, on the bases of which principles or (if there are no more usable principles) on the bases of which facts do you live? Because I still believe that you have to choose. If you are pushed towards this mentality from inside, then you have to make your choices; you have to make your decisions between good and bad, every moment. If this categoricus imperativus is working inside, then what chances do you have to make a good or bad choice?

From the lone, masculine soldier in the beginning he evolves into a mother figure to his band of internationalists, to his self-created family. Do you see Chico's search, his journey in the film, as an attempt to find a home?

Ibolya Fekete's Chico (2001)
Meet the parents

If you are not given a very strong and clear identity at the very moment of your birth, it is such a confused and upside-down world that you don't have many chances to find a place to be at home. It is very difficult in this world. That is the secret of the whole Chico's character, that once you are not given those things, once you try to search for it and you can't find it anywhere anymore, then you create it for yourself. That's what he tries to create: this is our village, this is our place, and we are a group.

There is a big attraction towards the few people who really have the strength and desire to make this. People don't really want to be together, they just miss it. But if someone says, "Yes, do it!" then it's a very big strength. It is another question that it has its dangers. I mean, finally, it can happen very easily that all the boys will die...

You started off writing scripts and making documentaries. Have you gone through a similar ideological move through documentaries, to figure out what it is that you really find interesting in film?

I don't know distinct differences between images. I don't know where the border is. I have to be careful with this now not to be misunderstood. I feel that we are living in a big disorder, a big, big disorder; everything intermingles with everything, just look at the visual disorder that we are subjected to everyday anew. If you want to depict this atmosphere or this feeling maybe that is the way to do it. One of the ways to do it.

What is it that you are really searching for?

The smell of things. The smell, the taste, the touch of things.

George Clark and Laurin Federlein

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Also of interest
About the authors

Laurin Federlein currently studies Fine Art at Central St Martins College, London. During the last five years he made a number of experimental short films that reflect his fickle state of mind.

George Clark is studying Fine Art at Central Saint Martins. He and Laurin are the English-language correspondents for the German Journal Revolver. George also makes medium-length films that aren't at all fickle.


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