Péter Kerekes about 107 mothers

Watch carefully 107 mother Behind the walls of a women’s prison in Odessa. Slovakian documentary filmmaker Péter Kerekes encounters a world of order and control, where care and love however come first. “It’s a simple story in a complex world.”

The hybrid between fiction and documentary is nothing new, but few filmmakers have done it as rigorously and effectively as Peter Kereks. Before 107 mother The Slovak filmmaker has distilled hours upon hours of material, filmed in a Ukrainian women’s prison, into a compact and touching drama about a mother who will soon have to abandon her prison-born child.

107 mother

Only the role of that mother, Lesga, is played by a professional actress. The rest of the inmates, guards and supervisors are real life. With respect and patience, Kerekes shows this small world behind closed doors, as mothers hope for a second life outside prison walls. The tragic story flies in Creeks with feelings full of hope. “I have never seen a place so optimistic and positive as this prison, because everyone there hopes for a better life.”

I understand that you initially wanted to make a movie about daily censorship? “That’s right. I was interested in the kind of censorship that we all come to accept. Take prison, where we know messages are checked. I was interested in people who have to censor such messages. Perhaps this interest arose because I read a lot of Sergey Dovlatov. His great book Camp: Ranger’s Notes† Written from the perspective of a Gulag guard. I also wanted to portray something like this in a movie. So we went on a research visit to countless prisons, and as if from a fairy tale, the last prison in Odessa was exactly the right one. There we met Irina, who would become one of our main characters. It was love at first sight: I knew she was going to be the focus of the movie.”

A supervisor works in this prison for women and mothers. Not only does she practice censorship, but she also takes good care of the prisoners. Is the focus on censorship starting to shift to a focus on motherhood there, too? “Once we were there to do research, Lisga’s story also happened: a woman killed her husband, was sentenced to seven years in prison and put her son in jail. At first, the mother and child still lived happily together, but after three years he either had to go to other guardians or To an orphanage. It’s a simple story in a complex world, with complex relationships and situations.”

Lesja is one of the main characters. Why the title then? 107 mother “We built the imagination of this movie with all kinds of documentary building blocks. We could have used something from every woman in prison — a gesture, a movement, a word or phrase, a story.”

What amazes me is how indifferent the state’s oversight is. Prison films are often filled with frustration, anger, and violence. Here a more friendly form of repression appears. “That is exactly what struck me, the question of how it really works, that power mechanism. In men’s prisons you have a strict hierarchy with the law of the fittest. Here it was more fluid and subject to change. I found this very interesting to note.”

Do you have the inevitable text for this topic? Discipline, supervision and punishment Michel Foucault also caught? “Of course! But I soon realized that while Foucault is perfect for reading and thinking, the book does not serve as a guide to the prison. It is a good book for the world outside prison, not for observing the prison from the inside.”

How was the experience of playing in prison? “You get used to it quickly. Of course there are some restrictions, but practically we can do whatever we want. The only thing that was not allowed was drug and alcohol smuggling. In addition, we had to leave at 7 pm. All add-ons have a QR code sewn into the Their costumes, so that at the end of the day we can calculate how much everyone is going to get. We insisted – everyone who appeared in the movie should be paid for it too, because they missed out on other business for us.”

To return to the relationship between documentary and fiction: how did you ultimately find the defining narrative form of the film? “I knew the movie was going to work when I saw how Irina had some kind of therapy talks with all these inmates. Of course she has to supervise the prisoners, so she’s trying to keep people in line that way. From those conversations all kinds of characters and stories emerged. So it was on those interviews to remain in the film.Moreover, I never thought about the fact that there is only one professional actress in a world full of “documentary characters.” Everything was actually very simple: I created an open situation from which a conflict or monologue could arise and we recorded That. I would say: the camera became a catalyst for change. I was able to capture reality more truthfully through imagination.”

As a Slovak director, why did you film in Ukraine anyway? It was just a logistical puzzle. Of course, I first began looking for a suitable site in Slovakia, Hungary, the Czech Republic and other European countries. With every request to visit me for research, I was asked: What do you want to photograph? The problem was: I still didn’t know what I wanted to photograph. After all, it was still searching! And so I started a complicated bureaucratic game that I’ve been failing to win. So in the end we looked across the border to Ukraine, where such questions were spared. There were some limitations, but they never saw the material. They didn’t even have to see the end result. They said: As long as you do not run anyone in or out, we are fine. I know things aren’t quite right either, but at least it was a fair game.”

Let’s finish at the beginning of the movie: the birth of a child. Why did you want to portray it so frankly? “I knew the movie had to start like this. Birth is a powerful emotional moment, it instantly brings you closer to the character. It also had to have a relationship between Sergeant Irina and prisoner Lisga. Irina might try to be tough and strict – after all, this It’s her job – but she can’t always keep up. By the way, the birth photography itself was a magical moment: literally the last day of shooting shoot† We were with a pregnant woman in the hospital department so we could photograph without major interference. We always had to stay close in case her waters broke. So we slept outdoors in the summer, in the garden under a black tarp, waiting for that crucial moment of life. In the morning, during breakfast, we received a signal that it was ready. It was a moment of catharsis. We were also in the cradle of our own movie at the time.”

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