It happens at every film festival. There are always a few titles that inspire word-of-mouth buzz. Of course, being selected in competitive section or having an eye-popping poster always helps. But, in the end, it’s the festival audience of moviegoers, filmmakers, critics and programmers that dictate which stories you don’t want to miss. In the last edition of the International Film Festival Rotterdam, one of those films was Take Me Somewhere Nice.
As the feature debut of Ena Sendijarević, Take Me Somewhere Nice is a road trip like no other. It stars the first-time actress Sara Luna Zorić as Alma, a girl raised in the Netherlands by Bosnian parents who decides to visit her estranged father once he’s admitted to a hospital.
Sendijarević, who herself was born in Bosnia but has lived most of her life in the Netherlands, tackles what she calls the inbetweenness that lies in these worlds with similar but yet different cultures. Using humour as a distancing effect, the director puts Alma through a journey of self-discovery, identity and sexual exploration that avoids the usual tropes of the road trip genre and instead takes the audience through a wild and endearing ride.
Take Me Somewhere Nice premiered in the Tiger Competition of the IFFR and won the Special Jury Award for the exceptional artistic achievement done by “a journey through a unique and very precise personal vision with humor and a deep sense of history.” Besides having a Dutch premiere at the end of May, Take Me Somewhere Nice will also be screened in Cannes as part of the ACID programme, the French Association for the Distribution of Independent Cinema.
As a director, Sendijarević takes inspiration from a quote by the late Robert Bresson: “Make visible what, without you, might perhaps never have been seen.” Back in January, Sendijarević — who is currently working on funding her second feature — sat down with Vague Visages to discuss her first feature film.
When did you start feeling comfortable with answering “I’m a filmmaker” when someone asked you what do you do for a living?
I think this was after graduation from film school. I started as a screenwriter, but then in the second or third year of the academy, I directed one of my scripts. That short film actually travelled a lot, but I still didn’t feel comfortable calling myself a filmmaker.
So, what were you saying back then?
“I’m a student.” After finishing my graduation film, I still had that feeling, but it was when I completed my first short film after school, called Import, that I thought “Ok, now I’m a filmmaker. That film also travelled quite a lot, and I felt “Wow, I made friends all over the world, and we are all actually working. This is an industry.” Before that, I always thought I was just doing something that was fun.
What drove you to make Take Me Somewhere Nice, your first feature film?
My first love was with feature films, and then later I discovered the beauty of short films. Even later, I understood short films are a different medium in itself, and they have their own specificities. But this is where I wanted to be. Also, I don’t make commercials.
Is that common for filmmakers in the Netherlands, to not work in the advertising industry?
No, it’s not that common. It’s hard surviving on film alone, but I would much rather work part-time in a library than make commercials. I’m scared of it because I don’t think I can think in that way. It makes me depressed. This was also one of the reasons that I’m so focused on feature films. This is my only way to survive as a filmmaker. I guess this depression has led me to break through this “feature film barrier.” Sometimes, though, working on Take Me Somewhere Nice was tough. It’s like a marathon, very challenging.
In what ways was it challenging?
In many ways. Not only we were shooting outdoors, but also in three languages: Bosnian, English and Dutch. We had a Bosnian/Dutch crew, and I had three first-time actors. I also had all these very big stars in minor roles, but they want some attention as well. Also the themes of the film were so close to to me. I’m from Bosnian origins and lived in the Netherlands for 25 years.
Why did you want to tackle the relationships between those different countries and cultures?
I had this feeling that, in our world, we have these two big issues that we are tackling. One would be East/West relationships and the other one would be male/female relationships. These are the two things that I’m attracted to because these are issues that I’m surrounded with. In my life, wherever I go, I feel this kind of schizophrenia and sometimes I get afraid of it. I was born in one country and live in another one, so sometimes I even feel this urge to pick one side, to have this very clear identity. This film has a very bit of a fight against that because I think when we become afraid, this is when populism thrives. When people become too confused, they want clarity and they can do stupid things or listen to people who make things simple. This is also a role for cinema: showing that complexity is totally fine. We don’t have to be afraid of it. Life is complex, and we can also embrace it.
For a road trip movie, your film doesn’t follow typical tropes of the genre. I was also surprised on how absurd some of the comedic situations in the story turned out to be.
I wanted to use humour and estrangement techniques to show the viewer that the world that I’m building is constructed. When you look at the film, you don’t see a social realistic world. In these times, where everyone can get a camera and film, it’s more and more important for the filmmaker to construct a world. This is how the viewer can take distance and reflect on the real world and think. I’m not [saying] our world is a wonderful place, I’m just saying “Hey, this place is very absurd, ok?” So, maybe we can make another version because this doesn’t have to be like this.
How did you and your team approach the composition of the shots? Most of the scenes seem to use space and architecture as another narrative tool.
It was a very tight collaboration between me and my DP (Emo Weemhoff) and production designer (Myrte Beltman). We planned everything in advance, and every shot was also scripted and thought beforehand. One of the most important things in the film is the casting and the location scouting. This is your painting, and those are the things that you can paint with. Locations are also characters in this film — that is how I approached it. There are a lot of cinematic inspirations and this goes from Rainer Werner Fassbinder to films like Bye Bye Brazil, also a road movie, and the films of Jane Champion and the work of Agnès Varda. They are these influences of a playful cinema that I use as an inspiration. A lot of the concept was using this idea of kitsch, how to deal with it and give it a place.
Once you were on set, where you surprised at your decision-making process as a first time director?
I made a lot of decisions during the making of the film based on intuitions, and a lot of times I felt strongly “No, I’m going against this, I’m not gonna do that.” But then, of course, there would be these insecurities as well because you are never sure. Now that the film is finished, and I see that people understand what I wanted to do, of course I’m not only very relieved but also I feel really connected to the world. I feel the film connects to people, and this feeling is really indescribable. During the making of it, I felt very disconnected.
How was the experience of watching it for the first time with an audience at the International Film Festival Rotterdam?
Because I’ve seen the film so many times and I’ve done all these checkups, it kind of died a little bit for me. So while being in the audience, I was so nervous. But finding out that the film is alive, as everyone says, is like you are making a baby. You want it to be alive, and this is I what I felt during the premiere.
What’s ahead of you in the future?
I’m working on my next project. I finished Take Me Somewhere Nice in October 2018, so I [have had] a few months already to start writing. My next film will be a period movie in Indonesia, and it will be about the Dutch Empire, but it will be an absurdist, humoristic film as well — a colonial comedy. It’s about two Dutch women who are trying to survive. To be honest, I’m quite excited to make another type of film. Take Me Somewhere Nice has also been a challenge because it has personal ingredients, and now I’m very happy to make a film with characters and a world that are a bit more distanced.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Pablo Staricco Cadenazzi (@pstaricco) is a France-based Uruguayan journalist, film critic and member of FIPRESCI. He worked as a staff member for the newspapers El País and El Observador, and he is currently part of the the movie podcast Santas Listas (from @polentapodcast) and the comics publisher Pantano Editorial.