Bulgarian director Milko Lazarov journeys to Siberia to shape a mythic tale of physical and emotion survival in a frozen landscape. The depth of pain and passion that pass between Nanook and Sedna, two elderly indigenous Arctic dwellers, alternately contrasts with and is reflected by the haunting whiteness beyond their yurt. Click here for trailer. •Availability: Opens September 4, New York City, Film Forum. •Thanks to Adam Walker, Film Forum, for arranging this interview.•
DT: You’ve said that your typography as a filmmaker is aesthetics and intuition. What did you mean by that?
ML: Every choice of an actor in the film, every element of the set design, every point of view of the camera—they are all subjected to the aesthetic understanding of the author. In the creation of a work in art in all its dimensions, there is no other starting point than that. Only the author and his intuition can translate a story or an impression into the language of art.
DT: You can see some of the same aesthetics at work in your film Alienation.
ML: Naturally, the two films have their own similarities and differences. Aga turned out to be more communicative. Aesthetically, the two films could not have many differences. What I love is carefully selected scenes and states.
DT: You’ve also said that the story of Aga could have taken place anywhere on earth. Would you say that in that sense the film is an allegory or myth rather than a story about two people in the frozen north?
ML: Aga is a metaphor. A parable of the last family on Earth. A film about forgiveness and repentance. Indeed, the story could unfold anywhere in the world. Focusing on the Arctic wasteland makes it metaphorical. Aga delicately tries to bring up topics like the disappearance of small communities, the negative sides of the expansion of modernity. Climate changes. Aboriginal exploitation. All of this is looked at through the key of the parable.
DT: If it’s an allegory, does that influence the way you go about making the film?
ML: Outside of fast-food-movies, cinema has always been allegorical to some extent. As a filmmaker, naturally this is my path as well. The intuitive retelling of exciting stories provokes a longing in me for concealed intimacy with the viewer; for an intense look at something simple, yet important.
DT: One of the beauties of the film is the interplay between its site-specific details and universal—even existential—arc. Did you consciously go after that interplay, or did it happen more subconsciously?
ML: I am not sure if I can answer this question correctly. There were moments in the making of the film when I tried to stabilize the story and not cross the line of the understandable. There were also moments when I was driven entirely by a metaphorical retelling. Driven by my own intuition. The answer to your question probably lies in the balance between the two.
DT: I also loved the parallel between the dissolution of the family in an environment that is itself threatened by climate change.
ML: I understand. With such minimalistic surroundings, the right direction is to stay close to the big task at hand. Everything in Aga is subjected to disappearance, dissolution, decay. If you want the film arranged in order, you have to follow the big task at hand.
DT: You depicted with great sensitivity the agony of the human world against the uncalculated unfolding of the natural world. That seems to be one of your themes.
ML: Undoubtedly. This is one of the dramatic directions in Aga. The main dramatic construction is also placed in this context. This is a grand conflict, both existential and civilizational. Our salvation as human beings lies in understanding this conflict.
DT: Talk about your choice of Mahler’s Fifth.
ML: Mahler’s Fifth is the closest thing I can imagine for a beautiful end of Life; to the fearsome delight of destruction and the never-ending fusion with the incomprehensible.
DT: Were you afraid of comparisons to Visconti’s use of the same piece in Death in Venice?
ML: Death in Venice is one of my favorite movies. Visconti is a great master. The ending of Aga, and the characters’ sensation in general, is very close to the sensation you get from listening to Mahler’s Fifth adagietto.
DT: You were a foreigner making a film about indigenous people in a location where many indigenous people make their own films about themselves. How did you manage that potentially awkward situation?
ML: We encountered no difficulties whatsoever. Although the film was shot in Siberia, Russia, and part of it was shot in a diamond mine in a war zone, we encountered no particular difficulties to speak of. Everyone understood clearly that we were telling a story about the Northern people; that we were creating a unifying image of the Northern people. There is no ethnographic credibility in the film, everything in it is artistic fiction. But it has to be said that the main reason for us not having any difficulties during the production is because of Aga’s producer, Veselka Kiryakova—she is a person totally committed to meaningful cinema.
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