In celebration of the Locarno Film Festival, which begins today in Switzerland, MUBI is pleased to present the global online premiere of Golden Leopard-winning director Andrea Štaka's latest film, Cure - The Life of Another.
In Croatia after the siege of Dubrovnik, 14-year-old Linda’s new friend Eta takes her to the forbidden forest above the city where the two become entangled in a sexually charged game of swapping identities. The next morning Linda comes back alone; slowly she begins to take Eta’s place in her family.
The film is playing worldwide on MUBI beginning today, and select territories will also be showing the director's 2006 Golden Leopard winner at Locarno, Fräulein.
We had a chance to discuss Cure - The Life of Another with the director, below.
NOTEBOOK: What drew you to this true story and why did you prefer to fictionalize it rather than make a documentary?
ANDREA ŠTAKA: My father is from Dubrovnik and it is also my second home. My love-hate relationship to the place is full of childhood memories and family ties; I am enthralled with its beauty and ambivalent about its history.
So I didn’t want to approach this mystery as an investigative reporter; I wanted to build a subjective universe loosely based on the true story, an ambivalent universe that involves youthful obsessions, family dynamics, the fear of death, intrigues, and also subtle variations on cruelty and violence.
I wanted to use my own cinematic language to recreate what I felt when I heard that story.
NOTEBOOK: Why was it important to set the story in 1993?
ŠTAKA: It’s a personal period for me. I was a teenager and it was the time of the Gulf War and the Balkan war. When you are a teenager you are between childhood and adulthood. You are in a limbo. That’s the feeling I had when I went back to Dubrovnik shortly after the war. The town was in a limbo, too. Nobody talked about what had just happened. Life seemed normal again, people going out in the evening, but flames were shooting into the sky right next door in Bosnia. We went out in the evening and talked about the future as if we were living in a soap bubble.
The Balkan war of the 90s made a huge impact on me. My family was in danger while I was in safety in Switzerland. I was helpless and had the feeling that I had to grow up overnight. My life was suddenly divided into before-the-war and after-the-war.
NOTEBOOK: Cinema has a rich history of films about women attracted to the identities of others, and of blending those identities, for example Ingmar Bergman's Persona. Did you draw upon these kinds of films for inspiration?
ŠTAKA: Bergman’s Persona is like a piece of art that feeds my soul, especially when I’m looking for a personal way to approach a certain subject. I’m fascinated by the cinematic aspects of the film but even more by the complex and personal way in which Bergman deals with identity. There are other references that blend female worlds, reality and fantasy into a story, for instance, Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock or Hitchcock’s Vertigo, but again, it’s the content of those films; they inspire me like art does, not as cinematic references. They stand for themselves.
NOTEBOOK: Cure seems to touch so many powerful story tendrils: ghost story, war story, family story, teenage story... How do you view it?
ŠTAKA: All those elements are related to my personal view of the war in the former Yugoslavia. As Jonas Mekas’ once beautifully said: I don’t film New York, I film my childhood—“My New York-Fiction.” That’s what I do. In Cure I filmed the hometown of my deceased father, where I spent a lot of time in my grandmother’s house. I filmed “My Dubrovnik-Fiction” and tried to capture the feelings of the people and this special town the way I see them.
NOTEBOOK: At a key point in the film, Ivo tells Linda that her problem is that she does not belong in Dubrovnik. What continues to draw you and your filmmaking to the stories of exiles or those out of place?
ŠTAKA: There are so many facets to living with several cultures inside oneself. Every time I finish a film, I think I’m done with the subject, but then a new facet pops up. Yugodivas is about five female artists from Belgrade who migrate to New York and try to build a new life in a city where everybody finds a home beyond their own national identity. The protagonist of Das Fräulein is a woman from Yugoslavia who successfully builds up a business in Switzerland running a canteen. The film portrays three different generations of women migrants: One is over-assimilated, another loses her dream of returning “home” and a younger woman moves around like a modern globetrotter, but has a childhood destroyed by the war. In Cure, I talk about the more subconscious aspects of identity. How you sometimes have to kill one part of your heritage in order to be able to live freely. In trying to come to terms with cultural tension, you always have to deal with the tension between instinctive emotional reactions and rational thoughts.
NOTEBOOK: Linda's turmoil and challenges come at a key moment in her life: a teenager recently re-located, discovering a new home, becoming sexually active, and being ushered into the psychological and moral complexities of adulthood. How did you and actress Sylvie Marinkovic collaborate to draw this character out?
ŠTAKA: It’s mainly about building trust. When I met Sylvie the first time she was twelve. She knew that the film is about a girl becoming a young woman. At that age girls don’t know about sexuality, it’s interesting to them, but they fear it. Sylvie had to go through the exact same emotions and sensations for the first time as Linda, the character she was playing. This was hard at times. I made her run though the forest a lot! That helped her to cope with her anxiety.
NOTEBOOK: Finally, what is the "cure" referred to in the title? Is it a cure from guilt or grief, or something more elusive?
ŠTAKA: The title "Cure" is ambivalent and it is meant to be. In Croatian cure means “brats,” in English, of course, “cure.” In the film, Linda is struggling to find out who she is in an unfamiliar land that is also her home and heritage. In the course of her journey, she finds herself adopting the life of another.