Magazine article Screen International

Sarajevo Q&A: Ralitza Petrova on 'Godless'

Magazine article Screen International

Sarajevo Q&A: Ralitza Petrova on 'Godless'

Article excerpt

Bulgarian writer-director Ralitza Petrova's Godless triumphed at the recent Locarno Film Festival, winning the festival's Golden Leopard and Best Actress prize for lead Irena Ivanova. The unforgivingly stark depiction of modern Bulgarian society, ravaged by poverty and corruption, also screened in Sarajevo Film Festival's competition.

It was developed through the festival's Work in Progress industry section last year, and won the Restart Award which provides post-production services. Screen sat down with Petrova to discuss her feature debut.

You present the brutality of Bulgarian society without any compromise.

I tried to be honest about it. When people ask me, 'why do you present Bulgaria in such a bad light?' I tell them to just take a one-afternoon excursion outside Sofia and they would see how it really is. Sofia isn't representative of Bulgaria. There you can see the hipster crowd, people with iPhones, all these references that are very European and you think, it's not very different. But just move out a bit from Sofia, and 40% of households live below the poverty line. This film speaks about them.

The core idea was to tell a story about someone who is, in order to survive, forced to live her life constantly against her intuition for what is right. At what point do you become one of the living dead? At what point is death better than life? That's why, every time she feels something, and her inner voice tries to tell her it's the right thing to do, she takes morphine, to push it down and deal with that emotion. She doesn't believe she can change anything, she just wants to survive.

To expand on it a little and explain why she is so reserved, almost Bresson-like, as a filmmaker and cinephile I tend to like more reserved characters. I like Haneke, Pablo Larrain, Amat Escalante, and I think there's also a historical context of why I am like that. When you come from a place that's lived through an oppressive regime, I think it's inevitable that you become a person who has resilience. If you want to survive, you better be tough. And what do you do with all these emotions? You bottle them up. There's no other way.

But she does develop a human connection, with Yoan, who teaches Orthodox Christian choir singing. It is also related to the religious component of the film.

Exactly. Whether you are a believer or not, this music has some kind of a cleansing effect on your mind and soul. That's why Yoan says, "I'm a believer. Not in God, but in myself." He used to be a prisoner and he knows that God won't sort him out. For him, it's music that helps, it's a yearning for some kind of other-worldly truth, the truth of nature, or God, poetic truth. Music has a very direct connection to the human soul and we all feel that. It's a strong part of the human experience and part of our DNA, and we understand it even without understanding the words. So music was his morphine.

I understand people need religion, it's like a crutch. You go and light a candle and you think you contributed to something, and it's a huge delusion but it makes you feel good. I think it's important to be honest to yourself, and to keep fighting. If you stop the fight, then there is no hope. People tell me my film has no hope, and I tell them, I don't want to give you the hope you get by lighting a candle. You are the hope, you have to create the hope yourself. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.