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Here and There tells the story of Robert (David Thornton), a down-and-out New Yorker, and Branko (Branislav Trifunovic), a struggling Serbian immigrant working as a “man with a van.” After meeting in New York, the film takes off to Belgrade when Branko hires Robert to marry his girlfriend so that she can obtain a U.S. visa. With an ample serving of comedy and romance, Here and There shows that even the most cynical outcasts can find a place in the world to discover their sweet side.
We caught up with Darko in Serbia as he was preparing to come to New York for TFF 2009.
What makes Here and There a Tribeca Must-See?
I think it is an emotional and honest film. I would like to believe I really succeeded in detailing a story that avoids clichés. I think of it as a real New York story. It becomes a Serbian story but also remains a New York story. It’s a drama and a comedy. Such is life!
What’s the craziest thing that happened while making the film?
We had a break for four months after filming in New York. About 12 days before shooting in Belgrade, protesters attacked the American Embassy. I was not sure whether David [Thornton] would come. So David called me as he was watching CNN, and I reassured him that everything was good. It was more of an isolated incident and we were able to shoot and it was all over the news in Belgrade that we were making a Serbian/American film only 12 days after that. It was sort of good for us because the atmosphere within the crew was great, people really bonded.
What are your hopes/fears/wishes regarding Tribeca?
My wish is for the audience to see a simple, honest first film. I tried really, really hard not to be pretentious, which I consider a deadly sin for filmmaking—especially first time filmmaking. I think for first time films, you have the luxury of not having to compromise. You can allow yourself to be honest.
If you could have dinner with any filmmaker (alive or dead) – who would you want it to be?
Martin Scorsese. I think it sounds so opportunistic, but it’s true. I’ve watched Taxi Driver so many times; I think it’s one of the best films.
What piece of art (film/book/music/what-have-you) do you recommend to your friends?
Gomorra really shook me. The filmmaker did exactly what he wanted to do stylistically—and not necessarily to get on the audience’s good side.
What made you want to tell this story?
There is something autobiographical in it. I was working as a “man with a van” while studying film at City College in New York. I entered other people’s lives by moving their furniture and seeing where they live. I always knew this was a good start for a story: a “man with a van” connects to different people living in New York. When I moved back to Serbia, I found that a lot of people desperately wanted to leave the country. They are not happy. I also met a lot of bitter New Yorkers who are not happy with their existence and stuck pursuing an artistic dream that constantly eludes them. Yet they stay in New York and work day jobs and night jobs in their 40s and 50s. I found that to be a New York phenomenon. I was always attracted to the irony of someone who wants to move to New York and is then constantly unsatisified.
You moved to New York in 1991. What surprised you most about this city?
At that time, it was a very tough city. I did not expect it to be as harsh. You feel that you know a lot about New York because of all the films and media so it is not a city that you come to unprepared but then you deal with everyday stuff and working a lot on the streets. I was constantly thinking, “Wow, this is really, really tough.” Plus, I was a young, fresh immigrant so I felt I had to be twice as good.
David Thornton, who plays Robert, excels at the deadpan. While hilarious, it is also a symbol of Robert's estrangement. How did the use of deadpan evolve into a dominant force within the film?
You need to identify with and root for your hero, yet Robert is very deadpan and minimalistic. The change that he goes through was very tricky. I always wanted this change to give hope, but I did not want an extremely happy ending. Trying to preserve his deadpan and yet experience change—I think David really did a masterful job. I think it is change that you really believe in.
History is literally exposed in Belgrade. You see it in the buildings, some of which are still in ruins after the Bosnian War, and the characters, particularly Ivana's brother Mirko, who remains mindful of Nazi rule during World War II. Tell me about this concept of “transition” and how 20th-century history has shaped the Belgrade of today?
The destroyed buildings are still downtown, in the middle of the city. “Transition” has actually become a bad word. Nothing good has happened yet. It’s really about transition from one system to another, from socialism to capitalism. We also had the break-up of Yugoslavia and three civil wars. So, there have been four or five recent transitions. People are still bitter because they haven’t seen the fruits of the overthrow of Milosevic. Serbia has a new democratically elected government, but people are still disillusioned. The character of Mirko is trying to justify and explain why things are always going wrong, and he of course blames the outside.
Talk about Cyndi Lauper's involvement in the film. How did she come to act and record a song?
In passing, David Thornton said, “Maybe my wife can make a song.” I said, “Who is your wife?” And he said, “Cyndi Lauper!” It was also interesting to have her in the movie playing Rose, the ex-girlfriend. I thought it was interesting to have a real couple play a former couple. I also really, really loved her Queens accent. And of course, it was so generous of her to write a song. I had a great time with the two of them rehearsing their scenes. I was lucky.