Interview: Kristijan Milic on The Living and the Dead

The Living and the Dead is the first feature film to come from Croatian director Kristijan Milic.

The film follows the parallel stories of soldiers fighting in both World War II and in the modern-day Yugoslavian Civil War, giving a chilling representation of how those who do not learn from their pasts are destined to see history repeat itself.

Milic collaborated with writer Josip Mlakic for this on-screen adaptation of his novel. The soldiers of both eras walk remarkably similar paths and soon find out they are connected by more than just their place on the front-line. The Living and the Dead not only delves into the mindsets of those involved in battle, but also delivers a powerful message about the consequence of warfare.

This distinctive drama has already won 15 International Awards for it’s poignant depiction of the senseless repetition in military combat. We interviewed Milic find out about his unique approach to making this thought-provoking film…

What was it about Josip Mlakić’s novel that inspired you to make a film adaptation?

Even before the book there was a script. It was a TV film script, about 50-60 minutes long, and it only covered events from 1993. But I wasn’t a part of that at all. Another director (Eduard Galić) was trying to make it happen at a time, but with no luck. Then Josip Mlakić wrote the “mirror” story from 1943, but as producers couldn’t find the money for the film he decided to expand it into a novel, where he could cover much more ground and play even more with the timeline. When Galić and producer Miro Barnjak terminated their relationship the script was offered to me. I was in the war myself and I could relate to some aspects of the story very much. I was particularly inspired by one scene of an execution at the top of a mountain. I drew more than 60 shots for it and it turned out to be a nightmare as we planned to shoot it in three days. We ended up shooting the first day of that scene in December 2004, and the rest of it in April 2006.

Does the film stay close to the plot of the novel? Did you make any changes?

Close enough. The final point is exactly the same. The plot is a bare version of a book with some new stuff. Many changes to original script had to be made due to budget restrictions. But we also added some elements to make it more “cinematic”.

How far would you agree that The Living and the Dead is an anti-war film?

I would totally agree. I think that all true war films are automatically anti-war. If they are realistic enough it’s inevitable.

Why did you make the decision to have some of the different characters which appear in 1943 and 1993 played by the same actors?

When we decided to cast Filip Šovagović as his own grandfather/grandson it was an obvious choice. We wanted to emphasize the fact that basically same people fought on the same ground 50 years apart, in a similar situations but not necessarily on the same sides. That’s how our hero ended up killing his grandfather’s best friend’s grandson. And it would be hard to explain it visually without the same actors.

Did you always have Filip Šovagović in mind for the dual role of Tomo / Martin?

Yes. I think he’s a great actor. That decision cost us both a lot of stress as we shot that film over the period of almost 2 years. When problems with money stopped our first shooting campaign in 2004, we had another actor in mind, just in case that Filip couldn’t make it for the second role. But I would’ve been very unhappy if we were forced to continue without him.

Was it important that the film was shot in Croatia?

In fact it was mostly shot in Bosnia. Only some deep forest scenes were shot in Croatia. It would have been much cheaper for producers if more of it was shot in Croatia (as more than 80% of the crew members were from Croatia).

Were you confident about including the slightly surreal ending to a plot which is otherwise quite realistic?

That’s a good one. I was not. But it was an important symbolic point of the novel, as well as the script, and I didn’t want to alter Josip’s original idea so much as to change the ending completely. I tried to go both ways and let the viewers decide if it’s a real thing or just our hero’s hallucinations. The very last shot of the film was my dedication to all veterans of war, but also a way to try to end it both symbolically and realistically at a same time.

Did you undertake a lot of research to insure the authenticity of the war scenes?

In Croatia and Bosnia we could all be advisors on some aspect of war. I had some fighting experience myself as well, as did the better part of the crew, and most of the cast. We hopefully managed to capture the atmosphere and I think that is very important. As for the details, various crew members that were professional soldiers during the wartime would come to me and point out if something was drastically inaccurate. Some scenes just couldn’t be filmed more realistically because we worked on a string budget, but we really tried to make it as real as possible.

Do you have any future film projects coming up?

I have a few scripts ready but it’s very hard to raise the money for the film in Croatia these days. Hopefully this year will bring more luck to me and my fellow directors.

The Living and the Dead comes to to DVD on 21st February 2011.

VN:F [1.9.13_1145]
Rating: 4.0/5 (2 votes cast)
Interview: Kristijan Milic on The Living and the Dead, 4.0 out of 5 based on 2 ratings