Film, DVD, Blu-Ray & Streaming Reviews - By Fans For Fans

Born in Macedonia, director Goran Stolevski moved to Australia when he was twelve-years-old. His debut feature, YOU WON’T BE ALONE, is a singular vision that subverts audience expectations and the traditions of the genre. Reconnecting with his Macedonian roots, he tells the story of the birth of a 19th century shapeshifting witch, Maria (Anamaria Marinca). Abandoned by the 200 year-old witch that transforms her from her mortal form, she accidentally kills a female villager. Assuming her identity, it begins a series of transformations as Maria kills and assumes new identities, exposing her to a range of human experiences.


In conversation with FRIGHTFEST, Stolevski discusses the unexpected ways audiences have connected with his folk horror, and how film is an instinctive, not an intellectual process, built around feeling.


FRIGHTFEST: : Is your feature debut a means to connect with your heritage, as much as offering audiences an unnerving experience?


Goran Stolevski: I wanted to capture something of a way of life that's on the verge of being extinct, especially in Macedonia. I'm not a patriotic person. I don't feel particularly connected to those concepts of heritage in a way that other people do. I don't say that as a positive or as a negative.


In this case, I approached Macedonia as a stand-in for most of Eastern Europe, and for thousands of years much of the world lived this cyclical way of life. A lot of these stories have gone unrecorded and I had a little bit of insight into it because my grandparents spoke the way they do in the movie.


My grandparents would spend the weekends on our property in the village doing some of the duties that are performed in the film. At the time it was this weird and embarrassing thing I didn't want to think about because I was a city boy - I didn't pay too much attention to it.


In researching this film, it wasn't an intellectual exercise, but the things I'd read about, or, just the construction of the dialect, I could hear the melody of those words. It's something I’d heard and I thought if I don't capture this and record it, then it's going to be deleted. It'll be like it never existed and it would be even more anonymous.


I don't know if it was about capturing something that's connected to the nation itself, but definitely to a particular way of life. The more specific a story is in terms of detail, the richer it is and ironically the more universal. So that's why it's steeped in that level of detail.


Generally I’m more thrilled when the person that connects with my film is someone completely removed - from a different country, age range and usually gender. I find it interesting that a lot of gay men seem to have an intense connection to it. Whereas my second feature is a gay love story that a lot of straight women feel connected to. I like that my films don't stick to one demographic - I don't want things being reduced to just demographics.


FF: The philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer believed that happiness through the fulfilment of desire was thwart. This pessimism is present in your film, looking to the existential crisis, and the question whether happiness is a fanciful idea that we're chasing?


GS: A lot of us have a set idea of what happiness might look like – if I do this and this happens, then I'll be happy. I don't think feelings flow in a linear way, at least that’s what I've discovered in getting older. I'm fascinated by that drive and much of my life was spent that way.


I had a set goal and I'd suppress anything else. I thought this is what would lead to happiness. It was useful sometimes because I could live through various traumas that didn't affect me in a way that would be as destructive otherwise, but there's a point where you lose the connection - is this going to give you the feeling you think it's going to give you? A lot of that is in my character Maria, and a lot of that character is in me. So I'm glad that comes through.



FF: In cinema the camera is the tool for communicating ideas and feelings. Unlike literature that can enter the mind of the character more freely, the camera is both a subjective and objective entity. How did you approach the cinematography to immerse your audience in this world?


GS: This wasn't a concrete intellectual process, but instinctively I was reading a lot of Virginia Woolf at the time - I read Virgina Woolf a lot actually. I was fascinated with what she does with words that captures the stream of consciousness, but also how she can deconstruct a human being just from talking about feelings. When you can feel what they're feeling, the world becomes much more of a vivid place along the way. I thought how amazing it would be if you could do with images, what she does with words.


This was a driving force and then every scene and image is constructed in terms of how the character is feeling right now. How does the camera frame that? When am I close to her and when am I far away? When do I see her face vividly and when do I not? Is she conscious of herself right now - if her attention is somewhere else do I just see her eyes and nothing else? Every frame and edit is shaped by that.


It’s an instinctive process, it's not intellectual. The reason there's a lot of head room in the images is because she feels small. People ask me about the aspect ratio and it's because I feel the narrower the frame, the bigger the sky looks. My feeling is that life is so big that I feel small, and not in a bad way - I find something very comforting in that. The wide screen flattens images in a way that doesn't connect to my feeling of life, and that’s why I wanted it to be narrower, but not too much because you still want to capture the landscape.


It still allows you to get close, where all you can see are the character’s eyes. When they take up the whole screen, they absorb your full attention, and that works in a very primal way. […] It's not an intellectual exercise, instead everything is a feeling. Everything you do is about connecting to a person, giving the audience the feeling I have and then that way, my feelings live on because the film lives on after me. This is what the frame and the cut is about.


FF: Art is about expression, yet in cinema the process is controlled by notions of there being a right and a wrong way to shoot and edit a film, or tell a story. Surely it’s necessary to embrace instinct?


GS: […] Sometimes I’d have a concrete plan of how a particular image was going to look, then you frame it exactly as you had asked, but it makes you feel nothing. So we shoot it because while we’re shooting, it gives me chance to think of another idea [laughs].


I'm editing my third film as we speak and some of the scenes, the framing looks like I thought it would, but it turns out when I'm editing, it doesn't give me the right feeling. I'm looking at other solutions, things I didn't plan for. The driving force in everything I do is I need it to feel found rather than staged. It’s hard to achieve sometimes, but in other ways it's freeing and easy. I find that every time I plan things in detail, with a lot of intellectual reasoning, it doesn't flow and flow is very important.


YOU WON’T BE ALONE is available on VOD courtesy of Universal.


Paul Risker.


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