Dreaming of Arcadia

By Milan Babic

How it works

It’s worse now. When I woke up in a sweat at three o’clock in the morning, I was scared and breathless, not knowing what to do. It was the end of spring little more than a year ago, and in three weeks I was supposed to shoot my diploma film for National Film and Television School. The story was set in a village, a Bosnian village that we were supposed to find in the middle of the good ol’ England. Travelling abroad to shoot films was forbidden by School rules, so for the past two weeks, with Seeta, my wonderful set designer, I had been roaming the roads and villages of Buckinghamshire, and north to Norwich, unable to find anything even remotely resembling the magical place we wanted to create... we couldn’t go to Scotland – for financial reasons.

So, in the wee hours of the morning, I was lonely and desperate in my Raskolnikovian room, thinking what a stupid idea it was in the first place to try to make such a film in such an invented space. In Rome, I thought, do as the Romans do, you idiot, you should have done an English story set in England with English actors. But on the other hand, I do believe that in art you have to be honest and truthful so I felt that I would not be able to do anything with true feelings in an environment to which I’m not attached emotionally. And then I thought of those reasons why I started making films in the first place, the restlessness of a desire to make the story that I cared about, the burning itch from hell that kept me awake at nights telling me that I have to persist, to make something beautiful! And the girls, of course.

I was also thinking of other refugee film directors, who created outside their native countries. How did they do it, what kind of stories did they tell? I was thinking of Polanski and the films he made in English, in French, such peculiar worlds he created. I thought of Konchalovsky and his Maria's Lovers. In some little town in Pennsylvania, 10,000 miles from home, he created the Russia that was in his mind, in his heart. I thought of Curtiz (a Hungarian refugee) and his Casablanca, that was made not in Morocco but in a Hollywood studio, and again it was a mixed up world, full of rejects and refugees.

It is bloody difficult being a bloody foreigner, I despaired, but in the end we did create the place we wanted – in Surrey! And it doesn’t look bad, believe me, the short My Father Eduardo looks like it was shot somewhere in Eastern Europe, in Poland, Hungary, maybe Bosnia, but certainly not England. Ah, the power of movie magic…

But, I’m telling you, it’s worse now. Now my burning itch increases and I want to make a big film, a feature. There are thousands of troubles lying ahead. Quite coincidentally, I met Andrei Konchalovsky this summer at a film festival in Capalbio, in Italy. He told me he’s struggling to make his next film. “It never gets any fucking easier!” he said, and then turned to sign an autograph for the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen.