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Bulgarian Rapper Fyre Plays Himself in Family Drama ‘Windless’: KVIFF

“After years away Kaloyan returns to his native Bulgaria in order to sell his late father’s flat. What at first seems like a routine task devoid of emotion gradually develops into a journey to the depths of his being, where he is confronted with distant traumas, yet he also strikes a new path towards self-discovery.”

So reads a plot summary of director Pavel G. Vesnakov‘s new feature, Windless, which he co-wrote with others and which had its world premiere at the 58th edition of the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival this week. 

“While childhood is filled with sensations and the rustling wind, adulthood is a state of fragile, windless and fading memories of those closest to us,” the festival’s website notes. “Vesnakov delivers colourful existential reflections on the nature of family bonds and personal identity over the course of time. Yet he also muses on modern-day Bulgaria, where the cemeteries of its original inhabitants are being replaced by shady casinos, and where cultural memory is waning in a country deceived by an illusory vision of economic prosperity.”

Kaloyan is played by Ognyan Pavlov, better known in Bulgaria as the rapper Fyre.

Vesnakov and Fyre met up with THR global business editor Georg Szalai in Karlovy Vary to discuss the real-life experiences that they brought to the film, why the director chose to box his protagonist into a square format, and how parents in Eastern Europe differ from those in the U.S.

I heard Fyre was greeted by a lot of fans at the airport in Bulgaria on his way here…

Vesnakov He is a real celebrity in Bulgaria. But I chose him not because of that. He was looking quite similar to the main character in my previous film. We met a few years later when I was writing this script. I actually never do casting [calls] for my own films because I work in TV as well and know a lot of actors in Bulgaria. Most of the time, I just choose someone I know and feel will be suitable for the role. I remembered that he was very sensitive when we met the first time. You can see he looks tough. If you just see him on the street, you will maybe think one thing about him, but when you start to talk with him and listen to his lyrics and go a little bit further, you’ll see that there is a person that everybody knows, and behind this is another person that is very emotionally intelligent, even vulnerable.

This is what I wanted to put in the movie. And it turned out, and I didn’t know this when we began shooting the movie, that the story is quite personal for him. And this made the process very special.

Fyre I’m really playing me. A big part of the script is about my life. When he handed me the script, I was like, “The main role, the main character? I haven’t graduated from academy or haven’t taken acting classes.” My first thought was that of an Eastern Europe child. Because in Eastern Europe, your parents are not encouraging you like maybe parents in the USA where they say, “Sweetie, you can do everything, we believe in you.” In Eastern Europe, parents just say, “You are a piece of crap, you can do nothing, you will be nothing, you will end up in jail or in the streets.” That’s maybe the Eastern Europe style of encouragement because it drives something out of you. “I will make it. I will show you that I will not end up that way.”

It was crazy because we had a scene where an old lady was dying. And she was taking her life in the scene. And while we were shooting our film, my uncle and grandmother were both going to hospitals –they were in bad health. And after shooting, I’d take my uncle to the hospital and called my grandmother and she was crying, so I went to visit her. She said: “My child is dying. I will take pills and I will end my life. And she is on the couch, and it’s completely the same as the scene in the movie.

Vesnakov I didn’t know this when we were shooting.

Fyre So I was like: “Am I shooting? Am I living or am I shooting as an actor?” So was it hard to play this character? Actually no, because mentally and psychologically and emotionally I was in that space.

There is humor in the film and hope but also a lot of bleakness. Can you talk about that a bit?

Fyre I think that is how a lot of boys and girls in Bulgaria feel. All the surroundings, the people, and even the buildings and the whole structure of how things are built – they say to you that there is no future. This movie starts like this but, even if people say it’s dark and it’s tough to watch, at the end there is hope. The main character goes through this metamorphosis and actually something wakes up in him.

How early did you know how to end the film?

Vesnakov I had the ending of the movie from the beginning. But for me, it’s very important not to look forced. When say that someone is going through a big change and metamorphosis, it’s like a cliche in a way. So how can you show what is changing inside of someone? You can do that only through very small details. That is also in his acting. He doesn’t want to do more than what has to be done. It’s rather minimalistic.

You seem to like this minimalism…

Vesnakov I want to escape this feeling that everything is so important. No, it’s not. This is the tragedy of the story. Nothing is important in your life. If you go to work, you will meet 50 people, and you don’t know what is happening in their lives and what is the big problem for them. Maybe it is some very small stories or very small decisions that they’ve made during their lifetime. And this is very interesting.

Of course, it is important for me, it’s emotional, it’s personal, it is important. But I don’t want to put it in the face of the viewers and to shout. “This is our miserable country, we are living the worst life.” That’s not the intention of the movie. I wanted to focus on the feelings, on the poetic vision of this grim reality. Because, actually, we live there and we don’t live like miserable people. We like our lives, but we are open to criticizing the situation.

‘Windless’

Courtesy of Film Servis Festival Karlovy Vary

The main character struggles with his father’s legacy and his relationship with his late father. Talk a bit about that aspect and how important it is.

Vesnakov That’s the second [theme] of the movie. If you don’t know your father, you don’t have memories, how can you replace the missing pieces, the missing moments of your life? This is an inner struggle for me.

Fyre That’s another part of the script that is very much based on my life because I grew up in a single- mother household with my mother and grandmother. I actually never lived with my father. I knew him, we saw him maybe once in three months and went to eat maybe cake. He passed away when I was 10.

Vesnakov I didn’t know that either when we started shooting.

Fyre The stories and the storyline that the main character goes through, I really felt it.

And your character hears a lot of people speaking highly of his father whom he himself doesn’t seem to know much about…

It’s about not trusting people. They are exaggerating the character of my father. And I’m like, “You’re telling me stories about this super-human, this Superman?” And I don’t know if he was that way or I don’t remember. And I need more. At the end of the movie, I ask my mother: “What do you remember about him? What’s the first thing that comes to mind?”

Vesnakov And she doesn’t answer because memories fade away.

There is also a scene in which the main character and a friend discuss what may happen to this town and what may be there in the future. A golf course, a casino? How much is this a topic in Bulgaria?

Vesnakov This is happening in Bulgaria and this is based on a real story. In the beginning, this was the main storyline in the movie, when we started developing the script. But, maybe naturally, it’s changed a little bit and went into a second layer. And we focused more on the characters and the people who are going through this transition. I think there is this lack of communication between the generations. We have to go a little bit back to the end of Soviet Union.

In Bulgaria, when democracy came is a very interesting time to explore from a cinematic and literature point of view, because you still have this very old generation that spent its entire active lifetime during the Soviet Union. And on the one hand, you have their children who spent their life completely free, and they’re open to what they need to have, and they can communicate their feelings. But the older people, they have feelings, they love you, and they take care of you. But they cannot communicate their feelings. They never say, “I love you want.” This is not something common in Bulgaria.

Fyre, your character says something about this, right?

Fyre My grandmother was a very negative person. And I was like, “Okay, I will take care of you, I will come buy groceries, clean the house and everything. But I’m moving away because I cannot live with such negativity.”

One day she calls me and she’s crying. And she says to me, “I love you. I love you. I’m very proud of you and what you are doing.” I didn’t know what to feel because I never heard those words from her. And I was like, “Why do you say this to me at 20-plus years old? Right now I don’t need it.” And she was like, “My parents and all the people around me taught me that way and that you only kiss a child when the child is sleeping.” That’s a very big problem in our country and maybe in all of the post-Soviet societies that a lot of children grew up without love, without the proper soil. And a lot of them become just old, scarred, traumatized people that end up beating their wives or becoming alcoholics and divorcing and all the typical stuff in our societies. And all of this is because they don’t know how to show love and how to grieve.

I have to ask you about the tight square screen format you use in the film. Pavel, how did you decide to use that. And Fyre, when did you find out about this?

I like to work with restrictions. When you have restrictions, I believe you become more creative. And with the square screen, a very big restriction is that the camera is not moving. In the movie, there are only two times when it comes. The first time it moves to the main character’s face when he receives documents about his father. And in the end, the camera is also moving. But this is very difficult when you go to the film set and do square static shots. But I wanted to focus extremely on the characters and on his face and on his character. It is very claustrophobic. You really spend some time with these people, and we don’t use the beauty of the landscape. We were actually able to capture very beautiful shots, beautiful images, but we did not put them in the movie.

I will be really happy if when you watch the movie, you think about your father, your family, your problems in your life, like you are looking into a mirror. That’s why we also don’t show a picture of his father. We don’t see the image, we only hear the stories. Yeah. But you as a viewer can think of your father’s face.

Fyre I found out [about the square format] at the premiere. I was wondering: “Why are they closing the curtains so much? What are they doing?” But I understood it. It’s very beautiful and very authentic and a bit claustrophobic. But the focus is on details. And it lets you interpret. In a lot of the scenes, you wonder what are the other characters doing now, how are they reacting? And what are they thinking? It leaves room for your imagination.

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