Exclusive Interview with Dragan Bjelogrlic about ‘See You in Montevideo’

Dragan Bjelogrlic photo

See You in Montevideo” was the Serbian entry in the Best Foreign Language Film for the 87th Academy Awards, and it is a sequel to “Montevideo: Taste of a Dream.” It takes us back in time to the first World Cup which was held in Montevideo, Uruguay and follows the national soccer team of Yugoslavia. These players have never been outside of their home country before, and everyone else views them as outsiders to where many of their competitors treat them with utter disdain. However, they eventually win people over thanks to their youthful enthusiasm and their love of soccer. But as the games go on, we see how their love of soccer threatens to be crushed by corrupt forces beyond their control.

Both “Montevideo: Taste of a Dream” and “See You in Montevideo” were directed by the same director, Dragan Bjelogrlic. In addition to being a filmmaker, he is also an actor who is considered by many in his country to be a “Serbian Robert Redford” as he is typically cast in roles where he plays a charismatic criminal like Čika Kure in “The Wounds.”

Bjelogrlic was in Los Angeles for a screening of “See You in Montevideo” at the Landmark Theatres back in 2015, and I was lucky enough to spend a few minutes with him afterwards to talk about it.

See You in Montevideo poster

Ben Kenber: This was a wonderful movie. I have to apologize because I haven’t seen the first movie yet.

Dragan Bjelogrlic: Oh no, no. I prefer people who have not watched the first movie because my whole idea was to make a totally independent second movie and totally independent story which is the global story. When we decided to make two movies about the same subject, I organized all of that and I said to my producer, “What do you think? Maybe I’ll make the first movie and then get something else to make the second movie.” But after the success of the first movie he said, “No, no! You must! Just forget about the first movie and try to make something else.” So I like spectators who didn’t watch the first movie (laughs). No really! And you’re right, (if you have) watched the first movie you will feel more comfortable.

BK: That’s a good point because this movie does feel like it stands on its own. I also found it fascinating how the movie chronicles the love of the sport and how it gets corrupted by greed and politics towards the end. How did you go about researching all this project?

DB: I read a lot of articles and a lot of books which were made about soccer. It’s the most popular sport. And there were a lot of journalists that wrote about it, and people didn’t read it back then. There were some people who were aware of what things were going on. There was the enthusiastic period where they were pioneers, and the people who created it first were very enthusiastic and it was good. The first World Cup was very good, but when 100,000 people come it’s some big plan. Okay let’s make some compromise, but it’s really very sad. We are witnesses now.

BK: Regarding the actors who played the soccer players, did you want real soccer players cast or were you just comfortable casting actors whether they had soccer experience or not?

DB: They are actors. At the beginning some of them were students and some of them were actors, but I try to combine actors and athletes. Thanks to God, we Serbs are good at both (laughs). We had a lot to choose from so it was not a difficult choice. That’s something which was not such a big problem. The only problem was the bind. Like somebody said, “Oh people in Uruguay, they will not like this.” It was a problem for me, but they find this fact that the policeman gave back the ball and somebody covered that. I said aha, this could be a subject. Who knows in which kind of sports football will be developed? That’s something which was my idea.

BK: In the process of turning this true story into a movie, did you have to take any dramatic license with the facts at any time?

DB: No. We just followed the facts and we tried to be precise with all facts especially with the match between Yugoslavia and Uruguay. What has happened? Who got the first goal? Who was the referee who canceled the first goal? It’s all the facts you can find in articles. There is my concession that the facts are facts.

BK: What’s up next for you?

DB: I don’t know. I have a lot of opportunities. My main job is as an actor, that’s my main profession. I like to act a little. This may be comfortable for me, but it’s not necessary for me to direct. If I find something which I feel (strongly about), I will direct.

Big thanks to Dragan Bjelogrlic for taking the time to talk with me. “See You in Montevideo” is now available to own and rent on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital.

Rie Rasmussen Talks about ‘Human Zoo’ at New Beverly Cinema

Human Zoo movie poster

Human Zoo” is one of the most astonishing directorial debuts ever as it exhilarates and shocks the audience in a way few movies do these days. Its director is Rie Rasmussen who also wrote the screenplay and stars in the film as Adria Shala, an illegal immigrant who is traumatized by a past she is still trying to escape. The fact she performed all these duties on one movie makes her accomplishment all the more profound as it would drive most people in the same position crazy.

Made in 2009, “Human Zoo” finally got its American theatrical premiere in November 2011 courtesy of Quentin Tarantino who screened it for a week-long engagement at New Beverly Cinema. Rasmussen has been at every screening to do a Q&A after the film, and on November 13, 2001, she talked with Julie Marchese who asked the question which needed to be asked most:

“How did you get to be so awesome?”

“Its natural baby, totally natural,” Rasmussen replied.

Rasmussen said “Human Zoo” was inspired by her adopted sister who came out of Vietnam and lost her mother who was sold into slavery in Moscow. Rasmussen’s family spent six years trying to adopt her, and it led her to wonder why our borders and nationalities end up “being our bars.” She talked of how we as a whole “trap ourselves with notions of insecurity” which eventually lead to senseless violence in society. This all fed into the script she wrote which uses the horrific war in Serbia as one of its backdrops.

Born in Denmark, Rasmussen described living in Northern Europe as being “not that fuckin’ fun,” and she even said Inglewood is nice in comparison to it. She got drawn to movies as it provided a much-needed escape from her environment, and because there wasn’t much else to do. The interest of what life had to offer fascinated her, and she found herself looking outside the norm and inspired by what she called the “not so obvious.” She also talked of being attracted to the black and destructive energy in the world and had discovered “Jackass” long before the show made its debut on MTV.

Speaking of that black and destructive energy, it is personified in the character of Srdjan who is an unbalanced psychopath who acts in the wrong ways. In talking about venturing through what she called the “darker alleys of life,” Rasmussen talked about how “the guy who can’t see right from wrong is really interesting.” This is made infinitely clear through Nikola Djuricko’s brilliant performance as Srdjan who gleefully plans to rob houses while the city is being bombed and everyone is hiding in the shelters. We see Shala drawn into this life to where no moral sense is applied to anything, and she gets more deeply involved to where she ends up “going to the dark side.”

Marchese remarked at how “Human Zoo” was sold at movie festivals as a woman’s picture, but she was correct in saying to reduce it to a certain label doesn’t do it justice. Rasmussen’s first movie as a director is so incredible in its accomplishment that it deserves to reach a wider audience than people realize. Boiling it down to a woman’s picture is unfairly misleading, and Rasmussen said it best:

“I have tits, but I’m a person, and that doesn’t take my humanity away.”

Nor should it.

 

 

 

 

 

‘Human Zoo’ is a Thrilling Directorial Debut from Rie Rasmussen

Human Zoo movie poster

Human Zoo” is one of the most exhilarating directorial debuts I’ve seen in some time. It’s even more astonishing to learn its director, Rie Rasmussen, also wrote the screenplay, co-produced the movie and stars in it as well. This got me to thinking about what Robin Williams said when he was presenting at the Oscars:

“There’s the writer, producer, director; one of the few people in the world who can blow smoke up their own ass!”

But having worked with Brian De Palma on “Femme Fatale” and Luc Besson on “Angel-A,” Rasmussen has learned from some of the best and shows a confidence few others have exhibited on their first feature. Released in France back in 2009, “Human Zoo” made its American theatrical debut a few years later courtesy of Quentin Tarantino who screened it for a week at New Beverly Cinema.

Rasmussen stars as Adria Shala, a Serbian-Albanian illegal immigrant who, at the movie’s start, is living in Marseille. We soon learn how she is still deeply traumatized by her past, and the story shifts back and forth in time as we see her trying to survive in the war-torn Kosovo. Adria gets captured by soldiers and almost raped when one of them, Srdjan Vasiljevic (Nikola Djuricko), saves and takes her with him as he decides to desert the Serbian army. From there, the two of them move to Belgrade where Srdjan becomes a gangster and deals out dozens of weapons to the highest bidder. Adria soon learns the ropes of how he does things and stays with him even as things get increasingly nasty (emphasis on the word nasty). It’s this past which threatens to tear apart her present as she finds a new love while helping a friend of hers obtain the citizenship that will help her find a better life.

“Human Zoo” is at times a shockingly violent movie, but never in a flashy way. The violence is an integral part of the lives of these characters, and it is portrayed in all its foul ugliness. It is never glamorized as Rasmussen is reflecting the real-life tragedy of what happened in Kosovo during the war. There is also a rape scene which is one of the most realistic ever featured in movies as Rasmussen never ever tries to make it look the least bit arousing as other directors might have.

Watching this movie twice in the same week, I was blown away at how many long shots Rasmussen pulled off. We’re in a time where movies seem to be about quick cuts and shaking the camera all over the place more than anything else. But she makes each scene flow naturally even as they seem incredibly complicated to put together. There’s one sex scene which looks astonishingly realistic as it lasts two or three minutes, and it’s this kind of directing that sucks you completely into the story and its characters.

Rasmussen also succeeds in staging a brilliant overhead shot in a gunfight sequence which has her character going down a hall as we see what’s going on in the rooms surrounding it. DePalma, among other movie directors, have pulled off scenes like this many times, but Rasmussen makes it all her own to where it feels very fresh.

“Human Zoo” could have been utterly confusing as it constantly jumps back and forth in time, but Rasmussen manages to separate the timelines to where they are easily identifiable. She uses a cold blue color when presenting the past in the same way Steven Soderbergh used different colors in “Traffic.” The color suits this part of the story as it starts in war torn Kosovo and continues on into a world which looks every bit as cold it seems. Watching Adria’s journey into an abyss where the difference between right and wrong becomes seriously blurred is one we cannot turn away from. Her friendship with Srdjan keeps growing into something else even as he maintains a detached mindset on human nature in general.

Rasmussen also gets away with tackling different issues like immigration, slavery, war, and others, and yet this film never feels overstuffed. They are all issues very important to her, and she gives time to explore them without spelling everything out to the audience.

As an actress, Rasmussen gives a ballsy performance as Adria as she takes her character from a naïve young girl to a very self-sufficient one. It’s a great role for any actress because there are so many levels to play with, and she never misses a beat. In interviews, she has talked about seeing the darker side of life which taught her how to defend herself, and this life experience certainly bleeds through into her portrayal of Adria.

Another terrific performance comes from Nick Corey who plays Adria’s American boyfriend, Shawn Reagan. At first, it looks like Corey will coast on the surfer dude stereotype when Nick bumps into Adria by accident. But Corey imbues Nick with a love for life as we learn how he has traveled from one country to another, and he gets a great scene where he prepares to fight in a bar by stripping off all his clothes. Corey makes the scene believable and funny, and it also helps how Rasmussen said she saw a guy do this in real life.

But the best performance by far in “Human Zoo” comes from Nikola Djuricko who gives us one of cinema’s most enthralling and seductive sociopaths as Srdjan Vasiljevic. We should despise Srdjan for what he does, but Djuricko makes him too entertaining to be around. For the majority of this film, his eyes never tell us if he’s a good or bad guy. In watching the delight he takes in his bad deeds and his bleak perception of humanity in general, Djuricko pulls the audience in with a tight grasp to where we can’t take our eyes off him. It’s a fearless performance as he believably portrays a person with qualities we want to believe are not a part of us, and this actor makes an infinitely appealing character out of a certified monster.

I hope “Human Zoo” eventually finds a wider audience than it has already received. The movie more than succeeds in breaking through all borders in its path, and it deserves to be taken a chance on. We are still stuck in a cycle of endless (not to mention needless) remakes and movies “based on a true story,” but this movie has a life force about it which commands your attention and exhilarates you from start to finish. I can’t say that about many movies which come out these days.

* * * * out of * * * *