"Tender Son - The Frankenstein Project" was In Competition at Cannes, and played at Toronto and Philadelphia. My review of the film is here.
Flick Pick Monster: Would you say that the character of The Director (who you play in “Tender Son”) is autobiographical? Do you believe as a director that “the camera must make the actor act,” as the director does in the film?
Kornél Mundruczó: The character I play obviously carries a lot of characteristics of the problems and challenges I see in this film but, at the same time, I wanted to introduce a film director almost in a documentary way, in the same way I use my characters. That’s why it had to be a film director playing the part.
Then I came to the conclusion that if it was not an actor playing the part, the only honest solution would be my playing it and that I could not bring anyone into a situation where he would observe my ego with critical eyes. Is it my ego anyway? If there is such a transformation, I have to face all the problems, which is very hard. Then of course, the character should become neither someone full of longing nor a terrible bully but someone in-between these two, a man in the real situation of being on a quest. And it was important that he should be played within these boundaries all the time. But I think – and this is the important transformation – that I am not this figure, I am not this film director, the one whose part I play. If you accept and understand this, you get closer to the film.
So in that sense, it is not a secret diary in which I would write. The same construction and the same art of drama build the film like any other of my films but here I should give the keys to the film.
There are thousands of such examples in the cinema. Naturally, if I may use this formidable example, it is a sort of Chaplinesque act – who’s who: Chaplin being Chaplin or Chaplin not being Chaplin? Who’s Chaplin in real life? Of course these are figures and play. It was never intended for me. The most difficult decision took place during the preparation, that I must say. At first I had thought of some actors, as this movie has a theatre version in which it is an actor who plays the character. Then I thought how it had to be a filmmaker, so we made up a list of many names and reflected upon how they each made it onto the list, etc.
Then somehow I crossed out the list completely and said that I couldn’t do that to anyone and that I myself had to do it because it would be the most accurate, the most difficult, the most composed, in other words, the best answer. I enjoyed the challenge quite a lot, but it was awfully tough to place these two things together in my head.
In conclusion, I would really enjoy acting in a film at any time for any director but I wouldn’t like to be an actor again in one of my own films for a while because it was so complicated to put the two things together.
FPM: There seemed to be references to Michael Haneke (with the jagged blood stain), Gus Van Sant (the opening shot of the car reminded me of “Gerry”), and Andrei Tarkovsky (the film had the feeling of “The Sacrifice”). Did you create homages to these filmmakers or any others?
KM: I don’t think that homage would be the right word but I do respect indeed the work of Bresson, Fassbinder and Ozu. I wouldn‘t like to follow their way, but the coherence of their film language and philosophy inspires me.
FPM: Have you cut the film since it played at Cannes and Toronto? I say this because there are production shots that I’ve seen (notably a white-haired man being struck in the neck with a can and Rudolf putting a stethoscope on his own chest) that were absent from the film when it was screened for me at the Philadelphia Film Festival.
KM: No, we haven’t cut the film since Cannes. The production shot you saw was from the theater play, where the stepfather is played by János Derzsi.
FPM: I understand that “Tender Son” was a play before it was a film. How did you change “Tender Son” from drama to cinema?
KM: I changed almost everything apart from the person playing the main character, Rudolf Frecska. We made a new structure, but we did it in order to save the contents of the material. If we had only recorded the theatre production, it wouldn’t have worked. I have only seen terrible examples in that regard. Although I myself had a go at it when we did a theatre-film or film-theatre version of the theatre production of “The Nibelung Residency;” with it I precisely wanted to prove that recorded theatre does not exist or if it does, it is a completely different genre.
But if the question of theatre came up: there are a lot of differences between the theatre version and the film, not only the actor playing the film director.
The content hasn’t changed but its workings have. It’s like translating a poem into a different language. If you want to render the truth of the original material, you usually have to use different words, because the same words usually don’t mean exactly the same thing in a different language. So a film cannot render the content of a theatre production in the same language. You have to change the language in order for the content not to suffer.
FPM: How did you originally conceive of the idea for the play and the film?
KM: With "The Nibelung Residency" the recording of the production was commissioned, with "Tender Son-The Frankenstein Project" whether or not [we were] making a movie wasn’t even a question: only the ground idea was similar to the theatre play. That is the reason why we changed the title as well. This is in every respect a different material, in spite of dealing with almost the same problem as the play. The play is very ironic, with lots of humor, while the film is a lot dryer, more documentary-like and tries to operate more subordinately with regard to the genre. We also would have liked to play a little with elements of the horror and thriller genres in our own way, so that was also a challenge generated by the making of the film.
FPM: How did you expect people were going to react to this film?
KM: This is a very difficult question as I don‘t know how people will react. I would just like to find a way to reach out to their attention and soul. I do hope that in my stories we can drive people toward catharsis and the story stays with them for a long time. Some feedback fortunately confirms this.
FPM: Do you have anything in the works?
KM: I am working on my new film’s script at the moment. In January there will be a documentary shooting and from February I will start rehearsal for a new theatre production in Hamburg.
(Note: I also asked a question about the film's mise-en-scene, but it was either cut off or not answered.)