Interview with Sergio Flores Thorjia
Mexican-born director, writer and cinematographer Sergio Flores Thorija is a graduate of the Film Factory, founded by Béla Tarr in Sarajevo, Bosnia, where he studied under some of the most prestigious names in the film industry, such as Pedro Costa, Cristian Mungiu and Apichatpong Weerasethakul.
3 ZENE (or waking up from my Bosnian Dream) is his first feature film, produced by Béla Tarr and co-produced by Moisés Zonana and Michel Franco from Lucía Films. I caught up with Sergio in Buenos Aires, at the Ventana Sur Latin American Film Market, where his film played in the “Copia Cero” section.
Your film follows three young women – Ivana, Clara, and Marina – in Bosnia, and is in many ways a love letter to the country. How does an aspiring Mexican director end up in Bosnia?
After Turin Horse, Béla Tarr decided to stop making films to create a film school. Eventually, he decided to build it in Bosnia, a country with a great mix of cultures and with a very difficult past. I applied because it sounded like the best school in the world.
I remember being really affected by Zlata’s Diary, the memoirs of a young Serbian girl during the Bosnian war, as a kid. I also recently picked up the Joe Sacco graphic novel, Safe Area Goražde, and I’m equally engrossed. How did Sarajevo shape the film?
Sarajevo became an extremely important part of my life. The classes were amazing, but more importantly, I discovered in Sarajevo exactly the films I wanted to make – with a super small crew, non-professional actors, improvised dialogues. Before Sarajevo I was making compromises, but then my faith in my own cinema grew immensely. I decided to make my first feature in Bosnia, before going back to Mexico. I met tons of people that inspired me during those years, especially tons of amazing women, and I wanted to tell their stories.
3 Women is also the title of the Robert Altman film that we screened at Kinoscope in New York, in Fall 2016. Where Altman perhaps focuses on identity and the lack thereof, ZENE focuses on departures and abandonment as a recurring theme.
Abandonment is an extremely important element in the film. Originally, I wanted to make a film about three young women fighting for their dreams. Sadly, Bosnia, like the rest of the world, is an unequal society. There’s a lot of misogyny, sexual repression and homophobia. I’m obsessed with making realistic films, but a lot of stories just don’t have a happy ending.
Each section of the film ends with abandonment, on some level.
The film is inspired by other people, but it is also extremely personal. The first character feels trapped, the second would do anything to achieve her goals, and the third falls in love with the wrong person. Some of the things that they experience are directly based on situations that I lived through. Perhaps abandonment is something I’m trying to escape.
At Ventana Sur we talked about the need for filmmakers to continue pushing the cinematic language.
Cinema cannot be only about telling stories. If it were, writing a book would be easier and cheaper. We should use the camera and sound to imply things, instead of saying everything with dialogue.
What was the visual strategy for the film? You mentioned you did storyboards.
Each story in 3 ZENE has a very different visual style, though you may not notice it, because the rhythm is similar throughout. In the case of Ivana, almost every shot is a tableau. She is trapped in her routine, and with the tableaux it feels like she is merging into the background. In the case of Clara, there are a lot of handheld shots. She is a foreigner discovering Bosnia, and I follow her back everywhere, because I wanted the audience to feel like being in her shoes. Finally, the story of Marina has tons of extremely slow camera movements. It is the most introspective story, so the camera constantly moves towards her subtle reactions.
One of the techniques that I loved was the use of perspective to add a new layer of meaning to a sequence we thought we understood. Can you discuss how this method came about?
I wanted the main characters to interact, without being too obvious, so I have them cross paths once. I shot those interactions from different points of view. You see exactly the same scene twice, but can read it anew, depending on the perspective of the character you are following. For example, the first time Clara appears in Ivana’s story, you may not like her. Nevertheless, when the scene plays out inside Clara’s story, it is funny. The audience can get invested with each character. I like playing with the audience in this way—as you said, they may think that they already understood a scene, but then discover a new meaning.