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The cinema of Rok Biček and the extraordinary production process of “The Family”

Blog
The cinema of Rok Biček and the extraordinary production process of “The Family”

17.03.2021

Text: Cansu Çubukçu

One of the guests of the 17th Akbank Film Festival’s “Documentary Cinema” section is Rok Biček, whose wide-ranging experience in filmmaking extends from visual direction to screenwriting. The Slovenian director will reflect on these experiences and share insights from his decade-long Locarno Film Festival competitor, Druzina (The Family).

Biček was born in 1985 in Novo Mesto when Slovenia was still a part of Yugoslavia and he graduated from Ljubljana University. During his time at the PoEtika Film Academy, his student films Dan v Benetkah and Lov na race paved Biček’s way to the film industry. While the young filmmaker was co-writing his first feature Razredni sovraznik (Class Enemy), with PoEtika founder and mentor Janez Lapajne, he didn’t foresee the film being a success due to its controversial subject matter. However, Biček’s down-to-earth handling of a universal theme was critically acclaimed globally and granted him status among the well-respected contemporary Slovenian directors.

The multiple award-winning feature was inspired by a tragic event Biček had witnessed 13 years prior to the filming. Several high-school students blame the new-comer teacher for the suicide of their classmate and start an upheaval at the school. Biček’s institutional critique on the education system's weaknesses had a similar effect that “Another Brick in the Wall” had on the viewers.

In 2016, he produced Sara Kern’s Scerno, Orlo! (Good Luck, Orlo!) under his new production company Cvinger Films, and the film premiered at the 73rd Venice Film Festival. He expanded the company’s portfolio in the same year by producing Luka Stanovnik and Rok Luksik’s documentary short UP, which focuses on the famous athlete Gal Jakic’s life.

The trophy of a 10-year effort: “Druzina” (The Family)

4 years after the release of his first feature, Biček wrapped up his 10-year-long project of documenting a troubled family, which was reminiscent of Richard Linklater’s monumental film, Boyhood. Although unlike Boyhood, Bicek’s story doesn’t belong to a world of fiction. The documentary feature named Druzina (The Family) was centered around the question: “How can you create a stable life for your family if your own father, mother, and brother all struggle with a mental disability?” The protagonist Matej was only an adolescent when he began ruminating about creating a family of his own and raising his children in better conditions.

As Matej transitioned from an adolescent to a young adult, all of the characters revealed their conflicts, confusions, and emotional weaknesses. Cinema-verité's standpoint between narrative and documentary cinema rendered the extraordinary circumstances as routine, allowing a certain distance between the characters and spectators. The camera acted as the bystander neighbor who wanted to help but remained hands-tied. Also, Biček avoided a linear narrative to embody everyday life's disorderliness through technical elements, harmonizing the form and meaning. When asked about the peculiar production process, Biček answered: "I approached both [Class Enemy and The Family] the same, one of them was shaped with a script, but the other one was shaped by life."

The Family awed the audience in every film festival it was screened, from Amsterdam to Sarajevo. Biček's portrayal of an anti-hero was claimed to challenge the working-class and dysfunctional families' stereotypical depictions, and attention was drawn to his avoidant stance to compassionate and moral judgments. Cineuropa's Vladan Petković compared the film to the Romanian New Wave Cinema due to the treatment of inadequate living conditions and the bureaucratic complications in the healthcare system. Meanwhile, Jay Weissberg from Variety commented: "It's hard not to be put in mind of Philip Larkin's scabrous poem This Be the Verse while watching The Family, and not just for the famous first line about how ‘mum and dad’ mess up your life."

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