Ena Sendijarevic made her feature film debut with "Take Me Somewhere Nice” - a film portraying the story of a Dutch-Bosnian girl that travels from Holland to Bosnia to visit her ill father whilst trying to figure herself out.
WEEKEND: “Take Me Somewhere Nice” tells a story about migrants, about a girl with two backgrounds encountered in between two different cultures. Why did you decide to address this migrant topic to introduce yourself to the feature film industry?
Ena Sendijarević: I wanted to explore the relationship between the immigrant and the home country because I think it’s one of the most complex relationships there is. Coming from Bosnia and having lived in the Netherlands for 25 years, I wanted to make a playful and rebellious film about this schizophrenic, in-between state of being, to express it cinematically. Through a very simple plot line – a Dutch girl spending a summer in Bosnia, her country of origin – I wanted to explore East/West European and male/female power structures, touching upon themes like migration, identity and sexuality.
These are themes that not only play a big role in my own life, but also in today’s world. The continuing refugee crisis combined with globalization and the effects of the digital revolution have put a lot of pressure on the way we deal with migration issues. I wanted to touch upon these subjects in a provocative way, embracing ambiguity instead of oversimplification.
The main character, Alma, is a Dutch girl with Bosnian roots - just like yourself. Where did you find inspiration for the character and how much of her story reflects your own?
When creating Alma, I used some personal elements, but the story is by no means autobiographical. I wanted Alma to represent a new kind of Western European character, from the second generation immigrants who internalized Western morality. Also, I wanted her to be an anti hero. She’s lazy, bored, naïve, reckless, selfish. This makes her a funny protagonist and sometimes a bit annoying as well. But to me she is also a hero because her behaviour goes against what is expected of a woman in our patriarchal societies. She is not obedient and sweet; she’s not a pleaser. While writing her, I took inspiration from Jane Austen talking about her main character in ‘Emma’. She said: ‘I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.’ I wanted to do the same.
The film is also a road movie. During the journey, Alma fights to understand her identity and find her place in these two different realities. Was the filmmaking also an internal process of researching your background and connecting with your roots?
I think filmmaking is always an internal process, but I was more interested in researching this schizophrenic state of ‘in-betweenness‘, researching power structures and questions around privilege and borders, than that I was researching my roots. I think the film asks the question whether it is even possible to ‘connect with the roots’.
"I wanted to use playfulness and humour as a rebellion against fear-inducting and polarizing representation in the media. I wanted to underline the banality of violence by using absurdist humour and a light tone."
You tackle the migrant topic and the characters with a humorous and playful tone. Where does the idea of making use of this almost absurdity come from and why did you do it this way?
Like mentioned before, I wanted to use playfulness and humour as a rebellion against fear-inducting and polarizing representation in the media. I wanted to underline the banality of violence by using absurdist humour and a light tone.
The aesthetic also plays a really important role in the narrative. Can you tell us why you decided to show a constructed world far from reality and where you found the inspiration?
I decided to use humour and a stylized way of presenting the kitschy, materialistic world that our characters are lost in. I wanted to create a world that would feel constructed, because I wanted to show through this film that this materialistic bubble we live in, is a construct as well. And when you feel that our society is constructed, then you understand that another construction could be possible as well, that change is possible. Bertold Brecht was a big inspiration for these ideas.
By often using a 25mm lens, bright colours and a minimalist production design, the world presented becomes a bit absurd. I wanted to focus on bodies, on the way our animal part tries to break through constructed materialist society. A lot of times parts of bodies are shown, but cut off by the 4:3 instagram frame. In this way, the girl and her body are deconstructed by the film form. This film is also about sex, loneliness, the relation to our bodies. About physical borders. The static and kitschy film language is focussed on all these subjects.
As a first time feature filmmaker, in what ways was the filmmaking process challenging? What did you learn on the way?
The form of the film is trying to make this ‘construction’ tangible, but at the same time I tried to make the film watchable as well. A film has to be entertaining too. During the making of the film, it was a constant search for a balance between these two. The balance between rational coldness and emotional warmth. I found this to be the most challenging part of the making of the film.
The story is told from a new generation’s perspective, a triangle of young characters that is facing some difficulties in their home country, Bosnia. With your film, are you aiming to encourage the youth to take action in this complex reality?
Definitely, as my film is showing how society is constructed, it also wants to show young people who are living in repressive systems that their unhappiness is not necessarily an internal issue only; they can take action against a world that is not working for them by revolting against the system. By that, I wanted to empower them, as well as myself.
"Loneliness is still a taboo, it’s not cool to be lonely. By taking loneliness out of the taboo-sphere, we might do something against it. Again, I think the problem is rooted in our materialistic society. I am connecting the materialistic bubble that the characters are lost in with their loneliness. I hope the audience will reflect upon that."
“Take Me Somewhere Nice” is also a story about the meaning of loneliness in the middle of our new modern world where the internet has taken over. What is behind this point of view and how would you like the audience to reflect upon this?
Loneliness is an important theme of the film. According to a BBC survey, 40% of young people say they feel lonely often to very often. Loneliness is not an issue of the elderly anymore. In the film, I’m showing how this is the reality of the characters. I wanted to express my own loneliness as well. I think it is important to talk more about this loneliness so maybe we can change something about it. Loneliness is still a taboo, it’s not cool to be lonely. By taking loneliness out of the taboo-sphere, we might do something against it. Again, I think the problem is rooted in our materialistic society. I am connecting the materialistic bubble that the characters are lost in with their loneliness. I hope the audience will reflect upon that.
What would you like the Danish audience to get out of your story? Do you think the story can also apply to other realities?
I think the Danish audience will recognise a lot in this film, because Danish society is similar to Dutch society and the issues addressed are similar to issues they are dealing with as well.
Last but not least, what comes next for you? Do you have any future projects you would like to tell us about?
My next feature film. It is set in the Dutch Indies in 1900 and it is exploring the female role in the colonial period, by examining the relation between femininity and violence.