Georgian first-time director Ana Urushadze, 27, is making a splash on the international festival circuit with her first feature “Scary Mother,” a psychological drama laced with absurdist humor. It’s about a 50-year-old Tblisi housewife named Manana who is torn between her family life and a passion for writing fiction which she has repressed for years. An alum of the country’s Shota Rustaveli Theatre and Film University, Urushadze is the daughter of acclaimed Georgian helmer Zaza Urushadze whose 2013 feature “Tangerines” was shortlisted for a foreign Oscar. She spoke to Variety at the Antalya Film Festival about her creative process and the intense collaboration with actor Nato Murvanidze who puts in a powerful performance.
Your film is being described as a psychodrama and a feminist parable. It has those elements, but what struck me the most is that it’s very funny. Did you conceive it as a comedy?
Well the title itself, “Scary Mother,” suggest it’s a tragicomedy. So I certainly like the fact that it’s perceived that way. As for the feminist aspect, at first I didn’t even think about it….In fact when I started out I was going to write this story with a male protagonist, it would have been a husband leaving his family to write a book. Then it become more interesting and intense and significant for me to have it be about a woman, and at that point it also became more serious and more about female empowerment.
Can you tell more more about your writing process for this film, which of course is about a writer.
Just like the protagonist, I have a routine when I write. Mine is very simple: I wake up, go out and sit somewhere, either a cafe or a library. I just sit there for hours and jot down notes. I might take a few breaks to listen to music or watch a film or a video on YouTube as a distraction. But I try not to go out. I just stick to the writing. I love this writing process, I don’t even perceive it as writing; it’s like I’m actually already directing. The story comes alive and you imagine how you will direct it.
Was it difficult to write the parts of the protagonist’s book which are read out loud in the film?
Actually my younger sister, who is a writer, wrote those parts. I asked her and she wrote them in, like, half an hour.
“Scary Mother” is driven by Nato Murvanidze who puts in a tour-de-force performance that reminded me of Isabelle Huppert. Can you tell me about how you found her and how the two of you worked together?
It’s funny, she and I were talking about Isabelle Huppert yesterday. She is a big fan, as am I. Nato is very well known in Georgia and we’ve been friends for a while. Her method is she loves to talk about the character. So we explored the character in depth before shooting and also during the shoot. But she never asked to see any rushes. She didn’t want to see what Manana looked like onscreen until the film was completed.
“Scary Mother” world premiered in Locarno where it won the prize for best first feature. It then took top honors in Sarajevo and at the El Gouna festival in Egypt; it’s Georgia’s candidate for the foreign Oscar and has scored three Asia Pacific Screen Awards nominations. How does all this feel?
It’s divine intervention. I don’t have any other explanation. It’s crazy…It’s my first feature, so I’ve clearly never experienced anything like this before. I’m going to all these film festivals almost like a robot and not really thinking about it…and I’m trying really hard not to think about success or failure. All I really want to do is direct, so I’m trying to concentrate my thoughts on a new script. But at this point I’m quite scattered and I’m a little worried about that.