Mirjana Karanović, an actor best known for her starring role in Emir Kusturica’s “When Father Was Away on Business” and Jasmila Žbanić’s Golden Bear winner “Grbavica,” is preparing to direct her second feature, “Mother Mara.” This follows her directorial debut, “A Good Wife,” which competed in Sundance’s World Cinema – Dramatic section in 2016, and screened at more than 40 festivals.
Producer Snezana van Houwelingen pitched the new project at Venice Gap-Financing Market last week. Karanović will also star in “Mother Mara,” alongside Vucic Perovic.
The success of “A Good Wife” was “very beneficial” for Karanović, she says. Meeting with the audience gave her directorial self a confidence boost, allowing to believe she can direct again. It also made pitching and finding partners for “Mother Mara” easier, van Houwelingen says.
“Mother Mara” follows a successful businesswoman and single mother who suddenly loses her 18-year-old son Nemanja to a heart attack. Instead of breaking down she buries the trauma deep inside. But when Mara meets 25-year-old gigolo Milan, the walls come down. She embarks on a physical relationship with him, then a friendship develops.
“From the very beginning I knew that the topic for my next film had to be completely different to [‘A Good Wife’]. But it had to deal with a woman my age, because that is something that I have a lot to say about and feel passionate about,” Karanović says.
The script was inspired by a play written by a young Bosnian playwright, Tanja Sljivar, which Karanović directed and starred in a couple of years ago. One of the four stories it portrayed was of an older woman and her young lover. Mara is a made up character, but “she carries a lot [of things] that I as a person can relate to and identify with. I have lent her parts of my personality, my vulnerability, but also my strength and ambition,” Karanović says.
“When I turned 50 [I discovered] my life is much richer and more fruitful than it was when I was younger,” she says.
There are still too few fleshed-out characters of older women in contemporary cinema, also in her own region. “For the audience in the Balkans this film will come as a big shock, because stories like this still present a huge taboo and carry the veil of shame,” the director says, adding that the chance to take that veil off makes her even more excited to shoot and screen “Mother Mara.”
The project is scheduled to begin shooting in March 2022.
According to van Houwelingen, the biggest challenge at this point is providing Karanović with the most favorable conditions to shoot, including “the maximum number of shooting days and best possible collaborators, so she can excel both as the lead actress as well as the director.” One potential obstacle is the unpredictable development of COVID-19 virus in Europe and the extra costs it may cause with a different set of rules in each country.
Karanović will collaborate again with Bosnian cinematographer Erol Zubcevic (“Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker” by Danis Tanovic), who worked on her debut. The production designer Dragana Bacovic is from Montenegro, while make-up artist Tina Subic is Slovenian. The main post-production work will be done in Luxembourg and Slovenia.
The lead producer is This And That Productions; co-producers include Paul Thiltges Distribution, December, Deblokada and VHS. The film is a coproduction between Serbia, Luxembourg, Slovenia, Montenegro and Bosnia.