Aida Begić’s fourth feature “A Ballad,” which plays in the Competition Program of Sarajevo Film Festival, will mark a significant departure for the Bosnian director, used to tackling serious social issues in her work.
“My first three films were about the consequences of war and now I decided to talk about something else. I was tired,” says the helmer, whose debut feature “Snow” won the Critics’ Week Grand Prize at Cannes, and whose sophomore feature, “Children of Sarajevo,” was awarded the Special Distinction of the Jury in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard lineup.
“If I find it hard to watch one serious film after another, how can I expect, say, my aunt to go to the cinema and really enjoy it? In Bosnia, we are basically forcing people to watch their own lives on the screen. But this film is funny and light, and I am so proud of that,” she adds.
Her protagonist, Meri, returns to her childhood home after her marriage to Hasan goes sour. Living with her outspoken mother isn’t easy, but Meri finds a way out: she decides to audition for a role in a film about to be shot in her neighborhood.
“She is not your typical heroine,” says Begić. “I was trying to show a woman who isn’t exactly strong – she is confused. But when you find yourself in trouble, it’s okay if you can’t immediately handle things or if you are still in love with a man who doesn’t want to live with you anymore. It’s fine to feel lost. These characters also deserve our attention, even though Meri ultimately finds her freedom in art.”
Admitting there is another twist waiting in store for her viewers, Begić was also inspired by Bosnian traditional folk ballads. Especially “Hasanaginica,” created in the 17th century and relating the tragedy of a victimized woman, ousted from home by her husband and then forced to remarry, ultimately dying of sorrow, unable to reunite with her children.
“It’s not a direct reference, but I needed to deconstruct this myth that a woman’s greatest achievement is to suffer and die with dignity. Why is it valued so much, when we see so many fighters in our everyday life? I tried to put it in a contemporary context and this time, it’s the mother suggesting she should marry again. Many women share that patriarchal state of mind. They are the ones preserving it sometimes.”
The question of what it means to be liberated, as a woman but also as a filmmaker, is something that Begić was asking herself too. Determined to look for new solutions this time and play with the industry’s expectations.
“I felt so trapped, going to all these festivals and markets, realizing I am not really free. In our industry people don’t know the recipe, but they act like they do. I didn’t want to listen to anyone when I was making ‘A Ballad.’ That’s why it’s a very independent, low-budget film,” she says, describing the pandemic shoot as something that brought her and her crew “a whole new level of joy.”
“I really needed this kind of experience. If you look at the European arthouse scene, we are always fighting against what we call ‘American’ solutions, so God forbid there is a flashback or a happy ending. But then we start to repeat ourselves too,” she says.
“I wanted to explore the freedom of my character and my own freedom as a director, and, sure enough, I use flashbacks and all these ‘blasphemous’ elements of the cinema language that we are so afraid of. All these questions I have been asking myself for so long? They are now a part of the film.”
The film, which featured in Sarajevo Film Festival’s CineLink Work in Progress section last year after picking up the Eurimages Co-production Development Award at the event back in 2015, is produced by Adis Đapo and François D’Artemare for Film House Sarajevo and France’s Les Films de l’Après Midi, respectively.