Milena Andonova is the elder daughter of the late stage and film director Metodi Andonov, one of the legendary figures in Bulgarian culture. “Monkeys in Winter” is a film based on three short stories by writer Maria Stankova, whose heroines are always driven by extreme passions.
In her feature film debut, Milena Andonova tells the separate and tragic stories of three women. The story of Dona, a Roma woman with three children to different fathers, is set in the 60s. In order to protect her children and their future she moves in with a disabled man; a move with unforeseeable consequences. Ten years later, Lucrecia becomes pregnant and begins dreaming of a life abroad with her new love. She mistakenly sees her pregnancy as an obstacle. Tana, the wife of a prosperous businessman, dreams of having a child. Her husband cannot live with the knowledge that it is his infertility is preventing this. The film tells powerful stories of difficult and often unfortunate decisions but it still maintains a message that is positive. “Monkeys in Winter” is another spark in the revival of Bulgarian cinema.
Bijan Tehrani: Monkeys in Winter holds sad stories of three women from three generations. With audience used to movies with happy endings or melodramas that make them cry not think, wasn’t it a risk to make this movie?
Milena Andonova: I don’t like taking risks. That is why I don’t play poker or go bungee jumping and I won’t undertake a round-the-world trip in a fishing boat. Perhaps the situation of ‘a woman making sad films in Bulgaria’ sounds not only risky but also absurd for the majority of film specialists. For me, however, this situation has entirely worldly dimensions and is completely natural. It is sad and funny, absurd and wondrous; it is just like any human life – it is unique.
Any art – and cinema especially – is a way of expression, a way to communicate with others. It is exactly by telling exactly these three stories that I share my insights about life. I would say that I make a confession in the language of cinema. The more powerful the emotional charge is and the clearer the cinematographic language, the genre of the film matters less. The aim is simple – to make viewers understand my heroines and by means of them – to understand themselves. I would like to make viewers become an equal participant in the process of communication, the process of exchanging ideas, thoughts, feelings, images, dreams, fears and insights. There is no risk in all this. There is only inspiration.
Bijan: Even you are portraying three tragedies; your movie carries an undertone of life loving. How did you achieve that?
Milena Whenever I read a book that changes something in me or see a film the reality of which I co-experience; whenever I contemplate a painting that speaks to me or listen to music that creates paintings to me, I always ask myself the same question: How does the artist achieve this? I’ve asked myself this question as long as I can remember. I don’t have a simple answer to this but it seems to me that it is precisely love of life that lies in the foundations of any significant work of art.
If there is no love of life, tragedy will not exist. Had Shakespeare not drawn inspiration on love of life, he wouldn’t have been able to tell us about its grandeur. Had Romeo and Juliette not been so deep in love with life, they wouldn’t have been able to fall in love with each other like that; they wouldn’t have been able to sacrifice themselves for love; love’s victory over death wouldn’t have been possible. Their story wouldn’t have been one of the greatest tragedy of all times but rather an encyclopedic reference of those times.
Love should be in the basis of any human activity. Love for God, love for life, love for people. It is the necessity to make sense of this love by applying it in practice that has brought me to the desire to make up and make movies. I would say to achieve this film precisely.
Bijan: The main three characters of your movie are three women, is this because you are a woman film director and you know more about them?
Milena: Simply, the main characters in writer Maria Stankova’s stories are always women. I liked those stories very much – I don’t know – perhaps there is some sort of female magic in the whole thing, but it was as early as the first lines that I knew that would be my film. Actually, the comments qualifying it as a ‘female film’ came much later. It is not something I have searched for on purpose.
Bijan: The women characters in Monkeys in Winter even trapped in difficult situation fight back with their current conditions and try to find ways out of the problems, while men in your movie are more passive. Is this the story of our time?
Milena: This is the story of all times. If we analyse the scene in the garden of Eden between God, the man and the woman, and the snake, we will find out that it is the woman who sets mankind’s history going in the way it has been going till our times. In other words, while the man designs the wheel, the woman has already drawn the route.
Bijan: In West majority of the movies are action packed movies made in Hollywood, or follow Hollywood style of filmmaking. But filmmakers in ex-socialist East European countries are concentrating on social and humanitarian issues, why is that?
Milena: I think that such differentiation is too conditional; but as far as it is there, it seems to me it is due to the different systems of thinking and cultural traditions. While in the West life is established and follows established directions, in the former socialist countries anything can be a problem. Ð¢he themes, the conflicts, the characters are born every day and at all social and human levels. People here have to make much more efforts in order to simply survive; and this creates higher concentration and variety of ideas.
Bijan: How did you come up with the visual style of your film?
Milena: With a cinematographer like Rali Ralchev any director can achieve any visual style! He has the exceptional quality to make the director’s ideas visible. In Monkeys In Winter the challenge lies in the three different stories which in the long run start sounding as one – like the three stanzas in one poem. The imagery had to be simultaneously realistic, mild, different in terms of tonalities and – the most important – beautiful according to the inner beauty of each heroine.
Bijan: Please tell us about the casting of Monkeys in Winter and how you decided to pick the actors.
Milena: My sister Nevena Andonova (the producer of the film) and I grew up in the theatre and on filming locations. Our mother is an actress. Our father – God bless his memory! – was a theatre and film director. This has marked my attitude for actors by respect and deep understanding at the same time.
This is how I approached my actors. I had chosen some of them while working on the script – all the actors and some of the supporting actresses. As far as two of the main characters, Lucrecia and Tana, we carried out a casting session. I expected to see Lucrecia and Tana as soon as the actresses were entering the room. Both with Diana Dobreva, Lucrecia, and Angelina Slavova, Tana, it was as if the decision had been made previously. I had called my characters and they simply turned up. Ðnd I chose Bonka Ilieva–Bonnie, Dona, in a magazine. She is a singer; for her and for the other two actresses this is a debut in the movies and they have made a great job of it.
I had numerous preliminary meetings with all the cast; some characters were changed in the process of work and we had problems but I can say that working with actors is one of the most wonderful things in the movies.
Bijan: What are your plans for international distribution of “Monkeys Winter”?
Milena: We are very happy to say that our world distributor is Paris based: PANGEA WORLD, www.pangea-world.com
I can say I feel confident that with their professional experience and devotion to Monkeys In Winter our film will reach its audience in the best possible way.
Bijan: You are the daughter of a filmmaker, was it the main factor to motivate you to become a filmmaker?
Milena: Yes, it was a factor. When my father, the famous Bulgarian theatre and film director Metodi Andonov, passed away, I was a child. I promised myself to continue with film making. But there is something else that is very important. This was the only life I knew, the only life I was in love with. And I am still in love.
Bijan: Who are the filmmakers that you admire?
Milena: Louis Bunuel, Jean-Claude Carrière, Michelangelo Antonioni, Andrey Tarkovski, Akira Kurosava, and, of course, Metodi Andonov.
Bijan: Please tell us about your future projects.
Milena: I am starting to prepare for a feature film for the Bulgarian National TV. It tells about the inner struggle of a cheated man who wants to take revenge on his enemies. A story with an unexpected turn for the main character.
And still at the stage of a script project is a wonderful text – the diary of 10-year-old Martha. Martha, just like any child, needs love to find the strength so as to continue searching for her personality.