A Conversation With Bianca Lucas On Roy Andersson’s “World Of Glory”
Roy Andersson’s 1991 short film “World of Glory” starts with an arresting image.
For Bianca Lucas, the short filmmaker behind the short films “Before Passing” and “Bogeyman”, this iconic image was more than enough to impress upon her the weight of a tragic European history in a way only art can.
I was really blown away, and almost kind of nailed into my seat by it. I don’t think I fully understood why it affected me so much, but over time and as I rewatched it many times, I realized it was because it really speaks to this collective trauma and denial many of us have, specifically in Eastern Europe. To me, this film speaks about how complicated it is for a society to even hope to live on in good conscience having witnessed or even just having past generations go through the Holocaust.
It is in Andersson’s very ability to find these haunting compositions, rooted in bold, challenging ideas that never let audiences off the hook, that helped make him so well known throughout the film world. Though it’s surprising — refreshing, even — to discover that he wasn’t always a marquee festival name. While he started on the kind of track expected of a director (film school, honing shorts, working toward features), he ended up taking a step back from the spotlight, perhaps in order to better understand himself and the types of films he truly wanted to make.
In a similar way, Bianca Lucas didn’t get films made and into international film festivals overnight. As she explains, becoming a filmmaker wasn’t a given, and it even involved taking a risk with money given to her for other reasons.
[Becoming a filmmaker] has been and still is really about eight years in the making. Originally, I had started off really a lone wolf. I wasn’t part of a film school. I knew I wanted to make films, but I didn’t really know how to go about it… when I was 21, I came into a small amount of money. It was a tiny fund that my parents had been putting away for me… It was meant for us to maybe buy some furniture for our first house or maybe to buy a first, used car… but at 22 I decided to make my first short with that.
That first short would be “Before Passing”, a film that quietly but evocatively explores a country in the face of a fictional lunar event doomed to keep the moon from being visible to Earth ever again. This terrific mood piece, backed by striking black and white images and deeply-considered compositions, was enough to find Lucas accepted into a “proper film school that in many ways was anything but proper” — the film.factory in Sarajevo (home of the internationally recognized Sarajevo Film Festival).
In 2013, the renowned arthouse director Bela Tarr started this prestigious but ultimately short-lived program. During its three-year run, the guest faculty included many great filmmaking artists from around the world for idiosyncratic but nonetheless formational masterclasses. Bianca was fortunate enough to be invited to the program’s inaugural year.
It was there, at film.factory, that Lucas began to get a sense of a place’s presence, something that plays a major factor both in her own work and that of “World of Glory.” Lucas found the city of Sarajevo often to be “tough at times, because as much as I love the city…it was also a suffocating place to be…to face the heavy weight of sorrow that sits there.”
This weight of sorrow clearly sits on the guide and protagonist of “World of Glory” too — creating a presence that is equally suffocating for us as an audience. With each new tableau, Andersson (and the narrator) introduces us to a member of his family, a person he works with (or for), and any other number of habitual places he visits throughout his days. With each new shot a new heightened kind of banality is introduced that, if we squint and look just right, can make us reflect on our own life’s patterns. Despite the neutral palettes and heavy emphasis on negative space, most scenes end with an impassioned outburst from the protagonist. It is as if all of the pent-up energy and rage from the “past trauma” comes spilling out each time, in bleakly humorous ways, from our frustrated main character.
Lucas speaks well to what these moments of queasy emotional tension could mean for the viewer:
It’s just such a striking, psychologically intelligent way of showing the kind of collective paralysis that can take hold of a community when there is denial or repression of certain happenings. Also when one doesn’t contend fully with the malevolence of human nature….we try to patch things up with mediocrity, but sooner or later those dams are going to break.
And the dams do quickly begin to break about halfway through the short film. For the first half, our protagonist calmly and deliberately takes us to new scenes of his average day — creating a rhythm that quickly becomes an expectation. We think we understand how the rest of the film will play out. However, things begin to change when our protagonist no longer narrates his life for us — but rather starts to unravel. We find him screaming under a table about not being able to see. At church, he receives communion inappropriately, unable to let go of the glass of wine, unable to separate himself from the blood of Christ — perhaps an inability to reckon with the notion of atonement.
This leads to a moving final scene where the character cannot stop hearing the screams from the child in the beginning of the film. In a devastating final moment, his wife tells him quietly, unknowingly, to “go to bed now” — to “get some sleep or it’ll be too hard tomorrow”. Of course, the ironic stinger is that by continuing to ignore the atrocities and human malevolence that Bianca alluded to earlier, each tomorrow will only be more “hard” on the body and the spirit.
In many ways a cautionary tale and an examination of where we are once again as a culture, “World of Glory” spoke to the historical and the personal in the way only cinema can.
Many may be interested to discover that Roy Andersson was not always creating in this way. He was not always working with long takes and monochromatic compositions, or taking on the absurd banality of everyday life in this heightened, specific style. As a film student and burgeoning filmmaker, he was instead known for highly naturalistic portrayals of young love in Sweden. This can especially be seen in films like “Saturday October 5th.”
When asking Bianca Lucas about her own thoughts on style and the evolution of one’s approach to the work, she found herself much less interested in a formula-driven development or evolution to her career:
When a young filmmaker starts out…they have this fantasy of having a style. But they can very often miss the mark and become fixated on this rather egotistical thing in the end, this obsession with style…. I don’t think that’s how you should go about it actually. That’s not how you start. I think style is the natural consequence, or reward if you will, to having put a lot of mental and spiritual work into consolidating many ideas and influences and experiences in your craft over time. Even then, I’m not sure if it’s great to be attached to a style in the shallow sense of becoming a predictably recognizable trademark. After all, it’s so exciting to try and push the cinematic language and continuously adapt it to your inner search.
Lucas worries that adhering to a style might prove too tempting as well. It “may render you interesting to a certain kind of festival audience.” She understands that festival success can be “very short-lived”, largely because “it’s not good enough to just be interesting to an audience, you also have to remain interesting to yourself. It is your own soul, in the end, that is at stake.”
This would perhaps explain why Lucas’s most recent short, “Bogeyman”, is in many ways a stylistic and thematic departure from “Before Passing.” While “Before Passing” was about the interaction between humanity and nature, “Bogeyman” deals more explicitly with the intercommunication of humans, particularly when they are at their most vulnerable. The story follows Alan, a man dealing with problems at home who goes to a psychodrama workshop to work them out. Only he does not realize how emotionally involving, and perhaps toxic, the very experience of group performative therapy will be for him.
To get at a film that perhaps owes more to John Cassavettes than Roy Andersson, Lucas casted several non-actors, including the lead role of Alan.
I get fascinated by people and sometimes I really fall in love with someone’s energy and charisma or vulnerability. If I’m lucky enough they will agree to display that in the context of a film. For “Bogeyman”, I actually met the main actor [Amir Tatic] at a techno club in Sarajevo…I was taken by the kindness and the complexity of his person, of his natural personality.
She would end up building the script around Amir and the particular presence she felt he would give to the camera’s eye. What results is a fascinating push and pull experience where one is never quite sure how Alan feels about the therapy workshop group he is in — and where we are never quite sure how the groups feels about him either.
Perhaps taking a subconscious cue from Andersson, “Bogeyman” works toward a shocking, yet somehow still entirely fitting, ending. It carries with it a sense of catharsis that is not without an underlying hint of menace. In other words, the ending is complex and can’t be easily summed up in a logline or tied with a nice bow.
I feel disturbed by the idea of making something come full circle in a way that makes sense for everyone. Because I don’t think that mimics life. Life is really chaotic and sometimes the shifts in predicaments are so radical that it doesn’t always offer a comforting or a sensible resolution. I think for me with “Bogeyman” I certainly wanted to end with a radical shift that would to some extent underline the violence of an inner evolution for Alan.
In Lucas’ interpretation we once again see a return to the kind of pessimism towards society’s potential to stifle the human spirit that “World of Glory” also explored. Lucas and Andersson both found the inner human trauma to be most compelling — and most important — to express.
Yet with her first feature film in the works, Lucas finds herself changing once again, this time away from fatalism and towards a more loving gaze. In “Turkey Hunting in Mississippi”, Bianca once again follows a portrait of a young man dealing with personal trauma and complex social tensions — only this time they come from the region’s history. With this newest project, Bianca hopes to have brought her “growing and inner softening in the last few years” to look at this story in a new way. As for her approach to the film itself?
I’m trying to control less, let myself be vulnerable and trust that with an energy like that something truthful, surprising and ultimately beautiful will manifest itself and translate onto the screen…And I really hope that intimacy and tenderness will come through in my filmmaking.
In the end, of course, the work of a filmmaker should always be about self-revelation. That is something Bianca Lucas always carries with her, over and against the whims and desires of bureaucratic film markets and festival tastes. Bianca is truly forging her own path — and we are so excited to see where that goes next.
You can watch “Before Passing”, “Bogeyman” and “World of Glory” online.