"Films have to be bigger than life". Interview in French newspaper Le Monde, 6 January 1993

Emir Kusturica looks like a big little boy, bad guy-good heart, rough and charming, always like going away. He was born in Sarajevo, thirty-three years ago. He was a rock'n'roll star in his country. His films show always children growing, curiously seducing and emblematic Animals, worlds disappearing, and splendid attempts to take off at the same time of the ground and reality. Long and difficult to make, Arizona Dream is his first American film.

  • Have you decided one day that you had to dream to survive ?
    • Emir Kusturica : It came naturally. I arrived in America and I was afraid. The same fear I felt when I entered for the first time in the big Gothic cathedral of Prague. I felt so small, a very small piece of nothing. Lost. The dreams in my films are thus a demonstration of self-defence. I don't say I'm the only one who dreams, I don't say that I am unique, I say that my dreams are those of someone who comes from a rather wild part of the planet, a part of the civilized planet in quite a curious way.
  • When you arrived in the United States, was it in the goal to make a film ?
    • EK : No, I've been called to New York by somebody I consider as a very big director, somebody who knew how to become an American director without disavowing himself, Miloš Forman. It called me so that I succeed him at the University, that I give cinema classes. After one year and half, I realized that I didn't have seen anything, I lived at home, I went out very little, I read much. Raymond Carver, Jim Harisson, and others. It is by discovering this literature that I realized at which point our glance on America was distorted by the image that Hollywood returns to us. What I hate in Hollywood cinema, not in the American cinema which is something else, is the naturalism. I tried to explain that to my students. They don't make the difference between reality and realism. They think that life is bigger than films, they are wrong. The films must be bigger than life. At the moment you put a camera in the streets of New York, you make an artistic decision and, as says Godard, a moral decision. I think that naturalism comes back into the films thanks to television, the cinema killer. When I see on TV the American army arriving in Mogadiscio with the marines made up like Rambo, I think it's necessary to resist, at any cost.
  • Why did you start from an American script for Arizona Dream ?
    • EK : It's a question of vocabulary, of expression. It was necessary that the first glance was the one of a local. So that I can say that the American dream doesn't exist anymore, I needed to know what it had been, in this country where the old cars have become statues symbolizing its ideal “To escape from its culpability”.
  • Have you willingly wanted to find American ways of directing, in the shooting ?
    • EK : I've learnt much from the American cinema, in particular the one of the Seventies, which is for me the golden age. I think there's a weakness in European cinema, including the new wave, and all the other new waves which were born in so many small countries, it is the absence of the use of the close-up. In this end of century, we are surrounded of so many complex and disparate things than the close-up can find its previous function. In Gone With The Wind, in all the great melodramas, a motionless close-up transmitted energy, it was used to capitalize the emotion.
  • In Arizona Dream, Faye Dunaway always try to fly. Do you feel, yourself, that you've touched the ground ?
    • EK : I don't think so. My idea of the cinema is basically to make everything fly away. I feel myself very close to Tarkovski from this point of view, and the very strong feeling he had of the natural elements. I try to keep these old references. Regarding the Flight, it's obvious that David Atkins, the guy who brought the script to me, wanted to make of Faye Dunaway an infantile character, and proposed to surround her of puppets and toys. This appeared to me rather as a psychological idea, not a cinematographic one. My first impression when I arrived to Arizona was : “My God, if I lived here, I would fly away”, you feel the need to plane over these vastnesses, over this desert.
  • The flying machines of the film are a a retrograde utopia, when everybody takes the plane, and we're selling light planes everywhere.
    • EK : This is not important. We believe United States are modern and unified because television arrives everywhere, but in fact, we find there many strange people, who live in another time, the one of the dinosaurs, particularly nuts like the character of Faye Dunaway. She has her reasons to be like that, she was traumatised in her childhood, she killed her husband, to fly is a way of escaping from her culpability.
  • Are you thinking of making a new film in Europe ?
    • EK : It's a political question. I want to remain a European director, who makes films everywhere. I feel like a bridge manufacturer, who creates bonds between different places. I had this project, The bridge on Drina, the masterpiece of our literature, written by Ivo Andrić, our Nobel Prize of 1961. If our leaders had read it, there would be no war. But what happens now modifies so deeply the reality that nothing will ever be the same. Time of the Gypsies was my first step out of my garden, towards another culture than mine. I started to learn how to look at another society. But I couldn't make a film on what occurs today to Yugoslavia, it would be television, and I don't trust television at all, I need a historical distance.
  • Do you have any regrets with Arizona Dream ?
    • EK : No, no regret regarding the film. But the memory of the terrible regret that I felt each day while shooting, to be there, in America, not to return home, in Sarajevo. This feeling to be separated into two. Each day I said to myself, I will leave, and each day, no, I stay. I tried so many times before to help my country, and here we are. I would like to say something, please, it's important. I was among those, not numerous in Yugoslavia, in ex-Yugoslavia, who fought to avoid this catastrophe. I can identify with each tear which is dropped over there, with each child who stayed there, with each suffering. But I can't identify with any party which tears apart there, with any of the political designs which try to impose. Each one goes on his side, each one rewrites his own history, with his own heroes. In my heart and in my soul, I believe that no independent or dependent republic deserves that only one child, only one woman, only one man is killed. And, according to me, I must tell you, no matter what happens, I'll never be able to identify with any of the future winners of this horrible war.

Interview by Heymann Danielle & Frodon Jean-Michel, translation by Matthieu Dhennin

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