Marta Minorowicz's ZUD is set in the Mongolian steppe and portrays the life of a nomad family there. Wolf distributes the film in Germany and on the occasion of the cinema release, we sat down with Marta to speak about the film.
Marta, your protagonists in ZUD are really extraordinary. How did you meet them? Did you go to Mongolia with this film in mind, or did it develop once you were there?
I had the first idea to make the film about a child and I knew that I needed a boy with a lot of charisma, a non-actor and I wanted him to be a nomad. We visited Mongolia looking for children and that’s how we found Sukhbat. And from the beginning he was really interesting. He had a big passion for horse-riding and he was so in touch with nature. So after him, we tried to get to his parents to give us permission and this is how we found Batsaikhan, his father, and also his mother who had a very strong-minded character. That’s how we chose them to be in the film.
I hadn’t been to Mongolia before but I knew after my short film A Piece of Summerthat the topic of nature and nomads was very important and interesting for me. And I wanted to go a bit further in the way that I found that nature can be a form of character, just as the people are. And in Zud I found that I could combine the two things, that they could go together.
So first, we went on a research trip. There, we just me each other and we were spending time in the steppe. So before we started to even think of shooting we were observing how Sukhbat and his family live and speak and tried to get to know each other. It was pretty funny at first, we had to use body language to speak to each other! Then one day after some time of observing we started to shoot. So that was the first set of the shooting. And then, and this is important, the first time we came it was at the end of the winter, the beginning of spring and this is a very dramatic time for nomads because animals are being born and the weather is still very tough and the nomads are very nervous whether the animals will survive another night because the temperature very often drops, causing massive deaths among the them. And this is the kind of zud that the title describes, where these temperatures drop and it has terrible effects on the farm. This was the season and it is this atmosphere, this mood that we wanted to capture in the film. So we knew, when we came next time, it should be also be the same time of the year.
One of the things I found so fascinating of your portrayal of this lifestyle is the naturalness with which childhood is connected to seemingly „somber“ topics such as hardship and death. And it’s not a somber film at all! But I feel like here we often try to protect children from these experiences too much.
In Europe, children are protected from the harshness of life, while in Mongolia, growing up in such a raw environment, everything seems more natural. It becomes a natural part of life and I found this very beautiful and inspiring to observe how these children grow up with this kind of understanding of these different courses of reality and also the contradictions of life: that sometimes it’s beautiful and sometimes it is painful. That's why in the film I wanted to confront Sukhbat with this so-called harshness of existence.
The camerawork in ZUD is so strong. Can you tell us a bit about how you and your DoP worked?
I think it’s important to state that both on the first trip we were both touched by the wind and this kind of very nervous atmosphere and that it was actually the wind that dictated the mood of the camera. In the whole film this idea of austerity was important to us, that’s why it could only happen with non-actors and nomads.
As for the camera shots we had the idea to use all close ups or wide shots, just to show how the individual is lost in this massive, vast set. So basically, we used just two kinds of shots for the whole film to arrive at this effect and this mood. It was also important for me to capture the atmosphere, which for me was very far away from these images of Mongolia I had in mind from the National Geographic and this kind of folkloristic way of seeing it. I wanted to escape from using these stereotypes and actually, for me the steppe was very claustrophobic in a way because you’re so little there and it’s big, and at the same time there’s nowhere to escape because you’re visible everywhere. People there are often saying that they wish to quit the steppe, but at the same time there is so much attached to this place that actually, they can’t imagine living anywhere else. So it is also this whole kind of sickness that we wanted to capture while shooting and that’s why we were always cutting the big sky. It’s shot in the middle, so these people are like caught between the heaven and hell. We also chose to shoot during magic hours a lot, so when the sun goes down and the light can tell its own story.
Thank you! as a last question we're curious: what is the last film that you yourself saw in the cinema?
The last film I saw in the cinema was Loveless by Andrey Zvyagintsev, I really loved it! I think if Andrei Tarkovsky were alive today, he would be making such films.