Raindance 2019: ‘A Certain Kind Of Silence’ Director Michal Hogenauer On Ordinary People Committing Evil Acts

A Certain Kind Of Silence follows a young Czech au pair, Mia (played by Eliška Křenková), as she starts to work abroad for a well-off family in a lavish villa. As Mia looks after a 10 year old child and follows many strange household rules, she gradually and systematically begins to abandon her morality. Mia is suddenly only able to expresses her love by violent means.

Director Michal Hogenauer stops by on Close-up Culture to talk about the film, being inspired by the Twelve Tribes, ordinary people doing evil things, and much more.

Q: I used to know someone who went to great lengths to avoid the local evening news because it gave them anxiety to hear about crime and everyday acts of evil. Have you ever been similarly disturbed by evil or have you always had a curiosity about the nature of it?

A: I would not say that I try to avoid the news just to shut out the presence of everyday acts of evil. I only try to avoid too much of the news in the morning to be able to survive the whole day and think about other stuff.

I completely understand that to constantly read about dead people or about serious crimes can ruin sensitive people, but we should not behave like evil is not happening – we should not be blind towards injustice. That evil immediately takes advantage of an ajar door, and that’s the fact that has always interested me.

Q: What did you want to explore about evil and the ways it can manifest in any person?

A: Most people just know themselves according to the basis of limited experience gained in every day life situations that are affected by the rules, laws, and principles that we regulate.

Our behaviour changes according to the situation, the environment and the collective… and I wanted to show and describe what happens when we leave our safe homes, when we change the size of our playground, when we encounter a completely new and unfamiliar situation.

What happens when people are not able to use earlier guidelines to make proper choices? If we change the basic rules of the game, our old self does not necessary behave as we expected.

Q: I understand the film is partly inspired by the teachings of the religious sect Twelve Tribes. What about did you extract from the Twelve Tribes for this film?

A: The story is loosely inspired and indirectly based on the teachings of the religious sect Twelve Tribes. I studied and read many books and watched many documentaries about sects and their methods in which they recruit new members by using brainwashing and love bombing methods. And I would say the methods and strategies, the concepts of hierarchy, the concepts of their own lifestyle are very similar in many sects. So, at the end, we have decided to create our own community for my film narrative.

In the beginning, Twelve Tribes were a hippie community and lots of these trademarks stay with them to this day. But these visual facts – the way they dress, the way they look, that they live on the farms, that they avoid the modern world – didn’t interested me in the way it has other filmmakers. The community in our film is just the opposite – our family is set in high society and a life of luxury.

So, what did I extract from the original Twelve Tribes? Mainly the way they raise children. Their manipulative use of games, words and emotions – all connected to love. The fact that Twelve Tribes run the management of Yellow Deli restaurants, hostels and cafes. We were also inspired by their main goal to bring up 144,000 pure boys so that Jesus could return to the Earth.

Q: Did yourself and co-writer Jakub Felcman have any other references or points of inspiration for this story?

A: I think the inspiration was the world around us. That was one of the main motivations for me to make films – to reflect and capture the time and world which I live in.

In A Certain Kind of Silence you can catch visual inspiration from other films, or you can hear some dialogue and their similarities with speeches from contemporary politics. You can recognise some political slogans hidden in the film, or you can find some references to other religions and their use of language. So, the way we perceive the world was the main inspiration.

Q: Can you tell us more about Mia? Are there things about her that make her more susceptible to this gradual turn to evil?

A: Most people perceive evil as something you are born with, like a character trait which is completely absent in other people. Tradition dictates when there is violent behaviour, we must look for the innate disposition of an individual – our genetic personalities or family history. So, while this it is a comforting idea of evil, it important to wise up that we all have that evil in ourselves. We can learn to be good as well as to be bad.

Everyone can commit a terrible crime. Evil is something we all — ordinary people — can do under certain conditions and certain situations.

Mia represents these “ordinary people”. I didn’t want to show her background, her social status, a painful childhood… something that could explain why she is capable of this change.

My aim was to show how easy it is to be manipulated and changed, in a way that even you don’t notice. It does not matter if you are an educated student or manual worker…

Q: I find the choice of Mia’s job particularly interesting. I have a friend who works as an au pair, and I am fascinated to hear about the strange and somewhat ambivalent boundaries that come with the job. In what ways does Mia’s profession impact her journey in this film?

A: I must admit, I would be able to make horror/thriller film about an au pair without connecting it to some sects. The job includes some many dangerous levels of social interaction which can be so devastating for young people.

My source of information was a book by David Miller and Zuzana Búriková. It’s an ethnographic research using standard anthropological methods. This field of research was conducted among Slovak au pairs in the London area and involved 50 au pairs and more than 80 host families. So, Mia’s job certainly influences her journey through the film.

Q: I read that the film opens with an unsettling scene. What tone did you want to set with the opening to ‘A Certain Kind of Silence’?

A: I don’t want to name it concretely because I would just narrow down the potential meaning for someone. But there is something important and beautiful in the first scene, and in the first pictures of films in general.

You should… or you can… set the tone and mood of the film. You can name and show the subject and theme of your film, as well as finding an original way to introduce your characters. But mainly you should grab the audience’s attention… I was just trying to do that.    

Q: Can you tell us about the atmosphere of the film and the different ways you worked to create?

A: I have to say there was just great synergy between me, my producer Petr Oukropec, my cinematographer Gregg Telussa, my production designer Laura Dišlere and – of course – my editor Michal Reich. Everyone has seen and felt the film in the same way, so each department functionally supported the another one.

On one hand, the atmosphere and suspicious mood is built up with distinctive framing, natural light, a limited colour palette, and minimalistic acting. On the other hand, there is the storytelling itself. The fragmental storytelling invites you to play with the limited information, which can create the right atmosphere as well.  

You can see ‘A Certain Kind Of Silence’ at the Raindance Film Festival in London (24 and 25 September). For more info

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