rma 2017 interview soFIa exchatou on park
Situated in the crumbling ruins of Athens’ 2004 Olympic Village, a group of teenagers idles away their youth. Their energy is turbulent while they carry out self-destructive games and rituals.
We follow Dimitris, one of the older, tall and stronger-looking kids. We meet his alcoholic mum, we walk around the scrappy marble factory where he has a job, we watch him tenderly petting his pit-bull, which he rents out for money as a stud, and we see him having rough sex with his girlfriend Anna.
Park portrays the dystopian story of a lost generation in contemporary Greece, reminding us of masterpieces such as Kids by Larry Clark, Gummo by Harmony Korine, and Pixote by Hector Babenco. A must see, if only for the incredible shots of the bleached concrete remains of the Olympic Village.
RMA: How did you get into filmmaking?
Sofia: I studied to become an electrical engineer. Even though cinema was my passion, I didn’t have confidence that it could be my profession. After watching a retro-perspective of Luis Buñuel I wanted to give it a try. He was so crazy and his directing was so free. I started studying in the afternoon and working as an assistant director.
My work as an assistant director taught me a lot. I knew what I was going to face when I wanted to make a feature film. Sometimes I wished I could have been a little more naive, because knowing everything is not always good!
RMA: How important was the location of the film, a deserted Olympic Village, for the story?
Sofia: From the beginning, the main idea of Park was ‘a group of kids in an deserted place’. Kids are full of life and energy and I wanted to see what would happen if I would put them in a dead space with no exit. I knew it would become violent and sad.
Later someone told me about the Olympic Village and how, after the games of 2004, the government decided to give the apartments to poor families for little rent. The games were partly to blame for the collapse of the economy. Therefore, using this location became an almost cynical comment to the pride of Greece. Greece tends to constantly look back instead of focusing on the future. The Olympic Games were invented here and people wanted them to come back to their birthplace. I wanted to show the elements that define Greece.
RMA: Just like the tourist resort?
Sofia: I thought it would be interesting if the kids would try to escape their reality and would end up trapped in another reality, similar to theirs. A tourist resort is just another micro-cosmos with aggression, sadness and conflicted emotions.
RMA: I was actually surprised to find out Park was made by a female director. What was it like to portrait aggressive teenage boys?
Sofia: [Laughing] Yes, well, these explosions of energy and aggression could only be boys. The main characters were professional actors, but the kids were living in and around the Olympic Village. I spent a lot of time with them to establish their trust. They could be really intense and I had to be stronger. They never read the script. I didn’t want them to feel as if they had to deliver something. I’d simply describe the situation to them and give them some choreography.
Sometimes they added new details. There is a scene where Dimitris and another guy start fighting. I told them what to expect: “These guys fight and the dog is there too and he’ll start barking and become aggressive.”
One of the kids responded by falling down on his knees and imitating the dog. I was amazed because this was a scene where I wanted to show how the kids become animals and he gave me this! So I told him to keep doing that. He said he didn’t want to, but I told him he had to become a dog now.
RMA: It still looks natural, although he obviously had to repeat this a few times.
Sofia: [Laughing] A lot of times! He had pads on his knees. He did it twenty or thirty times.
RMA: The body is very important in the film.
Sofia: The energy of the film had to be physical. The bodies define the kids. Some are strong, some are weak and some are handicapped or physically hurt. Anna’s character is a great metaphor. She used to be an athlete, but now she is disabled. Her legs are full of scars: she is like a ruin. Like the Olympic Village; it used to be strong but now it’s destroyed.
RMA: As for the character of Dimitris, I thought about Baldwin’s quote: “The most dangerous creation of any society is the man who has nothing to lose.”
Sofia: That was the build-up of this character, with as a climax the hotel room, where Jens, the German tourist, gives him a little food, a drink, and some space to talk. It means nothing, but to Dimitris it does. When Jens says he has to leave, I knew it was going to be painful and that it would make Dimitris really aggressive.
Interview by: Charlotte van Zanten