Czech-Norwegian film director explores family, alcoholism and belonging

Margareta Hruza

Czech Norwegian film director, Margareta Hruza, recently released her documentary film, "Nocni Rozhovory" or "Night Talks." The film is an intimate journey into her family life. She examines her complex relationship with her mother and her father's alcoholism with brutal honesty. She also tackles the question of "home" as a bi-cultural person. Even though her journey is confusing and painful she punctuates it with a wry sense of humor and manages to achieve some kind of reconciliation. I was at one of the first screenings of her film and was extremely moved by her willingness to bear so much of herself. We met up to explore some of themes in her film.

"It's a documentary drama about my relationship with my parents. Themes like where do we feel at home because we each live in a different country or we feel at home in different countries. In this process other issues come up. Why was I sent away when I was fourteen? My father's drinking problem, my mother's continuing quest for a perfect partner.

"The whole structure of the film is built around this apartment that I have in Oslo. My father has put his things in there. There is also this Polish guy who just came and rang on the doorbell when we still had the big house in Norway and asked if he could just paint the fence or if there was any job he could have. Since he was Polish and since my father has always missed the Czech Republic, my father invited him in and they shared a bottle of vodka and ever since then this Polish guy has been living with us. Even after the house was sold and none of us live in Norway anymore but I have this apartment and this Polish guy is still living there. My quest in the movie is to get him out of the apartment, which I don't succeed, so that's the structure of the film.

"The themes, there are several themes there but I think the most important one is the feeling of where to we belong and whether there is any chance of us three getting together. One can really see that in the final scene in Ikea where we are discussing, authentically, about where we want to be buried and we can't agree about the burial. In the end, my parents decide that they want to be burned and they want to be in urns that I am going to carry around wherever I choose to live."

What motivated you to make something that is so personal?

"I think what motivated me was that, I was a lonely child. It is mentioned in the movie that I felt that I was very much left alone because both of my parents are artists and not very responsible parents. Being sent away when I was fourteen put a strong pain in me that I have never actually gotten over and we have never lived together as a family since then. I felt very hurt and lonely and I wanted to share it with somebody.

"I think I made this movie, first to get the things out and also to confront my parents because whenever I would try to confront them before, we would just get into an argument or the problem was put on me. It was difficult to talk about things but with the cameraman there and the camera, all the sudden they could not argue the way they have before and they had to answer the questions that I asked."

The relationship between you and your mother is one of the archetypes, can you tell me a bit about that?

"Well the situation is that she sent me away when I was fourteen and she has all these reasons why, she says that she was worried about my future or that it was her big dream when she grew up in communist Czechoslovakia to be in America, everyone dreamt about America. But I grew up in Norway and I had no desire to go to America, it was like her implementing her desires onto me.

"The reality is that she is a very beautiful woman and every morning she would stand in front of the mirror naked and she would scream and we would run up, my father would run and she would be like, "I am fat! I am fat!" but she was very thin and very beautiful. When I became fourteen, she very much changed her attitude towards me. She started to see me as somebody who could threaten her position as a woman. And that is why she sent me away.

"I did not understand that until I came back for summer vacations and she would have jealous fits. I think she missed me very much when I was in America, she was in terrible pain but her jealousy was so big that it was actually stronger.

"This is classic Snow White story with the queen who is very beautiful and asks in the mirror every day, "who is the most beatiful in this kingdom?" and one day the mirror says, "Snow White" and she has to send Snow White away or she wants to kill her."

Where are you at now in this story?

"I think that the resolution is that whenever I would talk to my mother about this she would try to deny it, she would try to pretend. Strangely enough, when she saw the movie where it becomes very clear that she was jealous, she does not deny it anymore.

"Things are calm because I think there is no way she can make it good, I can of course forgive but I can't forgive her until she accepts or confesses that the situation was like that. And I think that in this way, amazingly enough, once the movie was done, I thought my parents would see it and hate me for it and not talk to me. The opposite has happened."

Let's talk about your dad a little bit...

"Well, he was very sad of course when my mother left. He started to drink. He then invited these Polish people into the house and the house was full of parties and Polish people. Actually there is this scene in the film when we talk about this and I was the child the house and I would be like please parents, please be quiet, don't party tonight. That was also very uncomfortable.

"It's very sad when you know somebody closely and you love somebody who starts to drink because its very difficult communication with the person, it is practically impossible. A person who drinks is either denying something or keeping his emotions in balance by drinking and taking lots of sleeping pills and valium. They are afraid to accept reality or they are afraid that it is going to hurt too much.

"Amazingly, by coincidence or by magic power, once the movie was done, really done and finished when the last cut had been made my father was drinking so much he really looked like he was going to end up in hospital. He was really starting to have the symptoms like forgetting everything, he was completely bloated he was getting spots in his face, he was sweating. He was looking very sick and the doctors told him he should go to an institution. He got very afraid and he actually managed to quit on his own. I can finally talk to him about things."

I want to come back to the film, at the end I got the feeling the film wasn't finished because you did not agree with the editor about the ending..

"We had a lot of fighting with the editor which was surprising to me because it is such a personal movie to me that I did not consider that this would be a problem. There are actually several things that I would like to have different. We have applied for film fund money now to see if we can have a longer version, a feature film version, so I am going to re-edited it."

How did you feel watching people react to your film?

"When I made this movie, I was a little bit worried, whether anyone would understand it or if it is so unusual or so terrible or so cruel. I was very nervous and then my hope was that I would reach people who have similar problems.

"After screening the movie a lot people came to me, mostly women and also some men and it was very interesting to see that there are several people who struggle with similar things. My hope is of course that this movie will empower people who have suffered with similar things, that it will open things up and....that's my hope."