Urška Djukić studied at the Academy of Arts in Nova Gorica. Her short film “Bon Appétit, La Vie!” won the award for Best Short Film at the National Festival of Slovenian Film in 2016. In 2018, she was invited to participate at the SEE Factory, a joint project for young directors curated by the Directors’ Fortnight and the Sarajevo Film Festival. There, she co-directed the short film “The Right One” that premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2019. That same year, she was selected for the 39th Cinéfondation Residence in Paris, where she started developing her debut film, “Little Trouble Girls.” By combining live-action, animation, and other techniques, she creates hybrid visual narratives and focuses especially on exploring topics of contemporary womanhood.
After a year at the Sorbonne and a foundation year at the Atelier de Sèvres art school, Émilie Pigeard entered the prestigious Arts Décoratifs school in Paris, specializing in Animation. After five years, she earned a distinction for her short graduation film “Encore un gros lapin?” (“Big Bunny Again?”) which was noticed and produced by Les Films Sauvages. In 2014, she studied at the German Hochschule für Film und Fernsehen (HFF) as part of an Erasmus exchange. There, she met Anna Bergmann, a German filmmaker, who shared the same enthusiasm for animated films. The following summer, Anna asked her to come and help her with her latest film in Chicago, then in New York in November 2015.
At this year’s European Film Awards, Tara Karajica talks to Urška Djukić and Emilie Pigeard about the short form, women in film and their latest short film, “Granny’s Sexual Life,” that ended up winning the European Film Award for Best Short Film. In “Granny’s Sexual Life,” triggered by the revealing way of dressing of one of their granddaughters, four old women, reflect on their memories of old times when they themselves were young and how different the relationships between men and women were back then. Their voices merge into one single voice, that of the grandmother Vera, who tells her story in proper details.
What made you want to become a filmmaker/animator?
Urška Djukić: As a child, I loved watching movies and I remember thinking a lot about people’s behaviors, how we act in this world. I think I already knew then that I would be a director, but I was afraid of it because at that time in Slovenia it was a predominantly male profession. Through creating in different artistic forms, life led me to film, which I perceive as a collection of all possible forms, a field in which I can explore.
Emilie Pigeard: Since my childhood, I’ve been writing stories, inventing characters and graphic universes.
During my studies, I’ve been interested in exploring storytelling through animation because it allows for endless creativity and freedom. In 2015, I made an animated short film as my graduation project and loved the whole process very much. And, since then, I’ve been making animation films to tell my stories.
Your short film, Granny’s Sexual Life, was inspired by anonymous testimonies gathered by Milena Miklavicic in the book Fire, Ass and Snakes are Not Toys. Can you expand on how Granny’s Sexual Life came about?
U.D.: When I read this book, I realized how important and overlooked is the topic of control of female sexuality, which has been deeply rooted in society throughout the history of patriarchal systems. The more I delved into the testimonies of rural women born around the beginning of the 20th Century, the more they shook me. It is the first Slovenian book that describes the sexual customs of our ancestors. The personal confessions of women who are now deceased or are around ninety years old or older made me think that the process of emancipation of Slovenian women, despite the feeling of freedom that we women feel today compared to our grandmothers, is quite at its beginning.
The film boldly denounces male sexist and machist assertions dating back to the beginning of the 20th Century about the woman’s place in society (or lack thereof): “A woman didn’t have rights. A woman was behind the stove. She didn’t have a profession. She had to be obedient. She had to be a good housewife. She had to give birth to children and give her husband pleasure.” Can you comment on that?
U.D.: This old way of perceiving the role of women in society is in fact our direct, still half-living past, which still influences the behavior of modern women to a certain extent through patterns. In recent years, we have witnessed the rise of conservative ideas to control the female body. It is becoming clear to everyone that the emancipation of women is a very fragile concept and it can dissolve in an instant. This is precisely why it is necessary to talk about it, remember the pain of our ancestors and constantly fight against such exploitative concepts, which in their essence do not contribute to social well-being.
You combine old photographs (of women’s hands in subservient positions at the beginning and of their faces at the end) with animation to tell your story. The animation is of a sketchy, somewhat frantic stream-of-consciousness style, with lines constantly in motion that produces new shapes, new people and new memories. Can you talk about these choices?
U.D.: In my works I don’t follow one style or form, but I follow a theme, a story and a rhythm that each time create a new form that supports the story. For me, art is closer to science, like researching and discovering new forms and possibilities. I explore the interweaving of different forms – animation, fiction and various forms of experimental techniques. I am interested in how junctions between different forms create new meanings and feelings in the narrative. In the story of Granny’s Sexual Life, I felt that this animation form, with its characteristic innocence and the whimsical style of Emile Pigeard, would be able to support the difficult topic of aggressive intimate relationships more gently and bring it closer to the viewer.
Can you talk about the animation techniques used in the film?
E.P.: I used a computer software to animate all the rough and then we printed all the frames for re-drawing with ink and colored pencils on paper. We scanned the drawings and we used a compositing software to assemble the animation together. I used this complicated process because animating on a computer was much faster and I was able to test a lot of things really quickly and then, redrawing with ink and colored pencils made the final look of the film very powerful.
With this glimpse into someone’s life and mind, the film’s characters are reduced to Freudian symbols: the maternal figure is shown as a bloated circle with a visible vagina, popping out children in a house that is too small for her, while the father militaristically wields his cock like a rifle. Can you comment on that?
U.D.: With Emilie, we found common ground in humor where we could play around and laugh by making things simple. But it is also true that in my family humor is often used as a mechanism for dealing with difficult topics. I think this is something that is close to all people from former Yugoslavia. People digest their own drama more easily when it is served with some humor.
The most revealing scenes are those that don’t feature animation. Over a black screen, sounds of male pleasure and female distress and torment are overlaid for a prolonged period, making it a very difficult watch that is hard to process. In that sense, the film also denounces domestic violence and sexual abuse, and shows how female trauma spans generations. Can you elaborate on that.
U.D.: The black sequence, as we call it, was not originally in the script. During the creation of the animation, at one point, I started asking myself: “How do we make people feel what we’re talking about?’” and came up with the idea of an action sequence of aggressive sexual intercourse. At the beginning, we wanted to depict this with a more abstract style of animation, but after recording the sound with the actors, I realized that the sound without the image was much stronger, because the viewer himself, with his imagination, can participate in the conception of the work of art. In the dark space of the cinema, you are left alone with this sound and experience it and feel it through your own imagination.
In the end, the photographs show each woman and thus allow us to see them as independent from the men in their lives, like a cathartic and liberating moment for those women and women in general. Can you comment on that?
U.D.: The photographs ultimately move us from an “unrealistic” animated world to a realistic world, the time of our grandmothers. They show us faces of women who had to suffer and endure such aggressive relationships. Various feelings and stories can be felt in their eyes and, in a way, these photographs act as a memorial to all victims of sexual violence.
What impact do you think your film will have?
U.D.: I hope this film reaches as many people as possible. I hope it makes people feel the pain of these women and I hope it opens questions about control over female sexuality.
Are you a feminist? If so, how does it inform your filmmaking?
E.P.: I’m a feminist and I’m fully invested in women’s causes and, in my future projects, I want to keep talking about this kind of topic.
U.D: Yes, I am. In recent years, when women have gained much more opportunities for expression and artistic creation, we have begun to tell stories that have been hushed up, unheard or shown through the male gaze for centuries. Strongly repressed and strictly controlled female energy has therefore literally erupted through all the pores of our society. I support and urge all women who feel the need to express themselves to do so.
What is your opinion on the short form today?
E.P.: I love the short form! For me, as an animator, it’s the best place to experiment with animation and to discover something new in the movement.
What is your opinion on the situation of women in film today? How is it in Slovenia and France? How is it in animation?
U.D.: In Slovenia, things have changed a lot in the last ten years. There is more support for female directors; it has also become a trend and now European directives also prescribe it. I used to feel the different opportunities, but not anymore. Right now, in Slovenia, there is a “women’s wave” coming, especially next year, since the Slovenian Film Center has supported four films by female filmmakers, three of which are debuts. This is exciting for Slovenia.
E.P.: The situation is evolving in the right direction. We have more and more women in the animation industry in France. A lot of women directors are doing beautiful animated films. They are making their voices heard. I think they have a graphical power mixed with a lot of poetry in line art.
What are your next projects?
E.P.: I’m writing my next animation film – a short one! And, I’m also illustrating books for children.
U.D.: In the summer of 2023, we are planning on shooting my debut feature, Little Trouble Girls, that I was developing in the Cinéfondation Residency and in the Torino Feature Lab. In a way, in this film, I also continue the theme from Granny’s Sexual Life, but here I focus on the influence of patterns that are passed down through generations and how this kind of patterns affects young girls and their perception of their own bodies.
Photo credits: European Film Academy.