BERLINALE 2019: YULIA AND JULIET
Set in a 21st century youth detention centre, Zara Dwinger's short film Yulia and Juliet, selected for Berlin Generation, is a modern interpretation of Shakespeare's tale of desperate young love...
...although that was not the intention from the start. Dwinger, who had just received much acclaim for her graduation film Sirene, was fascinated by "the arena" of the detention centre and had an idea to create a story about two friends, both girls, one of whom is released, the other of whom has to remain.
"It was just about two friends at that point, but then we (Dwinger and screenwriter Jolein Laarman) realised that it would be much more interesting if they were in love with each other as this would mean the stakes would be so much higher. So we were talking about young love and about passion and about the tragic aspect of their love being doomed, and we thought 'hey wait a minute, this really reminds us of Romeo and Juliet'. We actually started with our own story and gradually navigated towards the most famous of Shakespeare's plays."
Dwinger captures the dangerous, exhilarating essence of teenagehood in Yulia and Juliet, as she did in Sirene (2017), "Maybe there is a lot more happening in your lives than when you are grown up, and every emotion is new and amplified and everything takes on a huge importance or significance. Also when I researched Romeo and Juliet, they are the ultimate teenagers because everything they do is so big and so dramatic. But they are also really authentic, so the goal was to replicate this, to make Yulia and Juliet just as 'larger than life'.
This seems to be a signature characteristic of her craft. Speaking in 2017 before the Clermont Ferrand international premiere of Sirene she commented how, "I like a bit of realism but I think it is really nice when a film is larger than life, not really of this world but dreamier and more exaggerated."
The production was supported by KORT!, a joint project between the NL Film Fund and public broadcaster NTR.
The two leads, Sara Luna Zoric (who plays Yulia, also starring in Take Me Somewhere Nice, p12) and Dylan Jongejans (Juliet), were discovered via digital street casting on social media. Both give highly assured performances, fiery and nuanced, and the chemistry between the two on screen is palpable. How did Dwinger prepare them for their roles?
"It wasn't through rehearsal, it was mainly through them bonding. In casting we already knew that they were very special and unique actors. We had two rounds of casting, and the two girls had an interesting chemistry," replies Dwinger. "Also through talking a lot about the story, trying to make them feel comfortable and having fun with each other, and seeing if there were any parallels between their own lives and the characters they play in the film. Sometimes some very good stuff came out of that."
"But the rehearsal period wasn't elaborate. Because they are not professional actors I don't know if over-rehearsing was ever the way to go. These actors were so authentic that you really wanted to retain their essence."
Dwinger's film is cast mainly of women, not by design she underlines, it just seemed natural given the film's subject and themes. That said, she is delighted that its selection for Berlinale coincides with the festival's 2019 Retrospective: Self-determined - perspectives of women filmmakers.
She adds: "And because I really love stories about teenagers this Generation program was always a goal for me, and now it has actually happened. I am deeply honoured that the film is selected."
SEE NL Magazine #34 November 2019 / Sundance, IFFR, Berlin and Clermont Ferrand issue
SEE NL is published four times per year by Eye International and The Netherlands Film Fund and is distributed to international film professionals.