The Using of Non-Professional Actors

in 71st Venice International Film Festival

by Blagoja Kunovski

To underline the meaning of my title, it was not difficult to make a choice from the three films I have chosen as examples. Two are from the Main Competition Venice ’71: The Postman’s White Nights (Belye nochi pochtalona) by Andrei Konchalovsky and Sivas (Sivas) by Kaan Mujdeci, and the third film awarded by our jury, No One’s Child (Nicije dete) by the Serbian debut writer-director Vuk Rshumovic in the Critic’s Week programme.

In both films from the Main Competition, the real villagers play themselves, but at the start both writer-directors knew where to shoot their films – Konchalovsky in the north part of Russia, during the summer, Mujdeci in an Anatolian village – in both cases, having in mind to select the appropriate  non-professional actors on which characters in the imagined stories will be based. Even if it seems at first sight a very easy process in making that specific kind of docu-feature film, in reality it is not so, regarding the honest statement of Konchalovsky who based his script on real people. It took  him a year to find the right person, a local man Aleksey Tryapitsyn for the main role (the postman from the title), and in the case of the Turkish film Sivas it was even more difficult to select the main character, the 11 year boy Dogan Izci, who interprets Aslan.

Very close to this delicacy in having the authentic boy for the title role, but very specific and rare was the position of the writer-director Vuk Rshumovic, who had to select a super persuasive original boy for the main character in his film No One’s Child. He had a target, after a long casting process, and that was to choose Denis Muric for the role of the wild boy (with the given name Haris) discovered among local hunters in 1988 deep in the Bosnian mountains. Muric had to pass the whole very difficult process, from the wild boy living and surviving among the wolfs, with more animal movements and behaviour than human manners through to the four year of his dressiness to become a normal person up to the final point when sent back to Bosnia by the local authorities to take part in the bloody war. He makes his own final decision as a final point in the parabola of his film when he asks the question: “What is to be human? And what makes us beasts?”

The transformation of Denis Muric, in the role of the wild boy Haris, was very important for the film, since he was holding so tight on his back the extraordinary nature of the  main character. Would we believe or disbelieve his acting? Much easier was the case of the Turkish film Sivas since after selecting the authentic local boy Dogan Izci for the main role of Aslan, the director Mujdeci, having him almost through the whole film, directs a story that seems to be taken from everyday life, about the dog fighting tradition in Turkish Anatolia, creating a love-friendship story between him and the dog Sivas. The result turns him back into a winner again and the Anatolian champion.

The idea and the approach in the Konchalovsky’s film are more ambitious, as writer-director, the Russian veteran, 77 year old Konchalovsky, started from the beauty of a remote North Russian village during the summer time (for the cinematographer, Aleksandr Simonov an excellent opportunity to capture the landscapes as an album of almost idyllic visual magic) and in that ambience to create with the original people a specific unity between the villagers and the universe.

Everyday  life is captured from the early morning awakening of the postman who with his boat sails through the beautiful lake, stopping on the other side, where he first collects the postages from the local Post Office. Then he delivers them to the customers, among whom are the beautiful blond police woman, with whom he is in love. He also has a real friendship with her small son (again a very good choice of the original boy as a non professional actor for that role), and meets the permanently drunk old man, who “kills” his loneliness with vodka and another villager who is at the edge of a suicide just to free himself from permanent melancholia and depression.

Edited by Derek Malcolm