Branko Tomović • Director of, and actor in, Vampir
"I've always been fascinated with vampire stories coming from Serbia"
- The German-born actor of Serbian origin discusses his directorial feature debut, which world-premiered at Sitges and has started its theatrical distribution in Serbia
A German-born actor of Serbian origin who has worked with directors ranging from Ken Loach and Sönke Wortmann to Paul Greengrass, Branko Tomović makes his feature-length directing debut with Vampir [+see also:
interview: Branko Tomović
film profile], in which he also plays the main role of Arnaut. He tells us how and why he came to his grandparents' village and house to make a creepy horror film, which world-premiered at Sitges and starts its theatrical distribution in Serbia on 21 October.
Cineuropa: Why did you decide to return to Serbia with a horror story?
Branko Tomović: I've always been fascinated with these vampire stories originating from Serbia, and I was wondering why there are not more horror films being made there. I grew up in Germany, but as a kid I would go to that village, Rujišnik, in the summer. I knew it felt like a different time and place so I decided to use it.
My grandfather moved back to Serbia some years ago and built this house that we filmed in, opposite the cemetery at the end of the village. It was an inspiration for me that one of the supposedly real-life vampire stories, about Arnaut Pavle, from the early 18th century, took place in this area. Obviously it's all pure fiction and fantasy, but it has very personal elements and it's connected to these specific folk tales from that region.
How did you pick the cast?
Originally, I didn't intend to play the main character myself, but it is hard to make a film in the best of circumstances and we were shooting during the pandemic. With our budget in mind and everything that the character has to go through, it was just simpler for me to play him. I was already so close to the character and compared to responsibilities as a director, it was super easy.
I met Gorica Regodić a couple of years ago at the Raindance Film Festival in London and I knew she had all these qualities I needed for the character of Vesna. And through casting, I met Joakim Tasić, who has this aura of mystery around him that I liked very much for the role of the priest. It was originally written for a 60+ actor, but it made sense that the priest who tries to help Arnaut would be young and new in the village.
And of course, Eva Ras is just wonderful to work with. Some of the scariest images we came up with actually come from her improvisation, and otherwise she does not really have to do very much because she has this very strong character face. But she is a true professional.
How did you work on the visual aspect of the film?
We shot last year in September, it was a very hot summer and the place was still very much green. We had to do a lot of correction design to make it look a bit more rotten and darker, and obviously with the grading we did that as well, to take out that bright Irish green.
We also tried to make the house feel like another world or entity. So we used blinds to have rays of sunlight shine through and give this feeling that, in the house, it's always dark, even though outside it was always very bright.
In the sound design and music, you stayed away from very loud sounds or an aggressive score.
I'm not a big fan of modern US horror films which are always loud and there's banging all the time. My references go way back, to Dreyer's Vampyr, Carnival of Souls or The Twilight Zone: stories set within a specific time and place. That was always my main goal, to create a certain atmosphere that puts you right in that place, for the film to feel a bit Kafkaesque.
For the music, we only used gusle [traditional one-string instrument]. I wanted the sound to connect to the visuals and that place, and gusle belongs in this region and has tones that are very creepy and original in themselves. My sound designer and composer Mark Ashworth learned to play it and loved it.
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