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SUNDANCE 2022 World Cinema Dramatic Competition

László Csuja and Anna Nemes • Directors of Gentle

“We were inspired by the world of bodybuilding, a lot of which is about control”


- The Hungarian filmmakers’ drama about a couple of bodybuilders is an intimate portrait that truly lives up to its title

László Csuja and Anna Nemes • Directors of Gentle
(© Dániel Bálint/János R Szabó)

Hungarian filmmakers László Csuja and Anna Nemes have presented their feature Gentle [+see also:
film review
interview: László Csuja and Anna Nemes
film profile
in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition at this year's Sundance. We talked to the directors about their link to the world of bodybuilding, their protagonists and the visual concept for the film.

Cineuropa: Where did the idea for the story come from?
Anna Nemes:
I am originally a painter and have been doing paintings of female bodybuilders for several years. Through this, I met some ladies and got to know more about them. I was always interested in bodybuilding itself and imagined what it must feel like to live in such a huge body. Moreover, I observed how bodybuilders are treated in society, since they are not conventional and they suffer because of that. Everything came together, and I had some ideas for scenes and situations that could make up a film.

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László Csuja: I followed Anna's work. When she showed me the scenes she had imagined, I was sure it had the potential for a feature. I think the topic is rich and contemporary. Together, we thought about more scenes – also some funny ones.

How did you do your research, and for how long?
N: We started writing the script in 2014-2015. In the meantime, I made a documentary about female bodybuilding in order to find out more about it.

Did you find your protagonists through the documentary?
N: Yes, it was during the making of the doc. And I knew instantly that Eszter Csonka was the one I wanted for the feature.

LC: When I saw Estzer in the documentary, I was amazed and fascinated by her. We did a long interview with her and rewrote the script afterwards, incorporating elements and experiences from her own life into it. While we were writing the script, her life was a constant source of inspiration.

Is she still a bodybuilder?
N: No, she stopped going to competitions in 2018, after she had won everything – she is a world champion. But for the film, she got into shape again. Now she is a trainer and participates in competitions as a jury member.

LC: Bodybuilding is not healthy.

As it happens, this is one of themes in your film. Was she honest about the unhealthy aspects of it?
N: Bodybuilders are not that shy about this. They have never lied and never tried to cover it up. Bodybuilding is not like other sports, where they are much more strict about it, at least on the surface. Of course they know it's not legal, but still they don't try to hide it. Everybody knows that it takes more than just the drugs to achieve something.

LC: It's not just a sport, but actually a way of life.

What are the most important aspects of these characters that you wanted to show?
N: Their relationship was at the centre of everything: the dynamics of it, and what the outcomes and possibilities of it are. They really need each other, and what exists between the two of them is true. Edina changed the dynamics while becoming more independent, and we wanted to give the characters the chance to make it right at the end. Adam realises that he made mistakes, but since Edina never says no and doesn't express her feelings, it was also difficult for him.

What did you wish to convey with the episode in the countryside and the slaughtering of the pig?
Edina lives in an artificial world, in a prison, which she tries to escape from. The relationship between Edina, nature and animals is a metaphor for her longing to find something natural in her life. And moreover, just as her father feeds the pigs, Adam feeds her. The intimate relationship with the pig shows that she understands its situation and feelings. There is also a reminder of death here.

How did you develop the visual concept for the film?
N: The emotional state of the characters had to be visible through that as well as through the lives of the two protagonists. The strange situation with the new guy had to be as beautiful and as dreamlike as possible, to create a clear contrast.

LC: We were inspired by the world of bodybuilding, a lot of which is about control. The gym looks like a torture chamber: there are vertical lines that recall a prison. We used a Steadicam at the beginning, and after Edina changes her mind, it becomes smoother and the frames are more open.

A similar concept seems to apply to the music you use.
N: Yes, there is a contrast between the electronic music, the gym music and the more emotional music.

LC: Moreover, the gym music changes during the film. It gets darker and reflects the fact that the gym is turning into a prison for Edina.

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