“I was interested in what my identity was and what I was passing on to my child”

2021.07.12.
Interview with Kata Wéber, the screenwriter of Evolution

Kata Wéber first wrote Evolution as a stage play, which was directed by her creative and life partner, Kornél Mundruczó on the German stage performed by Proton Theatre. This spring, during a super quick shoot, they created a film version, which is screened in the new section of the Cannes Film Festival called Premiere, which showcases less conventional movies by established filmmakers.

As an actress you already appeared in Kornél Mundruczó’s early films such as Pleasant Days and Day After Day. Later you co-wrote White God and Jupiter’s Moon, and now with Pieces of a Woman and Evolution you are credited as the sole writer. Could you sum up how your collaboration with Kornél has changed and developed through the years?  

I think we’ve known each other with Kornél for 22 years, I was a sophomore studying acting at the University of Theatre and Film Arts in Budapest, when he – after completing his acting degree – started on his degree to become a director. I started working in his student films, that’s when we started getting to know each other and also collaborating in various ways. It started with coming up together with my only line of dialogue in his first student film, it has continued with me always being there next to him during every film shoot where we take on all the challenges together, and currently we are getting ready together to go on the red carpet in Cannes. A long time has passed, but our intentions haven’t changed much: we want to be authentic in what we say and we want to love what we do in spite of every difficulty.  

Kata Wéber (Photo: Kornél Mundruczó)

Still, I am quite sure it’s pretty different when you are present primarily as an actor and when you are responsible for the whole script. Did this develop from your own urge to write?  

No, even though literature has always been very important to me, the last time I toyed with the idea of becoming a writer was when I was a child. Then writing took a back seat in my life and it resurfaced in connection with my presence in the alternative theater scene, where, in a lot of cases, it’s absolutely natural for actors to also participate as writers. Also, Kornél and Viki Petrányi (Kornél Mundruczó’s producer and creative partner) asked more and more frequently for my input for both our theatrical productions and movies. And as I enrolled in the DLA program of the University, I had to start writing essays and then obviously a doctoral dissertation. For a while I was both writing and acting, but then I had to make a choice, which was also connected to our personal story with Kornél. But all in all, I wouldn’t call this a conscious decision. Currently I am writing but I can choose otherwise in the future.  

You talked candidly about the loss you had suffered, which became a very personal motivation for writing Pieces of a Woman. Does Evolution also have such a personal core?  

While we were shooting Evolution, I lost my mother, who was the most important person in my life. She was already very ill at the time when I was working on the stage version. So, when I was first commissioned to do this project, I immediately felt that I had to grab this last moment, which was the last opportunity to record an impression of a disappearing generation. But I would like to emphasize that, to me, this is by no means a Holocaust movie. These old stories interested me only in reflection to what my identity was and what I was passing on to my child. This was of course all tied together with the fact that we had just moved to Berlin at that time, and I was very much preoccupied with questions about what identity I was bringing with myself from home and how I would find my place and my child’s place in this dual life. If I had to define what this work was about, I would say it is about that fluid identity that I experience personally and witness in others around me.  

Kata Wéber (Photo: Kornél Mundruczó)

The stage performance was created for the Ruhrtriennale art festival two years ago. So, this was a commission, right?  

Yes, they had asked us to create a theatrical installation piece with music using György Ligeti’s Requiem, that was performed by Proton Theatre in a huge industrial venue, called the Jahrhunderthalle, where the 120-member chorus and the orchestra could fit next to the stage. Given these dimensions it would have been hard to perform the piece anywhere else. We thought about bringing it to Hungary and performing it with pre-recorded music, but then the pandemic hit, and the movie was the only chance for this material to survive. The fact that Lili Monori played one of the lead roles also added to this feeling of urgency, we just had to record her presence somehow. So, this urge to create was fueled by the feeling of deprivation, and this is also the reason why it turned out more as an installation-like piece than a traditional feature film.  

When exactly did you decide to do the movie and how did you go about it?  

The German producers of Match Factory, who have been our collaborators since White God, played an active role in this. We attended the Pieces of a Woman premiere together at the Venice Film Festival last September, and they mentioned that they had read the theatrical piece and that they would like to support us turning it into a movie.  

To what extent is the movie, that was shot in less than two weeks, a record of the stage play, and how does it diverge from it?  

We shot it in Leipzig and in Hungary under tough circumstances, with a low budget and in a very short timeframe. Kornél wanted to create a unique film experience that stands on its own. Even though we kept certain things – water, for example, plays an important role in both the stage play and the movie, and they both feature a scene with Lili Monori and Annamária Láng together – the material changed drastically. And, as I mentioned, Evolution is definitely not a traditional feature film. We kept the basic structure of the play, which stands on the pillars of three generations, so I would say that Evolution is a triptych-structured art installation made up of three fragments. And even though we did a lot of research and we involved experts to help us reach back to a different era and to illustrate current German relations, a part of the movie is not rooted in reality. It doesn’t try to depict something, instead it tries to represent trauma, memory, the collective subconscious and our points of reference regarding these. Besides being really honored, this is why I am grateful that our movie will be presented in the Premiere selection of the prestigious Cannes Film Festival, which seems to focus on presenting new forms, while being a red carpet section as well. I hope that this will help to keep our movie as personal as we always intended it to be.