MARCH 2023 - MONTHLY EDITION
Q1. Igor Rados, a round of applause for "Nursery Rhyme of a Madman"! Your film is based on an interesting play on words. Please tell us more and walk us through your path as a director and how you decided to concentrate on this specific topic.
Nursery Rhyme of a Madman is a parabolic drama about a poet in an asylum, confined by two crazy doctors in competition over opposed schools of thought. At first glance, the audience may see this film as a contemporary thriller with multiple conflicts, but as the movie progress, the story takes us into a dreamlike undefined place and time.
Our film derives from a short, powerful play, "The Madman and The Nun," by Polish playwright Stanislaw Witkiewicz, written around the Bolshevik Revolution as a rebellious response to the conviction of the government to control social values and art in particular. It was the end of creative freedom for many, as art became a political tool of the government. In this piece, the author pictures the world as a madhouse in a small box.
"Nursery Rhyme of a Madman" is not a straight adaptation but more an inspiration with segments of the script based on the play. I translated the original text into a more adaptable form as the basis for a full-length screenplay. The text was dark and surreal to a great extent that the realism alone would not convey the story. It felt almost impossible to follow the logic, but its heartbeat was strong. I followed the heart and embraced an impressionistic style with sparks of dark humor and magic realism which make this piece visually and conceptually unique.
Q2a. We open on a scene in a lunatic asylum. A man in a straitjacket says, "I want to get out of here." Soon he is administered a tranquillizer and hauled to another place. He then attempts an escape, and the hospital staff chase him around on the grounds of the new hospital. A nurse watches the scene from a nearby window. Elena (aka Ana) is to "take over the case". A man who we suppose is the head psychiatrist tells her: "If you can get into his (Mitchel's, a poet) mental injury, please do so. Be my guest. Apply what you learned in school.
The chaotic bohemian life of an artist traps Mitchel in an asylum. The death of his soulmate crushes him further down. He passionately expresses the desire to write himself to demise. However, he ends up in the hands of a "caring society," two enthusiastic experimental psychiatrists, who eventually drive him to a slow death.
The text brings a bizarre view of an artist in conflict with the state. It makes one wonder if the poet's soulmate is ART itself, which dies at his hands.
The film is an anti-establishment satire charged with subliminal messages. The characters stretch beyond individuals, symbolizing concepts over their personal agendas. The poet, as constantly tranquilized, represents every artist and visionary person on the planet who wants to create but has her/his hands tied. Two doctors are the belligerent powers of the world, selfish, rude, and often sneaky. The nurse represents bleeding hearts and cultural needs. The list goes on for the audience to discover.
Q2b. In the second act, we dive into the patient-nurse relationship until it is flipped around in a clever twist at the end! Mental health and psychology as a science have become very topical since the pandemic. But like one of your characters who say, "Our hospitals are worse than feudal dungeons," would you say they should also come under scrutiny and perhaps be better regulated?
There is a political angle to this film. As much as we may have a satirical view of the health system that needs repair, as we learned a lot about it during the most recent pandemic, the film's concept covers a broader picture. The hospital syndrome spreads to all levels of the government, affecting us equally toxic, often turning healthy into sick.
Q3. You were from Belgrade originally. Even though you have lived in Canada for a long time, what is your vision of North America, the boons, and the banes of choosing this continent?
North America is a beautiful collage of people of different origins. It embraces all cultures from around the world. Moving from Belgrade, former Yugoslavia and leaving everything behind was a bold decision. When young, you take adventures without contemplating too much.
I miss Europe, but I do not regret moving to Canada. Toronto is a great city with a rich filmmaking tradition. It is a gigantic artistic hub and a great pool of entertainment professionals and enthusiasts. Independent artists can also find support through numerous media coups, art councils, affordable theatres, and a film-loving sophisticated audience.
I came to Canada in 1988, and this country has been great to me. I graduated from the School of Business in 1994, began working on movie sets as a crew member, joined the Directors Guild of Canada, then got degrees in Liberal Studies in Film and Theatre at York University in 1996 and Film Production with Honors in 1999, with an award-winning film called "Deja Vu-Deja Vu."
The film got into my first Festival in Igualada, Barcelona, Spain, and won the Grand and People's Choice Awards the same night. That was a point of no return. I officially became a filmmaker.
You may mark me as a Canadian or North American director; however, you'll find a substantial European influence in my work. It is not my conscious decision. I am fortunate to bring my cultural heritage and share some knowledge from the East to the West.
Q4. "The insane are the smartest," quips one of the doctors. Can you tell us more about Dr Groom's theory of the "harmonic inquest" in the film? Are poetry and psychoanalysis interconnected or the opposite?
The movie content bears a fine line between poetry and harmony, complemented by the impressionist style.
"Nursery Rhyme of a Madman" is approached as poetry in the film, which forced me to deviate from realism. Symbolism plays an essential part in most of the scenes. The irony is that every character around the "sick" poet is more disturbed than the patient himself. The two doctors are the craziest, which gives a comic spice to this, otherwise dark piece.
Dr Groom's character in the original text strongly believed in psychoanalysis. It was a modern treatment approach, manifesting the contemporary avant-garde society of the period. After a lengthy discussion with my script consultant, Pilar Alessandra, we concluded that this method could not be as revolutionary today.
I had to build a new "revolutionary" technique for Dr Groom that reaches beyond Western medical norms. In our film, he metaphysically connects to patients. He studies the patterns of their behavior engraved in their DNAs from the previous generations or even incarnations of the patient. It may sound more like a spiritual method, but I named it "The Harmony Inquest."
Here Dr Groom, like his colleague, Dr Fritz, considers himself a genius; however, their dogmatist approach to patients as specimens of high scientistic values makes them appear as sociopaths and mental patients themselves.
Q5. Who are your cinema inspirations? Are we right in seeing some of the art of Roman Polanski and maybe Scandinavian cinema behind the unorthodox aspect of your work?
I find my creative incentives in everything I experience, life, art, and literature. It's impossible not to get influenced by the old masters and great films. The biggest inspiration for this film comes from Witkiewicz's avant-garde work and the universal reflection of human behavior in everyday life. In its peculiar piece, the text calls for style, and we better respect that notion of the author. Otherwise, we would lose the essence of it and leave the audience in a dry unattended place.
Interestingly, you have mentioned Scandinavian Cinema. When our director of photography John Holosko CSC and I walked into the premises of the filming location, we knew instantaneously that the building would be the character in the film. As much as I wanted to break out of the unity of time and place, I had to stay fateful to the original text, picturing the world as a madhouse in a small box.
John understood the analogy of this film very well, so I gave him full creative freedom. He used classic three-point lighting throughout the film as if communicating with this magnificent old building. The Swedish chapter of the European Society of Cinematographers, FSF Sweden, complimented John's work, comparing his lighting technique to legendary Sven Nykvist's work. https://fsfsweden.se/john-holosko-csc-unique-lighting-strategy-for-nursery-rhyme-of-a-madman/
Q6. One of the psychiatrists is killed by Mitchel, the poet. Mitchel hangs himself with his straitjacket from the stairwell of the clinic. But when the police arrive, the two bodies have disappeared from the hospital morgue. The two dead come to Elena in a dream. And in an incredible coup de théâtre, the two rises from the dead and appear completely cured.
Elena eventually escapes with Mitchel, and we imagine they live happily ever after! We see Mitchel again as he calls a poetry gathering "An evening with a master.” At the film's end, the doctors acknowledge that Mitchel's case is lost forever and discuss their new patient "He is a film director. Nobody wants to make films anymore. He must have gone mad." Did you say your film was to be handled with care? Would you comment?
It is not a secret that the film has become a dying art stuck between entertainment and political agendas. Sarcasm, however, will find its media to come out, despite how hard some may try to suppress it.
The original play proceeds chronologically from dark comedy to tragedy and finally grotesque. In addition, the film shows the characters creating bizarre situations, dying, resurrecting, and losing their minds. The poet identifies his brain as a machine that never stops, even when asleep. "That's why artists have to do crazy things," he explains.
I could not resist the challenge of adapting a circular structure and delivering this film as rhymes in the poet's mind. In the final act, magic happens: Nurse Anna rescues Mitchel, the inspector brings order, and poetry lovers embrace the artist.
Call me a romantic dreamer, but that's the closure we all need: good people to save the world sometimes and keep our planet happy.
Q7. What are your upcoming plans for the foreseeable future?
I'm between a few projects in development. One is a social drama called "Unwanted," involving the trafficking of children based on actual events. It will be a coproduction, and I hope to present it to Telefilm Canada by the end of the year.
The next one is "Joni Goes Postal," written by Joan Wannan. It is a comedy/drama about a postal worker who discovers her long-term boyfriend cheating. Heartbroken, she goes "postal". A series of silly situations and masterminded acts of revenge help her to realize that her life is meant for something better.
We are still in negotiation to put "Cake" into development. It is a dark comedy/ thriller written by the magnificent filmmaking veteran Allan Moyle. It is a self-actualization play-like drama about a model photographer confused by his values and choices in life. As his past comes back to haunt him, the circle closes on him in just one night.
Q8. What is your vision of post-Covid cinema? A short statement.
"The show must go on!". If you've been attending the Cannes Film Festival regularly, you may feel the pulse of the worldwide film industry every time you arrive. I remember the days when I was looking forward to meeting with colleagues and creative dreamers from different countries. The post-Covid Festival was different from the one before. Most corporate people came back, but the euphoria stayed at home.
I wish I could say: Nothing has changed. It is all in our heads. As Dr Groom would say in our film, "It is a complex!" However, the reality did change. We learned how privileged we were and how easily we took our lives for granted. As an analogy, Covid turned our lives into a dark comedy. If we treat each other well and stay away from "crazy doctors," the Earth will become a better place as it was, and good movies will return.
Igor Stephen Rados
A filmmaker with a curious take on life, Igor Stephen Rados is always searching for the "other side" of a constant riddle that needs to be solved. His work is driven by explicit visual language and a dynamic editing approach. Rados is best known for his award-winning films, including the politically provocative dark comedy NURSERY RHYME OF A MADMAN, a cheerfully exotic documentary, GUČA: SERBIAN DETOX, an existentialist drama, DEJA VU DEJA VU, the energy-driven documentary, BIKE COURIERS IN TORONTO, and the controversial satire, TAX FOR HOMELESS. Born in Belgrade, former Yugoslavia, Rados has lived with his family in Toronto, Canada, since 1988. He graduated from the School of Business at George Brown College in 1994, in Liberal Studies in Film and Theatre at York University in 1996, and in Film Production with Honours at York in 1999.
© ITV 2023 Isabelle Rouault-Röhlich