Bosnian director Faruk Loncarevic won the Special Jury Prize at the Sarajevo Film Festival with Mum n’ Dad in 2006, and now he returns to the festival’s competition with his new film, With Mom.

The co-production between Bosnia’s SCCA/, Germany’s DETAiLFILM, and Slovenia’s Vertigo Emotionfilm and Restart is the story of a middle-class Sarajevo family in which the elder teenage daughter, the main character Berina (Marija Pikic, from Children Of Sarajevo) and father Mladen (Branko Djuric)  have to deal with imminent death of wife and mother, hematologist Jasna (Mira Furlan).

Loncarevic tells ScreenDaily about how the subject matter of the film comes from  his personal experience, the relation between science and religion in his film and modern society, and the political choices directors in the Balkans are making in order to fulfill international funds’ expectations.

Your film first had the working title Berina’s Chakras but you changed it to With Mom.

The title Berina’s Chakras helped me a lot with my sense of direction when I was working on the film, but it had to be changed. There was even a yoga scene which eventually cut out of the film, but it was important for the film- making process. I guess that’s a kind of change every film goes through and the process of making this film was very long, five years.

Why did you decide to tell this story about a family in which the mother is dying of breast cancer?

The story comes from my personal experience and is connected to my family. My aunt was a hematologist who died of cancer and was survived by husband and two daughters. Unfortunately, my family story has become a universal one. The occurrence of cancer in Bosnia has increased for something like 400% since the war, it’s practically an epidemic. It was exactly my aunt who established a connection between the extended exposure to war and famine on one hand and cancer on the other in a scientific paper she had written. This scientific approach played a big role in making the film although it’s not very obvious in the finished product.

The question of religion and atheism is very present in the film.

Today we have a radical atheism which actually reminds me very much of religious fundamentalism. They are absolutely the same thing. It didn’t use to be this way. We used to have a point of view based on profound education, science, a different view of the world, and most importantly, a morality and integrity  which were very solid and not for sale. The mother character is the last representative of this outlook, a sort of fin de siècle, if you will. Now we don’t seem to have that anymore, there is only an outright rejection of religion without any insight or objective reason.

Unlike most Bosnian, and even most Balkan films, With Mum is set in the milieu of upper middle class.

I was making a film about my experience, which is not a one-time event from war or something like that, it is an accumulated experience of disintegration of a social structure.

I don’t know the world that is described in most Bosnian films. I don’t know these people, maybe I see them on the street but it is not a milieu I’m familiar with. I know that most other Bosnian directors do not know it either because they come from the upper middle class. A film-maker has the right to choose his subject matter, but this is not my world.

I think the big number of films about the lower class is also a result of the social-realistic burden that we all carry. The principle used to be that there is no drama in the middle class. Lower class is more colourful, it is more plausible that the story would include, for example, a fight with knives, which is also a very cinematic thing. What used to represent a critique in the cinema of the Yugoslav Black Wave suddenly had become a mannerism, particularly in the films of Emir Kusturica and some less famous but similar directors.

Unfortunately, it turned into something that Europe is expecting from us now, and that’s maybe the most important problem. But I can’t make films about what others want the films to be about, I can only do films that I want to do. This is how I experienced the war, the post-war situation, and the social context I was living in. The characters in the film are people that I know. The film stems from what can be called a decade-long research which can’t be compared to any research that anyone can execute even in theory.

The cast is the film’s strongest point, from Mira Furlan, a legend of Yugoslav cinema, through Marija Pikic, the brightest new star of Bosnian film, to Branko Djuric who is cast against his usual comedy type.

The energy footprint of the cast, to put it that way, had to be singular and consistent. When we switched the actress who was playing [the main character] Berina, we also switched the actor who was playing her love interest. The casting process was quite long and as the film was growing, so the cast was changing. I think Pikic is a fantastic choice for the role of Berina.

Of course, there were a few drafts of the script, but in the end the film turned out to be closest to the first version of the screenplay, which is proof that sometimes a film-maker can be very stubborn about his initial idea.