Estonian film Cherry Tobacco has its World Premiere in Karlovy Vary. Laurence Boyce talks to the married director Andres and Katrin Maimik about influences, first love and dumpling faces.

Married directing duo Andres and Katrin Maimik mark their debut feature together with Estonian film Cherry Tobacco, due to have its World Premiere in Karlovy Vary’s East of the West Competition.

For Katrin Maimik, it represents her first foray into the world of feature film after directing well-regarded shorts such as Foto. For Andres Maimik, known to Estonian audiences as an actor and journalist, it represents a return after such films as documentary Kuku: I Will Survive and the popular domestic hit Farts of Fury.

Cherry Tobacco follows young girl Laura who embarks on a camping holiday in the Estonian countryside. There she falls for the charms of 40-something Joosep and young love blossoms.

A lyrical and moving piece about first love, the film drips with a hazy and beautiful atmosphere that’s complemented with some strong performances from leads Maris Nõlvak and Gert Raudsep.

Where did the ideas behind Cherry Tobacco come from?

Katrin Maimik: For some time now, we have wanted to make a love film which would concentrate on the state of falling in love - how the everyday world turns into something completely different, random smells and tastes acquire a new meaning, ordinary things become fetishes and places are transformed into cathedrals.

I drew inspiration from an event in my own youth, a trip I embarked on as a teenager. There are a lot of ideas floating in the air but the most reliable ones are those which are inspired by life itself. Out of those, the most trustworthy are the ones which have happened to you.

Thus, the premise was taken from real life but a film needs something more – characters, metaphors, a plot. We added all these when we started writing the screenplay.

Andres Maimik: Katrin approached the topic of first love from the point of view of a young woman and first-time lover but I was mainly interested in the possibility of emotional communication between two characters with such different backgrounds and life experiences.

It is by no means uncommon for love to develop between a middle-aged man who has found a stable ground in his life and a young girl for whom all her life in front of her. The question is how both sides manage their emotions and how far they let or dare this “forbidden“ relationship to develop.

The charm of Cherry Tobacco doesn’t reside in what happens but what doesn’t happen.

You’re a married directing duo. How is your work dynamic on set?

AM: They say that it is a catastrophe when your partner is also your colleague or business partner but our creative partnership seems to be a spectacular exception to the rule. It gives us the opportunity to take work home with us without the other side starting to moan about the other one having no time for the family and concentrating only on work and career.

KM: Yes, the opposite is true for us. When we run out of things to talk about or are drowning under the weight of everyday troubles, we can always work on our creative projects and the world becomes a better place once again. Thinking together on the set seems also to be working for us. During the entire time we have spent on set, I think we have only had a row and a half.

AM: Our creative partnership works very well. If there is one person who thinks the same way as I do, then I have reason to believe that there are other people who might care for this story.

The casting is crucial for the film. How did you go about casting the lead roles, especially those of Laura and Joosep?

AM: As we were aiming at simplicity, we thought that most of the supporting characters could be played by non-professional actors. There are only three professional actors in the film.

I worked with the actress who plays the main character, Maris Nõlvak on a TV comedy (When the Sh*t Hits the Fan). She is a natural talent whose organic way of acting has not been spoiled by academic theatre schools. Her smooth features and large eyes are childish and feminine at the same time which matched our perception of the role.

KM: Finding an actor to play Joosep was harder. We organised castings and discussed the matter until we found Gert. He is a marvellous actor and I just love his dumpling face.

AM: What? You never told me that.

KM: Don’t worry, I love your dumpling face even more.

The film reminded me in some ways of the more lyrical works of the likes of Ken Loach and Mike Leigh. Who were the influences for you?

AM: Both of them mean a lot to me. Several friends of mine have been suspicious of Mike Leigh’s film Happy Go Lucky saying that it is too easy-going to be considered a remarkable piece of filmmaking, but for me, the lightness and cheerfulness are what made me appreciate it in the first place.

KM: While we were preparing Cherry Tobacco, we watched Jim Jarmusch’s Broken Flowers and Aki Kaurismäki was also always in our minds. We like the old-fashioned “simplicity” of these authors which is based on a carefully thought-out style.

AM: We were striving for a similar kind of simplicity in Cherry Tobacco – we didn’t want to add any effect through camera work, lighting or affective acting. It’s a love film without any kissing! The action takes place in a small homely world where Miley Cyrus has not been invented yet.

KM: However, this does not mean that Cherry Tobacco isn’t an erotic film.

Where do you think the film fits within the current crop of modern Estonian cinema?

AM: I’m not too sure where it fits with the latest crop. It’s a film which is in many ways smaller, more intimate and less pretentious than many others. Our aim isn’t to engage the masses and flood the box office. Neither do we want to point out a sore spot in the society or shout out artistic manifestos.

We hope that the viewer finds more of a silent quality in Cherry Tobacco – a chance to share the feelings of the characters or sympathise based on their own life experiences.

What does the selection at Karlovy Vary mean to you? What are you hoping for whilst there?

KM: As this is our first feature-length film then the fact that it was included in the Karlovy Vary festival programme is very important to us.

AM: It is always nice to go to festivals. You can drink good wine at the expense of the organisers and talk to interesting people. In addition to all that, you get to pamper yourself in the mineral waters of a world-famous resort. Furthermore, I’m very glad that our young main actress gets a taste of the real red carpet glamour.

What projects do you have planned for the future?

AM: It’s a bit too early to talk about it, but it seems that the topic of human relationships seems to suit us. Maybe a drama which follows the same line, for example, a film discovering the darker sides of the relationship between parents and children.

KM: A film about where forced intimacy can lead to.