Children, in their innocence, can find beauty in the world despite facing great odds–Juraj Lehtosky

Interview with the Director of NINA, World Premiere at TIFF’17

Nina is 12. Her parents are getting a divorce and her world is falling apart before her eyes. Her mom and dad say they are only doing what is best for her, but in fact, they act as though they only cared for themselves. Nina doesn’t understand them. She feels abandoned and deceived. It’s like there is nothing left in the world that she could

believe in. Her only remaining security in life is competitive swimming. At the pool she finds calm and support and everything else she lacks at home. When it looks like she won’t be able to attend a swimming competition, she makes a radical move.

Presenting an interview with the director, Juraj Lehtosky:

How did you pick the main protagonists?

We discovered Bibiana Nováková at the auditions, which was surprising. Usually at auditions you get children who really want to act and they act like it, or you get parents who want their children to act. Only seldom do you

get children who are so mature. It’s very rare, finding a young talent like her. Bibiana had been in a drama club in school, but that wasn’t important for us. At the auditions we clicked really well. We immediately understood that she has a knack for strong, natural acting, that she can be authentic. I saw how gentle she could be, but I also saw that she could cope with difficult situations.

It was amazing how well she understood my language. We worked really well together. Ultimately, I think that the whole film works mostly thanks to her.

Did she have a personal experience similar to the one in the film that she could embody the character so well?

It was only over time that I learnt that her parents had also divorced. Their divorce, however, had unfolded very differently to the one in our film. Bibiana is a very mature individual even though she is only 12 years old. I never felt like I was talking to a child. We spoke very openly. She is a calm and thoughtful person. I really took a liking to her, which made me feel that she could also be popular with the audience. That the viewers would experience the story with her from beginning to end.

How did you cast the actors who portray the parents?

I had known Petra Fornayová for some time; I even wanted to cast her in my previous film. Petra is a dancer and director. She is authentic and sensitive and also rebellious in a certain sense. She is also relatively unknown

and therefore interesting. She added another dimension to the script – her own profession. We built up the character of the mother as a woman who loves music and dance, but for financial reasons, she must work at a petrol station

in Austria, where she is starting a new relationship with her colleague. I was fascinated by how the child knows what the parent loves doing and feels their frustration. The daughter is watching her mother dance and when she asks her

to come perform at school, she refuses.

How does an adult like you think himself into the mind of a child so that he can tell a story from a child’s perspective?

Both the scriptwriter Marek Leščák and I have children. When we were writing the script, I tried to pay very close attention to how my children view and experience things. I am fortunate to have a complete family, but

still, we too have been through some rough patches. So I was drawing on my own experience to a certain extent. The story is mostly told from the child’s perspective. We bring out the small things that children point out and parents

do not necessarily want to see. Thus the film somehow becomes a reflection on us – the parents. We can see how when we are self-centred and egoistic, some important things start to slip between our fingers – the time we get to spend with our children, the time that’s here now and that won’t be coming back. We spoke to parents who had divorced, even to parents who had hurt each other very much in the process, having acted like lunatics, which they may not even have been aware of. We heard many stories where the adults had lost control of the situation and the child suffered because of it.

The theme of a family falling apart brings out many questions. Which were the crucial questions for you?

I wanted to look for answers and think about love, hate, and the ability to forgive. I wanted to use to story as a probe into the depths of our souls. I wanted to highlight how important it is to be sensitive to others.

How did you decide that Nina should be a competitive swimmer? What did you find so interesting about the motif of water?

The competitive swimming element helps paint a more complete picture of Nina’s character. She is by nature competitive and wants to win. It’s all a metaphor for her parents’ struggle, for her own struggle for what she loves

and is losing. The pool is also a place where she can escape and be happy for a while. The water washes away her sorrow.

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