Will money bring happiness? Or, will you find your happiness with one who is younger, and beautiful, or with someone less attractive, but has something to offer you that are worth more than anything in the world – love? These, and many other interesting ideas, were illustrated in How To Steal A Wife, directed by a Lithuanian filmmaker, Donatas Ulvydas, whose second film, once again, is being presented at The European Union Film Festival.
During the Film Festival, I had the great pleasure of sitting down with Donatas Ulvydas to discuss, not only his hilarious film, but also something that he lives for –the process of shooting; creating a friendly and warm atmosphere on the set, to get the desired results.
MMM: Can you talk a bit more about the idea of the film?
Donatas Ulvydas: For that, I have to explain a little bit more about where I am from and maybe it will help you understand. The thing is I am from a very small country, Lithuania. When we talk about films which are produced in my country we need to understand that we have a very limited amount of viewers, so we have to think about them prior to making a new film. And, if we want to make a big budget film, or at least a European level film, we need to ask the Ministry of Culture for money. So, it’s not that often that you get a chance to make a movie. My first big feature film- “Tadaz Blinda” was shown here at the European Film Festival two years ago and I was very proud of it and I am very happy that my films keep coming back to Toronto. After my first film, we decided to produce an independent film. We started collecting money from sponsors or private investors. However, we have to think about the box offices as well, since we need to pay the money back. So for now we are producing the best product which will sell – comedy. So that`s the long answer about “How to steal a Wife”, which is a comedy. I am making comedies, not because I am a comedy lover, but because I need to think about how to sell a product to the viewers. We found on the internet a small article about the same situation, where a husband comes home from being in prison and finds another man. That was a sign for us, so we were thinking how we could make this film. I had some examples that inspired me; Tommy Lee Jones`s “The Sunset Limited” and Roman Polanski`s “Carnage”. These two films were shot in one room, so I wanted to try the same thing. But as I said, because of the viewers, we decided to make it as a comedy.
MMM: Love is certainly the main subject of the film; however, money also plays a large part. At the end of the film, Ramutis finds a note on the money safe saying, “Money does not buy happiness”. But it seems he still gets some money.
Donatas Ulvydas: Actually, it`s not like that. Maybe because of what is written on the wall, but, in this case, it does not mean that you will find money. It was an idea to write on the wall that just because you find where I keep my money, it does not mean that you will get the money – because it`s locked in a safe. So, do not look for the money, because it won`t buy you happiness. So Ramutis gets nothing. It was just a joke for him. It was my opportunity to send a message to the viewers that Love is more than money.
MMM: Very interesting cast. You`ve picked Ramutis, as a Principal, who looks a bit older than Laima, while her ex-husband looks much younger, but more attractive.
Donatas Ulvydas: It just happened. I honestly think that I got good actors, and a very famous one for my film. I certainly was happy to have them, so I did not think much about whether this or that actor is more, or less handsome. That was not my aim. I did it in a very simple way without any background ideas. Both actors were so good that I picked one as a first husband, the second one, as a second husband.
MMM: But what about Vilija who also looks much younger than Lamija… How did it happen that a simple story turned out to be so complicated?
Donatas Ulvydas: It was an original idea in a novel and screenplay from Miro Gavran. This woman does not have a child but it was written in a way that the same actors could act both roles. It was interesting for the theater. But we decided to have another actor/actress. And it was an idea to make her look nicer, very young, like a dream. The first aim was for a happy ending, with two couples. The second one was that you cannot be happy with just a young, nice girl, but rather, only with the one you love. So I had two couples, and they both end up being happy, because they met their love.
MMM: Talking about the scenes, I am sure it was so much fun making this kind of film. Can you share the most hilarious part of shooting?
Donatas Ulvydas: Honestly, it happens that the scenes that we were laughing at during shooting were not funny in the film at all. I was really surprised by this, but it allowed me to learn a lot about the film business. So sometimes it happens that you shoot a very funny scene, but it`s not very funny for the audience. For example, I was really afraid that in one scene, that the important joke was used by Valdes might not be understood by a broad audience. When Valdes talks about the blood in the prison; this is the kind of humor we have in Lithuania. Everybody understands that Valdes is fooling around, but he presents it with such a serious face. This was very funny to us and we were crying while we were watching that monologue. And that was the idea when I took the script for the first time, to see if I could produce the kind of film without any big messages in it. Like in this scene, where he talks about nothing but rats and prison. Even though they are just words you can read between the lines; there is a philosophy. That`s why that scene is so important for me.
MMM: You have said once: The process of shooting is what I live for. The process will manifest the results. What does it mean for you standing behind the camera shooting the film, or directing the actors?
Donatas Ulvydas: Thank you for this very important question. I am very happy that someone is asking me this, because it`s my credo. And I believe in it very much. I tell my students, partners or colleagues that I don`t want to go over my head to get results. I don`t want to shout on the set; I don`t want to fight with anyone. This is my philosophy. I want to be like a hippi. I want peace and love and to feel good in a shooting day. I don`t want anyone to feel angry. If I arrange to have a good atmosphere on the set, people will be happy. And that will help us to get the desired result. If I may repeat myself, I am from a small country, and filming is like a hobby for me, which means I can`t pay everybody as much as they are worth, so I have to think of other ways to show my gratitude.
MMM: For someone, who lives for the process of shooting, I would like to know what comes first for you during the process of the film: a well written screenplay; cinematography; directing; or the actors?
Donatas Ulvydas: First thing is an idea, and the message. When I say an idea, I mean a script. However, I never use the script as a bible. I like improvising. If my next film has what I want to represent to the audience, then I believe everything will fall into place. And of course, one of the important things is a crew which I never separate from the actors.