Bulgarian director Ralitza Petrova, who won Locarno Film Festival’s Golden Leopard in 2016 with “Godless,” is readying her second feature, “Lust,” which will be presented during Sarajevo Film Festival’s CineLink Co-production Market over the coming week.
Produced by Poli Angelova and Petrova for Aporia Filmworks, in collaboration with Screening Emotions, the project has been backed by the Bulgarian National Film Center and Danish Film Institute, with Copenhagen-based Snowglobe on board as well, reuniting with the director following their collaboration on “Godless.”
The film will focus on fortysomething Lilian, forced to return to her native Bulgaria after becoming her estranged father’s heir. She wants nothing to do with his legacy, but a near-death experience delays her departure, forcing Lilian to address her life-long fear of commitment.
“All the characters interacting throughout the film are more or less incapable of receiving and reciprocating love. But there is a possibility for an awakening,” Petrova tells Variety. Also of a sexual nature, as she plans to explore the world of BDSM (bondage, discipline, dominance and submission) in the story, debunking common misconceptions along the way.
“If you speak to its practitioners, they will tell you that the last thing BDSM is about is violence – it’s an experience of liberation. They feel their consent is being respected, they can heal certain psychological traumas. The father of the main character wasn’t able to feel love, he was perceived as someone who could be sexist and violent, but BDSM allowed him to finally experience a real connection.”
While not a practitioner herself, Petrova would like to celebrate female gaze in the film – also when it comes to shooting its sex scenes.
“I would like to shoot them with blunt honesty and truthfulness. I am very sensitive to how women are being portrayed and I am bored of seeing them objectified all the time: I want to empower the female body and show sexual experience through their point of view. Which is also why I am looking forward to seeing ‘Pleasure’,” she says, mentioning Ninja Thyberg’s Sundance hit, but also Julia Ducournau’s recent win at Cannes, where she won the Palme d’Or with “Titane,” making her only the second female director ever to take that prize.
“This is huge – I am so thrilled. Even five years ago, it would be unthinkable. We, women, we aren’t sexually empowered just yet, or not empowered at all. I can’t bear those close-ups of a woman with her mouth open, receiving pleasure. The truth is, we don’t know female pleasure. It has been so repressed, with films, fairy tales and even children’s books permeating the narratives that deprive the female archetype of its primal nature. We should all be feminists,” she says, echoing Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s words. “It’s about human rights, full stop.”
While Petrova describes “Lust” as a “spiritual film” (“I joke that ‘Godless’ was without God and ‘Lust’ is with God,” she says), it will also be a personal one – in 2016, she lost her own father, whom she saw “perhaps five times” in her life.
“The beginning of the story is inspired by real events. I know what it’s like to grow up without a parent, and I know so many people who can identify with this feeling. My main character, she comes to Bulgaria to sign away this heritage that the law has imposed on her. It’s all very cynical and understandably so – he was a stranger to her, so why should she care? She wants to reject all that, but then something happens and she goes beyond that desperate need of being acknowledged by her father,” she adds.
“When you inherit a certain narrative and it’s all that you have ever known, it’s hard to break away unless something shakes up your whole system. I would like the audience to leave the cinema feeling that it’s not about power – it’s about being able to honor the trauma that we have all caused each other and to connect through our mutual pain.”