,,I am happy in post production because then it is also just me and an editor, or sound designer.” Mariana Čengel – In interview
Mariana sits down with her husband to ease translation. They seem like two halves of a whole,
very similar personalities. Mariana doesn’t like to stay within one genre and mentions that
seeing the film ‘Queen Margot” by the French filmmaker Patrice Chéreau inspired her to want to
make films. She has a vivid memory of seeing in it a combination of strong story, true to actual
events and artistic style.
Mariana always wanted to be a princess when she was younger, and didn’t know at the time
that being a film director was a career that she could pursue. At age 14 a great interest in
Ingmar Bergman’s filmography took her by force and there was no turning back. Her
filmography contains many historical stories and fantasy so it seems that instead of becoming
an actual fairy princess herself; Mariana decided to bring those stories to the screen for all to
In Bratislava she went to film school after finishing her philosophy studies in Nitra. She also
studied cultural history and politics. Historical events and characters that make up Slovakian
history interest her the most and have served as the main inspiration for her work her entire
career. Mariana is inspired more by the characters from the media she consumes rather than
the authors, whether it be books or films: “In Bergman’s film The Seventh Seal, the two
characters, the knight and the death, are more interesting and inspirational than all of
Bergman’s real life.”
The Chambermaid is based on a book by the same name that is a recount of actual events that
happened at the turn of the 20th century. Mariana contacted the author Hana Lasicová
personally and together they collaborated on the adaptation. The main difference is that in the
book the chambermaid falls in love with the master of the house, a man. Mariana decided to
change the chambermaid’s lover into a woman, the master’s daughter Resi, to touch on bigger
themes than just an ordinary love story. They in turn had to make the story revolve around this
partnership which was absolutely forbidden at the time, even more so than a relationship
between a man and woman out of wedlock.
Mariana makes it clear that she is a big fan of Ingmar Bergman, and Andrei Tarkovsky. For The
Chambermaid, Mariana looked at Bergman’s style in his 1982 film Fanny and Alexander. She
aimed at a more realistic style than what audiences are used to seeing in films that take place in
the Victorian era, capturing speedy and unpredictable everyday life. Mariana had The
Chambermaid filmed the way she saw it in her own head, and did not look to other films to find
the look of the cinematography. It is also an honest reconstruction of that historical period in
terms of costume and set design.
When asked about her working style on set Mariana answers: “Sociopathic (she laughs), I don’t
like alot of people around me so I am not happy when I am shooting. Then I try to have as few
people around me as possible. I am happy when I’m preparing the movie because I am alone or
with one other person mostly. I have to survive on set. I am happy in post production because
then it is also just me and an editor, or sound designer.”
Trusted friends are Mariana’s preferred collaborators, so that she knows what to expect. The
DOP she has worked with many times and he is a long time friend, along with the script
supervisor as well. They enjoy being together on set and keep the group around Mariana small.
Vladimir Martinka, Mariana’s preferred musical composer, is another long time friend and
collaborator and knows exactly what she wants. Their conversation on the musical style can
take up to 6 months each time. When asked why she chose a big orchestral score for the film,
Mariana answers: “Because I like it.”.
The editor for The Chambermaid is a colorful personality and being in the same room with him
for a long time can be challenging, says Mariana. They have however been working together for
the last 17 years and she enjoys his company very much. Their biggest challenge in the editing
room was trying to squeeze as much usable material out of the takes with the three year old
actress that plays the daughter of noble woman Resi. A scene with the girl called for her to start
crying and although her parents were present it was still a challenge for everyone involved.
They did however get as much as was needed in the end.
For acting style Mariana is fond of realism, but absolutely not of improvising. “I don’t expect a
big invention from the actor, I only need them to show true emotions and I know how to achieve
that.” She hires actors she knows directly, usually by phone call, and asks them to read her
scripts. If they accept, she trusts them to do their job and feel their characters, but says that if
they do a subpar job in a take, she will sometimes bring them over to the screen to see their
performance and how they can do better. An older seasoned actor that Mariana once worked
with told her that she should go sparingly on complementing actors on set, as it may drive them
to become too comfortable and not push themselves further.
In the future Mariana wants to make an adaptation of Emily Brontës Wuthering Heights, set in
England just like the book and says that the reason for her interest in the story is because she
identifies with the love starved foundling ‘Heathcliff’.
Mariana suggests that aspiring filmmakers should be ready for the quality of their work to be
determined by the public, whether good or bad. And some established directors even struggle
with this: “We had a director in Slovakia, Miroslav Uher, who after every premiere of his films
went to a psychiatric retreat.”
And to sum it all up: “At the end of my life I will be able to say what kind of characters I identify
with. Until then I can only keep looking.”
– Written by Katla Gunnlaugsdóttir