In EVOLUTION, acclaimed filmmaking team Kornél Mundruczó and Kata Wéber (PIECES OF A WOMAN) return with a powerful drama tracing three generations of a family, from a surreal memory of World War II to modern day Berlin, unable to process their past in a society still coping with the wounds of its history.

Like the water that connects the episodes in this triptych, memory and identity are fluid, and how we relate to it can drown or buoy. The pain and stigma that trickles from Eva, to Lena and then Jonas is inexpressible, yet rendered with striking imagery by Mundruczó and a wrenchingly poignant yet acerbically ironic and personal script by Weber. While generational traumas find new expression in the present, the family in EVOLUTION looks towards a more hopeful future.

© Viktória-Petrányi

Kornél Mundruczó is a critically acclaimed multi-award-winning Hungarian film director. Mundruczó studied film and television at the University of Theatre and Film Arts in Hungary. He is the founder of PROTON CINEMA. His first film PLEASANT DAYS (2002) was awarded the Silver Leopard in Locarno;his following works all premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. JOHANNA (2005 Un Certain Regard), DELTA (2008 Official Competition) won the FIPRESCI prize, TENDER SON (2010 Official Competition), WHITE GOD (2014 Un Certain Regard) won the Prize Un Certain Regard, JUPITER'S MOON (2017 Official Competition). PIECES OF A WOMAN (2020) was his first English-language film that premiered at the 77th Venice International Film Festival where it received the Young Cinema Awards and Volpi Cup for Best Actress. The film's success was crowned with an Academy Award nomination (2021) as well.

2020 Pieces of a Woman | OT: Pieces of a Woman

2017 Jupiter's Moon | OT: Jupiter holdja

2014 White God | OT: Fehér isten

2010 Tender Son – The Frankenstein-Project | OT: Szelíd teremtés – A Frankenstein-terv

2008 Delta | OT: Delta

2005 Johanna | OT: Johanna

2002 Pleasant Days | OT: Szép napok

© Match Factory Productions, Proton Cinema 2021

Upon graduating from the University of Theatre and Film Arts in Budapest, Kata Wéber began her career working in theatre, eventually becoming a scriptwriter and playwright. Her theatre pieces have travelled all over the world with great success. While maintaining an active presence in the European theatre and opera scene, she also started collaborating with writer and director, Kornél Mundruczó. Their work together has proven to be fruitful after WHITE GOD (2014) won the Prize Un Certain Regard and had a Spotlight section at the Sundance Film Festival, and JUPITER'S MOON (2017) was also In Competition as part of The Official Selection of the 70th Cannes Film Festival. PIECES OF A WOMAN (2020) was Wéber’s third original story and her first English-language piece brought to screen, which premiered at the 77th Venice International Film Festival where it won the Young Cinema Awards and Volpi Cup for Best Actress, followed by an Academy Award nomination (2021).

2020 Pieces of a Woman | OT: Pieces of a Woman

2017 Jupiter's Moon | OT: Jupiter holdja

2014 White God | OT: Fehér isten

© Match Factory Productions, Proton Cinema 2021

Kata and I often discuss identity, and how it is such a pliable notion.

How events, both horrible and joyous, can arc through generations and define the lives of those without first-hand experience. This film includes many elements of true events that have deeply affected our lives. But we wanted to approach it by not simply paying homage to historical events but by looking at how those moments affect the individual, and the generations that follow. This film is very personal to Kata's family history. We used different tools and styles of cinema to amplify these feelings and memories in new ways, and we hope that those grappling with the impact and fluidity of their own histories can recognize themselves in our film.

© Match Factory Productions, Proton Cinema 2021

This is your fourth feature film collaboration as writer-director, after PIECES OF A WOMAN, JUPITER’S MOON, and WHITE GOD. Tell me a bit about your collaboration together, is this something you will continue into the future?

Kornél Mundruczó, Director: We really click creatively, so it’s an easy choice for us. It's not mandatory for every project, we just really enjoy working together. We both collaborate with different people in the film and theatre scene as well.

Kata Wéber, Writer: We often collaborate in different capacities - it’s always the new challenge that defines our positions on the project. I think we want to be together as a team for the future, but perhaps also in many different constellations.

Kata, I understand that this film is to a certain extent autobiographical or at least based on some of your mother's experiences?

Kata: Starting in ’45 in Budapest, from that point the story is inspired by my mother's story, and then in the Berlin section it is based on our and our friends’ experiences moving to Berlin. It was a really interesting time for us when we left Hungary; moving to a new country makes you redefine your and your family’s identity. This period is filled with experiences like when I tried to find a Jewish kindergarten and then I couldn't prove we were Jewish due to the fake documents. This transition coincided with the time when my mother got really sick, that is why this topic felt really important to me at that time, it was like a mirror for me. Upon her passing, this became essential to me to discuss the subject.

This film has a really interesting perspective on being Jewish in modern Germany - the country prides itself on the reparations for the Jewish community, but I hadn't really thought until watching this film that if you don't have the paperwork, it can be a problem...

Kata: My mother had five birth certificates and they were all fake. I just felt I had so many question marks on these topics, but our move to Germany presented us with a set of new questions as well. The Berlin events in the film are inspired by real life events. We experienced that there is a certain fear that surrounds the subject in the current German society, but we didn’t want to portray a perspective that looks for answers in the past, but a contemporary one. Our main focus is what is the identity we pass on to the next generation, to our children.

Kornél: While I’m not Jewish, I have three Jewish kids, so I am part of this as well. The extensive research for both the first and second part was a very interesting part to me. These sections are completely defined by contradictions and untold stories that resonate with the history of eastern-European Jews who stayed in their homelands during the communism. The Berlin part of the story is also connected to these from many different aspects. When we went to Berlin, we started to realise that those questions we're tackling in the earlier parts of the film are way more complex today in Berlin that we anticipated.

Tell me about the evolution of the script - I know there was a theater piece that is related, could you tell me a bit about that?

Kornél: We did a “music theater” as the Germans say roughly three years ago, which was sort of a musical installation for a classical concert for Ligeti's Requiem that we created with Proton Theatre for the Ruhrtiennale. There was a hundred-piece orchestra and a hundred-person choir on stage as well, so it was very different. We had a dialogue, but it wasn’t a stage play per se.

So if you started this a few years ago, how did the pandemic affect the film? Did you shoot before things shut down?

Kornél: We shot in April and May this year over only 13 days in the pandemic, seven days in Budapest and six days in Germany, and that was it, so I mean it's a tiny shooting.

Kata: We always knew it was going to be really special, it's not like a typical feature. We were jumping into the deep water and it felt like a free fall… we knew it would be tough but we had to try anyway.

Because the film is structured in a triptych, I do want to ask about the sections. The first part is absolutely creepy, surreal, nightmarish. Talk to me about the process when you're deciding how that's going to come together, where those nightmare images came from, and was it in fact all done in one shot?

Kornél: Yes, it’s all one shot until the one moment when we go outside. Our concept was very basic: we wanted to capture the trauma’s poetic and surrealistic essence on screen, the fear, and the feeling that haunts one person. This is what ties us to the second part.

Kata: You don't want to express the horrors of the inexpressible. But it is a huge reference point for the following generations represented in the film, so you have to find your relation to it somehow.

Kornél: I remember reading a book by Imre Kertész, it fascinated me how he reports in his novel about the Polish Red Cross cleaning the camps after the liberation. During their mission they found a couple dozen children in the camp and after doing research on it, it provided a perfect starting point for our movie.

It's impossible not to think about this first scene, and the scene from your last film, Oscar-nominated Pieces of a Woman, because they are almost mirrors of each other. In that film, there’s a big one-take birth scene that opens the film, and with this film it begins in chaos and darkness, and ends with a birth in a way - a baby coming out of the floor. There are also some connections like the mother character in that film, the two films do talk to one another a little bit.

Kornél: In Evolution, we wanted to film this miracle, to have this as the emotional core of the film which is finding a survivor, a baby. It’s absurd and surrealistic to think that they actually found babies alive in the camp after the liberation. For us, something we wanted to explore more in depth after Pieces of a Woman was how these kinds of traumas persist in-between generations, and we felt that there was still space to talk about it.

Kata: I also wanted to make a memento to a generation that we are losing right now - these days are the last days we can talk to people who were there and survived and can talk about their past, so it was really important for me to put this into words.

Tell me a little bit about the casting, particularly of the mother in part two - she gives just an extraordinary performance and imagine it was very difficult because of the long takes, the camera's doing this choreographed dance and it’s a lot of dialogue.

Kornél: Lili Monori is an icon and a genius - I have worked with her for the past 10 years. Mostly on stage, but she was in White God and Delta as well. This is her first significant role in a movie of mine. In the past she did also work with Isabelle Huppert, and she was kind of an iconic indie star in the communist Hungary, while also being an outsider. She told me at the start that she could not imagine the sequence as shot-by-shot. She just asked me to give her the final text a month before the shoot and she just came fully prepared to do the take. There is only one seam right before the water bursts out into the apartment, but the rest 36-and-a-half minutes is a real long take, everything is real. We shot this section for three days, every day doing about three takes, four max - 13 takes altogether. The last one is the one in the movie.

Let’s talk about your style, the camera kind of floats, and of course the long takes.

Kornél: I have always wanted to make a movie with a frozen camera and without music but at the end, we always move the camera and get music in {laughs} because... I really like spiritual camerawork, when you can’t anticipate exactly what is going to happen. You get a sense of freedom in the concentration. From my perspective as a director, this adds intimacy and tenderness - it's not logged, the actor can react, but at the same time, it's not this kind of hand-held-ish thing which is pretty far from what I do.

So you’ve found a balance between these. I imagine for your camera operators, you can't just hire anybody. You've got to hire people that really know how to do this - tell me about working with your DPs.

Kornél: Yorick Le Saux, who is basically a star DP, agreed to do this with us and I appreciate it so much that he's picked this little movie during the pandemic. He really was operating himself step-by-step, and sometimes he wasn’t sure he could do it. In the end he said, “when I was in the long shot, when I was part of the spirit or body of the actors and acting, I was inside and I didn't feel how difficult it actually was.” It was down to the endorphins, or something, but he made it happen.

Some of the stories that the mother is telling, of what she endured as a baby, some of those are very upsetting stories. There is a story that one of the survivors tells in The Four Sisters by Claude Lanzmann, which reminded me a little bit of these stories. Were these, Kata, things that you heard from your mother?

Kata: In regards to the tragic events of WWII, we didn't want to get down to one specific character’s story, but of many. I talked with experts, I visited the archives and collected stories to make this new story a composition of many people's experiences. But then, once we are back in Hungary in the second part, those stories come from my mother majorly.

I think it's really interesting how one can relate to something that they never experienced themselves. It's the focal topic of the film - can something that you never experienced yourself have extreme power over your life, your childhood? I never thought of it when I was young, hearing these stories and getting to know my mom's story; but when she passed away, I had to face the fact that these are things that really shaped my life in many ways.

To wrap up, is there anything else you want to say about the film ahead of its premiere?

Kornél: In the scope of our career, this movie was really unique and we enjoyed having the space to make it. The experience was really interesting and very personal. We hope it provides a little bit of our perspective on these ideas and issues we’re facing in our own lives. When looking at personal history, so many more complexities come to the surface as opposed to analyzing the big picture - we wanted to show an example for this as well.

© Match Factory Productions, Proton Cinema 2021

Lili Monori: Éva

Annamária Láng: Léna

Goya Rego: Jónás

Padmé Hamdemir: Yasmin

Jule Böwe: Frau Clausen

Director: Kornél Mundruczó

Writer: Kata Wéber

Producers: Viola Fügen, Michael Weber, Viktória Petrányi

Co-Producers: Júlia Berkes, Michel Merkt, Tobias Pausinger

Associate Producers: Alexander Bohr, Dóra Büki

Line Producer: Stephan Barth

Editor: Dávid Jancsó

Cinematographer: Yorick Le Saux

Music: Dascha Dauenhauer

Production Designers: Judit Varga "Csuti", Albrecht Konrad

Costume Designers: Sophie Klenk-Wulff, Melinda Domán

Make-up Artists: Astrid Lehmann, Zsombor Ágoston

Sound Designer: Noemi Hampel

Re-Recording Mixer: Steve Single

Lili Monori has appeared in over 60 films and is a regular guest at the Cannes Film Festival with seven films in the Official Selection. The first one, Orokseg was by Marta Meszaros in 1980, followed by A Tanu by Peter Bacsó (1981) and Visszaesko by Zsolt Kezdi-Kovacs (1983). She returned to Cannes with Kornél Mundruczó’s films. First Delta in 2008, followed by Tender Son in 2010 and White God in 2014. Aside from her work in film, she has also been involved in theater since the start of her career. She co-founded the Szentkirályi Theater Workshop with B. Miklós Székely in 1982 and has been with Proton Theater since it opened in 2009. In the ten years since the ensemble formed, she has given dazzling, unforgettable performances in Frankenstein-project, Shame, Dementia and Imitation of Life.

In 2019 the Hungarian Film Festival in Los Angeles presented two films with Monori, the legendary The Witness as well as Bad Poems, and gave her a Lifetime Achievement Award.

Evolution is the latest collaboration between Lili Monori and Kornél Mundruczó

Annamáriá Láng (born 1975, Mátészalka, Hungary) studied acting while also a member of the “Krétakör” theater collective under the direction of Árpád Schiling. Since 2010, she has frequently collaborated with Proton Theater, Hungarian film and theater director Kornél Mundruczó’s independent theater company. She is also frequently engaged as a guest performer at the Schauspielhaus Cologne, the Munich Kammerspiele, the Schauspielhaus Zurich and the Finnish National Theater in Helsinki. Since the 2019/20 season, Láng has been a member of the Burgtheater’s ensemble company.

Original title: Evolution

International title: Evolution

Duration: 97min

Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

Format: 4K

Sound: 5.1

Year: 2021

Original language: Hungarian, German

Countries of production: Germany, Hungary

Production Companies: Match Factory Productions, Proton Cinema KFT

Co-producers: ZDF, Proton Theater

With the support of: Mitteldeutsche Medienförderung, Film- und Medienstiftung NRW, National Film Institute Hungary, German Federal Filmfund (DFFF + FFA), The Hungarian Film Incentive, Cine Copro Award

© Match Factory Productions, Proton Cinema 2021

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