During the span of fifteen years, writer/director Brad Silberling (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Moonlight Mile) had presented three films at the Sarajevo Film Festival, which is now the largest film festival in Southeast Europe. He had developed an affinity for the locale, as he’d witnessed much conflict within the entire region on all sides. As years passed, the director came across an article linked to The Hague Tribunal; which depicted a Serbian, fugitive war General, who was openly bounced around from place to place. That situation led the General to be positioned in a permanent apartment for six months with limited resources of only groceries, phone cards, and a maid. The unusual dynamic between the General and his maid (his only real link to the world) sparked Silberling to draft a script about their intense relationship in what became An Ordinary Man.
The film stars Academy Award winning legendary actor, Sir Ben Kingsley (Schindler’s List, Gandhi) as the General and Icelandic actress, Hera Hilmar (Da Vinci’s Demons, Anna Karenina) as Tanja. The General is forced to live a miserable life alone in this apartment and stay out of public sight. An unexpected visit from a young maid triggers Kingsley’s instinctual defense mechanism as he harasses her through hostile intimidation. Yet the maid elects to serve the General as she is in dire need of money. The General views the maid as his only viable human connection and an intermediary to the outside world.
The General and Tanja develop an unusual and confusing relationship as he is more than 40 years her senior. “He was both father and a potential lover. The movie is like a reverse love story when you think about it; he subjugates her and then starts to learn about her. The irony is that he’s vicariously trying to have a relationship that he never got to have with his own daughter, because of his own actions,” Silberling said.
After locking down Ben Kingsley, the key was finding a counterpart who could match his intimidating aura. “She had to be credible, mysterious, somebody who could literally speak without words because she is very cautious, and yet hold her own on screen with him. I was open to alternative international casting as Ben suggested Hilmar. I skyped with Hera and she just had this presence, and at the same time the serenity, with a certain maturity. Ben adores Hera. He respects her, while she is not afraid of him, and that’s why I cast her,” the director noted.
The point of view derives from the General himself, but also objectively from the audience. Silberling clarified, “It’s why he peers right at us at the top. He’s trying to make us complicit. We are along for the ride with somebody who thinks he can escape fate but can’t. He is Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. We are going through the different iterations of his life that he’s lost through his own doing.”
The writer/director concluded, “I needed to reassure myself that truly the worst of human behavior does not go unpunished. It’s about the end, that intimacy; if it’s not earned, it can torture and harm somebody. Even if one escapes jail, you don’t negate the emotional jail.”
Brad Silberling’s An Ordinary Man opens in theaters and is available on VOD and Digital HD on April 13, 2018.