Animation filmmaker Theodore Ushev is having a blast in Phi 1.618, a first feature film that smashes the totalitarianism in place.
“It’s completely unreal!” says the director when we arrive at the Cinémathèque québécoise. I just learned that my film won a prize at the Moscow Film Festival. Of course, I will refuse it. I am against Putin and the war. »
Especially since his feature film is a thinly veiled charge against totalitarianism. A dystopian story about an immortal people, whose divine quest refers to the number phi 1.618 – the famous golden number of the title which evokes the idea of perfection.
A humorous and political gesture that perfectly defines this extraordinary project where the risk taking is great. First of all by going from short to feature film, a first for the creator whose famous Vaysha, the blind man found himself at the Oscars. Then by swapping animation for live action, forcing his director to direct actors (“I love being the comedians’ psychologist!”), which he had already experienced on his remarkable Physics of sadness.
The 55-year-old Bulgarian filmmaker’s greatest wish was to return to childhood. At that blessed time when he had fun with his favorite toys without asking questions. The book The Spinning Top by his compatriot Vladislav Todorov (who also took care of the screenplay) allowed him this. To mix the most unlikely genres – science fiction, social satire, romance, gore, surreal poetry and even music – without owing anything to anyone: his meager budget forced him to surpass himself creatively.
“I didn’t want to go down in the history of cinema with this film, admits the one who has been living in Montreal since 1999. We were in competition in the team to find the sickest, stupidest and most absurd things. »
There are plenty of them in this punk work that makes the big difference between the B series and the cinephilic trip. Moreover, listing all his influences and all his tributes would be tedious as the production rakes wide, from Minecraft to Terry Gilliam, via The Dark Crystal and Carl Theodor Dreyer.
“It’s a film that reflects the main character, who is also my alter ego,” says Theodore Ushev. For 100 years, he remained alone, locked up, copying books. The quotes stayed in his head and they use them while speaking. Like him, I decided to cite in this project all the films, paintings and books that I love. »
Phi 1.168 has been circulating in festivals for several months and it has already been shown in Bulgaria where it was filmed. Although the feature film represented this country at the Oscars in 2022, it turns out to be divisive. Quite the opposite of the director’s previous animations which were produced by the National Film Board and which were unanimously acclaimed.
“And sometimes people don’t know why they like it, adds, bewildered, the main interested party. It’s probably because there are scenes that stick in your head… As my animations are very serious and sometimes even depressing, this time I was looking to have fun with something more joyful. But it’s all instinctive. It wasn’t calculated at all. »
This may be a way of reacting to the prevailing climate. Fight the ambient absurdity with a science fiction therapy that is just as much. “Anything is possible…,” reflected Theodore Ushev. But I really believe that we live in a dystopian world. I cannot invent a sicker universe than the one that exists today. My film is like social realism. »
Alongside the release of Phi 1.168 is the presentation of the documentary Theodore Ushev: Invisible Bonds by Bulgarian Borislav Kolev. A revealing creation on the journey of the renowned filmmaker who builds bridges between his animated offerings and his tumultuous past in a country marked by the communist regime.
“I had fun playing myself in the film,” laughs Theodore Ushev. At the same time, I asked myself questions. Is my career over? When people make a documentary about you, you’re dead. I hope it’s not over. Because I still want to make films. I have lots of ideas. »
The essay offers a frank portrait of an artist characterized by his propensity to explore with complete freedom. “For me, that’s creation,” he says. It is to have absolute freedom to express oneself. This is important for the artist, but also for the public and society. I believe in the social role of the artist to change the world. »