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Macondo 2014



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From a child's eyes, a Muslim family's struggle to survive after migrating from Chechnya to Vienna...

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About the Macondo 💬

Eleven-year-old Chechen boy Ramasan struggles with family responsibility, refugee life in a tough neighborhood and images of the dead war hero father he barely remembers...

Ramasan (Ramasan Minkailov) has a lot of responsibility for an 11-year-old. In traditional Chechen society, he is now considered the man of the house in charge of his mother and two younger sisters. His world is now centered in Macondo, a tough ethnic neighborhood in the industrial suburbs of Vienna.

Ramasan speaks German much better than his mother Aminat (Kheda Gazieva), and he often translates for her regarding school and government welfare matters. Aminat is still coping with having lost her husband, fleeing Chechnya and trying to make ends meet as a single mother and foreigner in a new society.

Ramasan's confined world is disrupted when Isa (Aslan Elbiev), his father's war buddy, moves into the low-income housing complex. Isa pays his respects to Aminat and her children, giving them the watch and a family photo his dead friend always carried with him.

This encounter awakens Ramasan's interest in his father. He seeks Isa's company, but the outsider remains secretive about the past. Isa gradually opens up and a bond evolves between them that helps young Ramasan face and overcome his worst fear. Isa could become a new, much more human, father figure than the boy's abstract memory of the war hero at the family altar. But when Aminat begins to warm up to Isa, conflicted Ramasan feels the need to protect the image of his dead father...

MACONDO is the first feature from the director Sudabeh Mortezai.


Q: The title of your film is ''MACONDO'' after a very special place, a settlement on the outskirts of Vienna: Can you tell us how you got to know this place and what it is about it that fascinated you?

Sudabeh Mortezai: I discovered Macondo by accident. I had heard that there was a settlement on the outskirts of Vienna that had been housing refugees since the 1950s, mapping the wars of the past decades like growth rings in a tree.

On the grounds, there is a garrison that dates back to the monarchy, which they started to adapt in the 1950s to accommodate the first wave of refugees from Hungary.

They were followed by asylum-seekers from Czechoslovakia, then Chile, and Vietnam... The name Macondo was given to the settlement by the Latin American refugees who also lived there. Some residents have stayed, and new buildings were continuously added. Now it is a settlement where some 2,000 people from more than 20 countries coexist, all of them have fled from their native countries. Reflecting the recent migrations of refugees, most of the new arrivals come from Chechnya, Somalia, and Afghanistan.

Q: How did you make contact with the residents?

Sudabeh Mortezai: My work with documentary films makes it easy to approach people in a candid way. They sense that I'm genuinely interested in their situations, and this allows personal relationships to develop.

Q: Was your original intention to make a documentary film?

Sudabeh Mortezai: No. From the start, I wanted to make a film that straddled the line between fiction and documentary.

What I didn't want was the people in the film to tell the stories of how they fled. That would have easily made it voyeuristic: ''Aha, how exciting, they've experienced such horrible things.'' Instead what I wanted to do was develop something distinct, something from within, by working with the people and using their stories to create a strong narrative that is rooted in an authentic world.

I think that the fictionalization even helped people open up more easily in front of the camera - the distance let them disclose more about themselves.

It wasn't the classical refugee story I was after. Rather I wanted to counter the ominous catchword ''integration'' with a view from within. Typically, the integration debate talks about the people rather than involving them in the discussion - people are treated like a topic or an issue. This view from outside is the prevailing view in the media. But I was interested in the inner perspective. I had, after all, experienced the process myself...

Q: You came to Vienna from Tehran at the age of 12...

Sudabeh Mortezai: Yes, we may not have had to flee for political reasons, but I know from experience what it is like as a child at such a tender age to be suddenly thrown into a brand-new culture and have to struggle to gain a foothold. ''Arriving'' is difficult: your body is here, but your emotions are slower to catch up...

Q: Are your own memories the reason you tell the story of ''MACONDO'' from the perspective of a child?

Sudabeh Mortezai: Absolutely. Childhood is such an essential moment in time where so many possibilities still lie ahead. I already knew German when I came to Austria, so I didn't have a lot of the integration problems one typically has in a new country, but for many years I still had the feeling of not being accepted by the majority of the population.

This, of course, is even more extreme with children from an altogether different social class who perhaps don't speak German either.

I was also interested in something that many children who have emigrated or fled from a country are confronted with: being forced to grow up too quickly. They learn the language of the host country faster than their often traumatized parents and assume the role of a go-between. It's an opportunity, but as a result, they have to take on too much responsibility too soon. That is a heavy burden for a child. Psychologists call this phenomenon ''parentification''.

Q: Was the boy who played Ramasan also an inspiration for the role itself?

Sudabeh Mortezai: No. I researched the story in a documentary way, but I used the stories people experienced and told me about and condensed them in the film into a single narrative. I wrote the lead role of the child in this way and then casted it, the same went for the male lead Isa and Aminat, the mother. The inspiration for these characters came from real people, but the people who played them were lay actors casted for the roles. From the beginning, an important part of my way of working was that the roles were not played by professional actors but were, to a certain extent, lived out in front of the camera by normal people who have had similar life experiences. For example, the refugee counselor and the social worker really work in those professions. A few smaller roles were inspired directly by the people who played them.

Q: What does your screenplay look like? Does it contain completely written out the dialogue?

Sudabeh Mortezai: I did have a detailed screenplay including dialogue, into which I often integrated situations and sentences I overheard on site. But the actors never saw this screenplay - neither before, nor after shooting. I didn't want them to recite dialogue they had learned by heart; I wanted them to act spontaneously in the scenes.

Q: Then how did you let them know what you wanted?

Sudabeh Mortezai: I only gave the actors a rough overview of the story in order to leave plenty of room for spontaneity. We shot the film chronologically so that the actors could develop along with the story and also continue to develop the story. There were no rehearsals, I explained the scene to them, had them immediately improvise in front of the camera, and started shooting right from the first try.

Q: How often did you really use this first take?

Sudabeh Mortezai: Often! And then again we'd discard others, but when we did another take, we were never trying to achieve a certain supposedly perfect result. Instead, the intention was to maximize the potential of the scene in the improvisation. I’m very intuitive in the way I work. Through my background as a documentary filmmaker, I always try to find a way to connect with each person, one that fits with his or her personality. Everyone has his or her particular character, one's own personality. To me, it was important to allow this to come out in the scene.

Q: How could you tell whether the actors would be able to work with each other if you never rehearsed?

Sudabeh Mortezai: That was something we were able to check for easily during casting by simply improvising everyday scenes. When, for example, we got down to the shortlist of actors to play the mother and Ramasan, we used improvisation to test whether the chemistry was right. But we still didn't include any scenes from the screenplay.

Q: Was it a challenge for you as a woman to direct what essentially was - with the exception of the actress playing the mother - an exclusively male cast?

Sudabeh Mortezai: It was quite intense. Chechen culture is very patriarchal. The role of men and the father figure is very important: the husband watches over his wife's honor. Interestingly, my role as the director was accepted by the lead actors, probably because they saw themselves as part of a team that was working together toward a common goal. A few extras, however, had a problem accepting the authority of a woman as the director.

''MACONDO'' tells the story of a boy who is in the process of developing his own image of masculinity...

To me this is a really important theme in the film, questioning this ideal image of masculinity! Ramasan idealizes his father, but ultimately during the course of the film, he outgrows this pattern that has him idolizing a man he hardly knew: the war hero, who he basically knows through the stories of others.

Then he gets to know Isa, his father's friend, a war-scarred man who no longer fits this glorified image. Ramasan overcomes the symbolic dominance of his father. That is a key point for me.

Macondo Movie Details 🎥

Directed by

Sudabeh Mortezai

Writing Credits

Sudabeh Mortezai


Ramasan Minkailov

Aslan Elbiev

Kheda Gazieva

Rosa Minkailova

Iman Nasuhanowa

Askhab Umaev

Hamsat Nasuhanow

Champascha Sadulajev

Masud Abdiasis

Christian Dungl

Anna Resch

Otto Bayer

Andreas Weiss

Paul Hofer

Denise Tepiel

Florian Kissler

Cinematography by

Klemens Hufnagl

Genre: Drama

Country: Austria

Macondo Official Trailer

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