Barbara Vekaric Speaks on ‘Aleksi’, Croatia and more

ATM: What is your character’s viewpoint on life at the age of 28?

BV: Aleksi is like many millennials who feel lost and struggle for purpose and direction. This generation is not faced with existential problems, and they can focus on discovering who they are and what makes them happy. They can dream big. There are so many people around them who made it.

”Aleksi” takes place in Southern Croatia. There, it is very hard to get a job. It is a very small market for people.

This wait is something that she’s struggling with. If you are 28, everybody expects to be sure who you are and where you’re headed. Sometimes it’s very hard to know for sure. Aleksi is faced with that challenge. She is searching for temporary pleasures.

ATM: In America, the job market is not just about moving around so much. Before, to get a good job you had to acquire a high school diploma. Then it was having an associate degree. Then it went to having a bachelors and masters and PhD. So, you have people who have worked for companies for so long and have stayed in their position for decades and for some years. They are from older generations. They did not have the education to back up their position, but they self-taught themselves and rose to the top.

It is more so on education. So, a lot of times people with degrees get better-paid jobs. Because society has moved in this way, people who are graduating with degrees are replacing the people who self-taught themselves from the older generations. Often, if one can afford it, people go back to school or start school. Because you cannot get a job without a degree. Then there is a ranking of how you will get paid based on the degree. Then you have some jobs that are stereotyped as to getting paid higher, but, they are not. Then you have age and race that comes into play. There are demographical factors and judgmental aspects that come into play. It is not easy over here. Most do not know what the job market is like in Croatia.

BV: The period after college is a turbulent part of one’s life. The illusion of a meritocratic system of society disintegrates; the idea that everything can be achieved with enough effort becomes a potentially perilous belief. Over the last several years, I was exposed to a generation that was going through this crisis phase in an even more extreme way due to economic pressures. Depressive feelings of loss, confusion and irrational fear come right along with this sudden confrontation with the “real” world. 

ATM: Institutions do not prepare young adults for the real world. You have adults who do not even know how to function in the real world. Universities in the United States are great, but they baby students and do not teach them the emotional effects or realities of life. Any person should find out their purpose very fast whether they are in college or not. It helps the process. They talk about it but they do not properly teach them. Why? Because no one knows. Everyone just steps out on faith and it just end up working for them. The trial and error elements of the “real world” have no answers. This resonates with young adults in my country. In America, it has been said that this generation of young adults is the poorest of all generations. The biggest problem is that young adults of today cannot get a job or a career in their degree field. I would say the percentage of about over 60%. You have people who graduate from the top of their college class and Ivy league school and work at Starbucks. Then you have people coming from art schools who move to California thinking they are going to be a director or actress. They just become a personal assistant, production assistant, or waiter. 

Then some cannot afford to move back. Young adults cannot even move out of their parent’s homes. We are in about over a trillion dollars in debt with student loans. This is not a Croatia thing, but also an America thing. Then some go into the army because of the pay and then some just do not go to school. “Whether I go to school or not. I will not have a job.” Then you have the parents pressuring the children about their future and when will you get a job. As if the job market is the same as it was when they were coming up. There is this pressure just like with your main character. Parents pressure the students and the students feel all sorts of ways.

BV: I wanted to touch that subject and speak about that generation that takes a bit too long to grow up drew me to this story. In this post-recession period, people in their late 20s are stuck in an uncomfortable middle-ground, ejected from university into a big fat nothing. The expectations the society has from women are insane – nothing more or less than “to have it all.” I wanted to portray a pretty flawed girl who is totally deaf to what society wants and just follows her intuition and impulses and add to the diversity of female heroines presented on the big screen.

ATM: This can mess with a youth’s mindset. Most youths do not prepare and want things to come to them. A lot of young adults have pursuits that are not of their own. This makes them miss their true purpose in life. They mirror what they see on the television. To achieve in this world’s career market, youth would have to start from a young age to fit into now. But if they started five years ago, then it would be harder for them to do it. This can influence a youth’s emotions such as your character.

BV: Aleksi is a person entrenched in this dilemma. She spends time waiting for something that would steer her life in a more desired direction. On a political level, the movie speaks to Croatia’s current generational problem: a lack of opportunities for young adults who are therefore forced either to settle for lives that are possible and accessible or emigrate. 

ATM: What can this rural space give her that this urban space cannot?

BV: Although Aleksi is surrounded by the beauty of a provincial Croatian village, our approach was to focus on her captivity inside her own limited impulses, desires, and worldviews while she carves out her own path through life. The movie is designed around her presence – observing her and allowing her to reveal herself, in all her flaws and complexities. Aleksi is a character we don’t often see in the cinema — an artistic, rebellious, sharp and sensitive young woman who is also unapologetically sexual. She is more of an anti-heroine.

ATM: How does your main female character starts her journey with rediscovering herself?

BV: She just follows her impulses, does what she wants to do. She is a savage, but a savage with style. She is one of “those girls.” She is your crazy friend, your rebellious daughter and the girl who broke your heart.