'Willow' Director on His Centuries-Spanning Tale of Motherhood

North Macedonia’s Oscar contender follows three mothers fighting for control of their bodies

Milcho Manchevski is a Macedonian filmmaker that has made several films about motherhood and its impact on women. But his latest film, “Willow,” takes that theme and tells it through the eyes of women whose shared experience of sacrifice spans centuries.

“Willow” tells the story of three women seeking to become mothers in very different but painful ways. The first, set in medieval Macedonia, goes to a witch to ask her to be blessed with fertility, which she does…but she must surrender her firstborn to the witch. The second, set in present-day, tells of a woman who turns to in vitro fertilization, after which she has twins…but, again, a terrible and unexpected price is paid. Finally, the third story follows a couple, who responded to infertility with a different solution: adoption. But the autistic five-year-old they take-in does not accept them as his parents, and when he goes missing,

Sara Klimoska is the star of the medieval story, playing the mother-to-be as she comes face-to-face with the wicked Grandma Srebra, played by local legend Ratka Radmanovic. In an interview with TheWrap, both Manchevski and Klimoska had high praise for the veteran, who is tasked with a role that required a lot of sharpness, vulgarity and shots in an unforgiving landscape.

“It’s funny how you would find the most out-there things in real life. Truth is more interesting than fiction sometimes,” said Manchevski, who has worked with Radmanovic on several past films, including the 2010 TIFF-selected mockumentary “Mothers.”

“There’s a scene in ‘Mothers’ I keep coming back to for some reason, where the character that Ratka plays is asked about girls and virginity and…what was the expectation in the community. And her character responds, ‘Oh, child. There was no one to dick,’” he recalled. “In a similar way, the character she plays in ‘Willow’ was based on our research from folklore and the way somebody in her position would speak, which is unexpected and which is our prejudice.”

When shooting “Willow,” Klimoska had to shoot her story before the present-day segments, but did her best to look through the script and emphasize which parts of Donka’s story were most in common with her modern counterparts.

“When we were working on the movie…I tended to look at the film as a whole. So, I tried to create a role that will be connected with the others, and I tried to look at the whole movie as an art piece and fit into that story,” Klimoska said.

Watch more of Milcho Manchevski and Sara Klimoska’s interview with TheWrap’s Joe McGovern in the clip above.

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