"The last thing I want to be called is an artist," says Boryana Ilieva when asked about the right definition of what she is doing. Maybe it's because she is first of all an attentive viewer, but Ilieva builds a particular bridge between cinema and architectural language. She has been gaining international popularity for a few years now, especially among film buffs on Instagram, with her project Floor Plan Croissant.
Ilieva creates watercolor paintings based on film sets, mostly recreated from a bird's eye view - an alternative way to dive into the existential spaces of the main characters, the ideas of the directors and set designers, the small details that speak volumes about the story. Andrey Zvyagintsev's Elena and Michael Haneke's Amour were the first titles that provoked her to paint in this direction. Eight years later, she already has over a hundred works that recreate the inhabitations of various characters and film plots, from Eraserhead to The Matrix and Tar.
From pandemic getaway to Instagram star
With nearly 37,000 Instagram users keeping tabs on what her next film choice will be, there's also a growing interest in her original watercolors and prints that are often based on movies that are widely covered and loved by viewers, such as Aftersun.
Her work has been covered by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences website, the magazine of the arthouse cinema streaming platform Mubi, and last year she participated in the Production Design Gathering conference in Spetses, Greece.
Floor Plan Croissant has turned from a hobby into a full-time job for her. Boryana Ilieva says the pandemic has certainly played a part in arousing international interest in her work - both because of the increased demand for catchy projects online and the popular drive to turn one's home into a "beautiful cage" during lockdowns. A woman from Italy who commissioned a painting during the worst phase of the pandemic wrote to Ilieva that through her work she saw "all the beauty that a space confined between four walls can encompass". Most commissions have come from the U.S. and Italy, with prints being most popular in Ilieva's home country, Bulgaria.
Over the past year, Ilieva has been increasingly sought after by professionals in the film industry itself. We speak to her just as she completes an order from distributors Neon to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the release of contemporary South Korean classic Oldboy. She had some hesitations during the process of painting. "After all, the character is a loathsome antagonist, it's hard to sympathize with him," Ilieva says. Watching the film nearly two decades later has brought her much more polarizing feelings than the first time.
Architect turned cinephile
Ilieva's devotion combines several phases of her life. She is an architect by training and has worked in the field for a dozen years. This experience allows her to vividly imagine and map out in detail the interiors in which the story takes place, to ask the right questions and find the right answers: for example, it is important whether the action takes place on a film set or in a real apartment, as this sets a certain logic (or lack thereof) in the layout of the rooms.
She gives the example of Bertolucci's The Dreamers - when she visualizes the apartment where the characters of Eva Green, Louis Garrel and Michael Pitt reside, she tries to guess where exactly the light is coming from and whether it is possible to see an inner courtyard from everywhere. Sometimes it's the set designers themselves who come to the rescue, answering her questions. What is more, some of them already know about her and are happy to be able to share details that few people have asked about before.
"I'm always a bit nervous at meetings like this, as I wonder if they'll get annoyed at what I'm doing - in the end, it is all based on their work. But actually the feedback has always been great - they see the project as validating their profession. It often stays in the shadows," she says. For example, the set designer on Dreamers, Jean Rabasse, gave her all his photos around the production. "Then I sent a copy of the painting to him and to Bertolucci. I found out that Bertolucci had died just as I was in the post office," Ilieva recalls.
Last but not least, the events surrounding Floor Plan Croissant seem to give an unexpected twist to her own story - what she does in her home in Sofia connects her with people she had previously only admired as a spectator.
Sometimes the whole process of planning and completing a job takes up to two months. "Cinema doesn't wait for me, there are quality films coming out all the time, so I often can't wait to start working on something new. There are times when it's like [cinema] keeps me alive - you know something is going to keep you busy and excited in the coming months. And the connection to what you see continues, you're not just a consumer," says Ilieva. Her pseudonym remains open to interpretation, but you wouldn't be wrong to exercise abstract thinking and imagine the drawing of an apartment as the three parts of a croissant.
She happens to watch moments of scenes dozens of times until she manages to imagine the interior, to find an explanation for certain directorial and cinematographic decisions. She is currently living this process with the current Palme d'Or winner Anatomy of a Fall, whose interior will be recreated vertically, and then she'll head to the past with All That Jazz. "Despite all that, I think I still manage to watch movies just for fun, too," Ilieva says.