«I wanted a reversal of perspective.»

In The Best of All Worlds Adrian Goiginger depicts with striking honesty his childhood years in the disturbing world of a junkie apartment and his mother, who managed to create space for him to have a good childhood despite the chaos of her own addiction.

What pros and cons come to the surface when a filmmaker toys with the idea of portraying part of his own (perhaps painful) story? In your case, what made the "pros" win out?
ADRIAN GOIGINGER: The initial impulse was definitely the death of my mother in the year 2012. I began to think a great deal about my mother and my upbringing, and that made me appreciate that the story of my childhood is incredible. Apart from anything else, because it’s simply unimaginable for most people that even with a mother who is seriously addicted to drugs you can have a very pleasant childhood. Since I experienced all that first-hand and came out of it more or less healthy, and since there are probably very few people who have had that experience and are able to reflect upon it, the feeling grew within me that in a way I owed it to the world to tell my story. There was also the very practical advantage that I hardly needed to do any research for my first feature film; I could use my own memories – and it was also fun to tell such a personal story. I can't praise my producer Wolfgang Ritzberger highly enough for having such trust in me as a 24-year-old.
Behind this film as a portrait of a good childhood is there also the need to pay homage to your mother?
ADRIAN GOIGINGER: The film is dedicated to my mother. I still take my hat off to her, because to this day I find it a mystery how she managed. I know a lot of former drug addicts whose kids were very neglected and ended up in children's homes or simply grew up without any parental care. That was never the case with me. The fact that she pulled it off despite her drug addiction, being unemployed and withstanding all that external pressure strikes me as a huge achievement. Hats off to her!
To talk about your late mother and your own childhood, part of which you spent with a stepfather whose own story is that of a former drug addict, all sounds like a very emotionally demanding situation.
ADRIAN GOIGINGER: Before we started shooting I explained very clearly to everybody involved that I could only tell the story the way I remember it from my childhood. If anybody comes out of it in a bad light, then I'm sorry. In some cases I've changed the names, especially when the people are no longer alive, so as not to burden the living relatives. Basically I'm telling the story the way I carry it around in my head; with the character of the young boy in particular I tried to accept what he brought to the role he was playing. I didn't force him into any template.
How present were the memories of your childhood, especially of that decisive period when you were seven years old? What emotions link you to that time?
ADRIAN GOIGINGER: The memories were very present for me. I don't know whether that's because my environment was so extreme. I could also have suppressed everything, I suppose. Apparently I did the opposite. It was very important to me to differentiate between truth in film and veracity in film. After all, I didn't want to make a documentary film. There were certainly scenes which worked so well when we were filming that I was plunged back into my childhood in a very powerful way. That was extremely emotional, and I really had to pull myself together in order to remain professional.
To what extent did reality, memories with their inaccuracies and sheer dramatic necessity determine the process of writing the screenplay? How much did reality and fiction become interwoven?
ADRIAN GOIGINGER: When I got the first grant from the Austrian Film Institute in September 2013 I wrote down everything in my head the way I remembered it, in the form of scenes with elaborated dialogue. I think it was about 160 pages, and after that the familiar work began: hewing away at the block of granite until you end up with a sculpture. At the beginning things weren’t entirely clear as regards the story: initially I had thought of it as the story of a young boy who went off the rails. But I soon realised that the most interesting character is the mother, and I wanted to tell the story of her life from the perspective of the child. For the first version I was thinking of a fairly crazy story, in the style of Contact High, for example. Concentrating on the mother turned it into a much more personal film. I'd say the proportion of reality and fiction was about 90% to 10%. The major events – when I set fire to the apartment, when a dealer died in the apartment, the episode with vodka, the visit from the Youth Department… all that really happened. The only thing I modified for dramatic purposes was the end. All the characters are 100% taken from real life.
How did the idea originate that with so much reality, there had to be a way of taking refuge in fantasy worlds, in filmic terms as well?
ADRIAN GOIGINGER: I don't like either studio shooting or CGI imagery. So we filmed everything in real shabby apartments in the outer suburbs of Salzburg, and the only computer-generated footage is the explosion of the demons and the Spanish coast. The other sequences are all genuine; we even constructed the arrow that goes on fire by using an ignition mechanism. I regard the fantasy images with the monsters as predominantly a way for the seven-year-old boy to process the world he's living in. How else could he come to terms with it? By assigning himself the role of adventurer, he gives everything a certain logic. Otherwise he’d go crazy.
For almost the whole first half of the film there’s no external social life such as school, friends of the same age, etc. Why does the outside world play such a small role?
ADRIAN GOIGINGER: I wanted to make a milieu study that was as authentic as possible. I haven't yet seen a film about the drugs scene that doesn't go a bit over the top at some point. Above all, I wanted to remove the fear factor and not present it as repulsive. In this film there aren’t any needles lying around, and there isn’t any blood. In the scene with the birthday party, where the other parents come to pick up their child, I wanted the audience to feel emotionally much closer to the junkies – even though the vast majority of people who watch the film are probably closer to the lifestyle of the other parents. I wanted a reversal of perspective. I myself experienced a lot of that sort of thing; for example, there was one friend I had to stop seeing because his parents wouldn't allow it. That would have been a gripping aspect, but for a different film. I didn't want to commit the beginner’s mistake of trying to cram too much into my first story. My focus was on the relationship between the mother and the son.
One of the strengths of the film is the dialogue, which has a very natural feel on the one hand while on the other hand has to be consistent with the world of the child. Is this to a certain extent thanks to the actor who plays the boy, Jeremy Miliker, and the leading actress Verena Altenberger?
ADRIAN GOIGINGER: When we were awarded the grant to make the film it was apparent to me that everything would stand or fall on the casting of the boy. If we hadn't been able to find him we would have given the money back. I was determined to shoot the film in Salzburg dialect. That restricted us a lot in terms of casting. We auditioned about 200 children. Jeremy came through with flying colors. He didn't have any experience, and he wasn’t the best at learning his lines or reciting them, but he had one crucial gift: he could intuitively put himself in the situations. I gave him lines to learn, but when we were actually shooting I always changed the situation slightly so he could act freely. I had about 35 days of rehearsal with Jeremy and about 70 with Verena Alternberger. They both did some work in their free time as well, and they really developed a close relationship. Verena also plunged herself into the junkie scene in Salzburg and spent entire days with people there. That took courage, too. But you can tell from the acting. I'm really proud of her fantastic achievement.
The camera is very restless, and due to the confines of the apartment it has to be close up as well. What moved you to adopt this approach?
ADRIAN GOIGINGER: From the moment I decided to tell the film from the perspective of the child, I subordinated everything to that. I didn't want to make a point-of-view narrative; I always wanted to be close to the child. Our cameramen Yoshi Heimrath and Paul Sprinz were the ones who suffered as a result. Yoshi had to see a doctor several times because of backache caused by the camera work. Our aim was to show this milieu from the perspective of a child. We also constructed the set so the camera always had 360° freedom of movement. I mean, a child is constantly moving, suddenly turned his head… and the camera has to go with him. This arrangement certainly gave Jeremy incredible freedom. And we wanted to open up the world, after all, not lock our actor in a rigid camera frame.
When the film was premiered at the Berlin Film Festival what was your perspective while you were watching it?
ADRIAN GOIGINGER: Before the premiere of the film in Berlin I had to think about technical details every time I watched it, so I tuned out any emotion. And during the premiere there was so much fuss before, after and even during the film (my eight-year-old leading actor Jeremy was sitting next to me and provided me with a live commentary of the entire film) that I couldn't really enjoy it. Apart from that, I was far too busy watching the reactions of the audience. Are they going to laugh? Are they going to be shocked? Are they going to get bored and pull out their cellphones? Probably I need a bit more time before I have the distance to be moved by the film myself.

Interview: Karin Schiefer
February 2017

Translation: Charles Osborne
«Probably I need a bit more time before I have the distance to be moved by the film myself.»