The subject, rebelling against a generation of adults that you dont really have to resist, was very personal to me.
Marie Kreutzer talks about her feature debut The Fatherless.
THE FATHERLESS contributes to a sort of new generation of themes in film narrative and a new generation of characters in Austrian
cinema: the children of flower-power parents. What inspired you to explore this theme and create these characters?
Marie Kreutzer: Not too long ago I saw some programs on TV broadcaster arte that dealt with communes, and there were many
images of children, though no one talked to them. They werent dealt with in the films, but they were what aroused my
interest the most. That was the beginning of the project. I myself went to an alternative school and knew people like that,
though the films portrayed them in a somewhat exaggerated and condensed fashion. The subject, rebelling against a generation
of adults that you dont really have to resist, was very personal to me.
All the children in the film, who are now adults, belong to a generation and a social milieu that concentrated on a new way
of thinking about upbringing in which authority and the fathers role were redefined, and at the same time theyre
fatherless. Is the absence of the father a topos which crosses generations and eras?
Marie Kreutzer: Someone said that the films title is wrong because these children arent fatherless, they all had
fathers. Despite the fact that they theoretically had a father for a long period of time, the father figure remained problematic,
and their relationship to him was difficult. This father didnt necessarily provide a sense of security. Thats
what Im getting at. Another thing that interests me is the question of why such strong male figures keep prevailing
in groups and structures, and everything revolves around a strong man, regardless of how much someone believes that theyve
advanced beyond that. The title refers not so much to the fathers death as the many years he was there and played an
extremely problematic role. Theres a scene in the film where two mothers discuss the fact that theyve reverted
to classic tasks, even in the freedom of the commune where theyre living. When alls said and done, feeding and
taking care of the children is left up to the mothers, and thats included in the story to an extent. I see that in my
generation, the roles are primarily divided along conventional lines as soon as children enter the picture. Change is taking
place, but extremely slowly.
The film isnt carried by one or two main characters, but an entire ensemble. For someones first full-length film
this represents a significant challenge, creating so many believable characters and connecting them. How did the script grow?
Marie Kreutzer: I didnt specifically look for a theme for an ensemble film, but after the theme was settled on, it became
obvious. Personally, I always prefer watching ensemble films. Of course, while writing the script I discovered that I hadnt
chosen the easiest subject matter. It definitely does represent a big challenge, arranging the plot so that the individual
stories can be told in an interesting way and everything fits together. What I wanted to do was at least attach equal importance
to the brothers and sisters and give each of them sufficient space, because I was certain that that would be vital to the
film, that the views of their joint childhood varied and the individual figures development was different. The large
ensemble represented a big challenge during writing and in terms of directing, but it was what I wanted, and it was what I
wanted to create.
How did you develop the constellation of characters?
Marie Kreutzer: When I started writing the script, I saw a production of Chekhovs Platonov in Cologne, the first version of which was called THE FATHERLESS. At the beginning, I used the plays constellation
of characters as an aid, and I knew approximately which characters would be in the final version, but I let myself be inspired
by this basic constellation and a few of the motifs in the play. I dont think that any part of the play is recognizable
in the film, but it was a great help because I was fascinated by it, the theme and the dialogues, which of course cant
be transferred. This core group - the brothers and sisters, the stepmother and partners, who were there from the very beginning
- didnt change. The commune was a different story. There were questions such as how large it would have to be to make
the tensions interesting, so that its more than just a group of people living together, and how I can avoid describing
a commune like Otto Muehls, which was almost a sect. I wanted the voluntary element and motley aspect of a small commune
that has grown organically. An ensemble film requires that precise figures are created, they have to be clearly defined, and
our biggest concern was getting them mixed up because there were so many. In a film its always easier than in a screenplay,
because they have faces.
At first you worked with Witcraft, then the material was passed on to Novotny Film. What was this like for you, beginning
work with a production company that focuses on development?
Marie Kreutzer: It was good for me, particularly with this material. Though I studied screenwriting myself and have already
worked together with other writers, I think that the challenge presented by this screenplay and the work with Ursula Wolschlager
and Robert Buchschwenter taught me how to write screenplays again. It lasted over three years and sometimes wore me down so
much because I wanted to make a film rather just sit alone at my desk. At some point it seems so absurd, that youre
just working with people who dont really exist and youre alone all day. For me writing is very hard and lonely
work. That made it even better to have help from people who took my script as seriously as I did and who I met regularly.
They tended to slow me down with regard to production and wanted to work on certain spots again and again. The amount of time
I spent working on the screenplay gave me a firm foundation and bonded me to the script, and that helped me defend it when
I went to the production company which made the film.
At one point Sophie says that families are overrated. Roots are overrated too. Whats your opinion of families, what
is it about them that interests you so much?
Marie Kreutzer: Of course, something thats vitally important to the film reflects my personal opinion, the fact that
families arent defined and justified by blood relationships alone. I dont think that blood relationships should
obligate us in any way, but that a family can be something different. Obligation and predefined structures that you have to
fit into is of course an inexhaustible topic for fiction, and for documentaries also, but its something I view with
a critical eye. I was fortunate enough to have grown up in an extremely harmonious family, and Im very close to my parents.
I also know some people for whom things are quite different. I see things the same way as my film: You have to find out for
yourself whats important about a family.
The dialogues play an important role, but so do moments of silence. At the same time, the impression is created that a great
deal has come together through editing. Im thinking about the long conversations at the table, where a great deal seems
to have been created by means of editing and a great deal is said off-camera.
Marie Kreutzer: We shot those scenes with two cameras, and there are lots of cuts in the group scenes. We wanted to tell a
story at the table, and also say many things that are left unsaid. That makes all the editing necessary. At lot happens at
the same time. We had a large amount of footage because of the two cameras, and when you have seven people sitting at a table,
you could tell a lot of other things in addition. You have to work in an extremely focused way and decide whats most
important at that moment so you dont get lost in all the material. We didnt go very far into detail, but there
clearly had to be at least an impression of everyone present during the group scenes. Work on these scenes went faster thanks
to the two cameras, but the actors still had to eat the same thing and say the same things all day or all night.
THE FATHERLESS is your first feature film, and it signals a new tone in Austrian narrative cinema. What direction do you want
to go with your film narrative? Who are your models?
Marie Kreutzer: Of course, there are some filmmakers that have impressed me a lot, Ang Lees Ice Storm was definitely the key experience that made me want to direct. I like Hans Christian Schmidt very much, and the old films
by Claude Sautet, those are my favorite directors. But I never plan to make a film just like theirs. Each one has different
qualities. I cant answer your question, because I dont tell a story with the intention of creating a certain tone.
You could call writing less than intuitive compared to directing because it takes so long, and everythings discussed
so many times. Of course, Im well prepared to direct, but on the set there are no pat answers to the questions that
pop up, when that happens Im completely intuitive.
Interview: Karin Schiefer