«I don't trust rigourous, omniscient narratives. »


Andrina Mračnikar talks about the shooting of her feature debut MA FOLIE.

In 2002 and 2006 you received great deal of attention for your documentaries, Andri 1924-44 and Der Kärntner spricht Deutsch. After gaining some distance to these films in terms of time and making the short Die Wand ist abgerissen, you’re now working on your first full-length fiction feature. What was your path from documentary to fiction? What’s fact? What’s fantasy or delusion? Those are basic questions posed throughout MA FOLIE, and in a way, in your documentaries also.
Andrina Mračnikar: The various forms of perception, the gaps in perception and memory, those are certainly my themes. The fragmentary nature of narrative is also a theme in Andri 1924-44. Der Kärntner spricht Deutsch deals with omissions, the conscious omitting of facts that only seem objective from subjective memories. In my short film Die Wand ist abgerissen the theme’s the often thin line between reality and fiction, and how they influence each other. I don’t trust rigorous, omniscient narratives. I couldn’t and don’t want to assume an all-knowing point of view when telling a story. It’s also boring in my opinion.

What’s MA FOLIE about?
Andrina Mračnikar: It’s about a relationship that involves a great deal of sensitivity and sensuality. Hanna meets Yann in Paris and falls in love with him. He starts sending her lettres filmées, filmed letters, which are short essay films made with an iPhone. The relationship soon ends due to Yann’s jealousy, and then the lettres filmées become more and more ominous. The relationship turns into a kind of psycho-thriller in which Hanna can’t be sure of what’s true and what isn’t, who she can trust and what she should believe.

The screenplay for MA FOLIE received the Carl Mayer award in 2005. The fragility of perception, the destabilizing of certainties definitely requires particularly subtle and careful writing. What was the process like?
Andrina Mračnikar: The process of writing the screenplay was extremely long. My treatment won the Carl Mayer award, on the subject of fear, then I finished the first version of the screenplay after that. I began development work with one production company, but it didn’t progress the way I had hoped. Then I worked on it by myself for a while, and finally paired up with Witcraft Szenario and spent a lot of time on development. The special thing about this film are the innumerable nuances that could have developed in a variety of directions. The difficulty I had was finding my own ideas and concerns and asserting them. Kathrin Resetarits advised me for the final version, providing a great deal of help in sticking with my theme. In this final version a great deal was tossed out and rewritten.

Playing with these ambivalences also poses a major challenge for actors. How did you find the four actors, who had to work as a couple in a number of different arrangements?
Andrina Mračnikar: There’s a four-person constellation with the couple Hanna and Yann, Hanna’s ex-boyfriend Goran and Hanna’s best friend, Marie. I had to find four actors who worked together in addition to an actor for Hanna, who carries the entire film. She appears in every scene. She has to play a woman who possesses great strength and also lightness in the beginning, then as the story progresses is in danger of breaking down. Finding Alice Dwyer was a stroke of luck. I was familiar with her from Torpedo and her earlier films, we then set up a big audition in Berlin, where she really touched and impressed me. I had already decided on Gerti Drassl as Marie while writing, and she told me to look at Sabin Tambrea, who she appeared with in Ludwig II. He too is a nuanced actor and wonderful for the part of Yann. I cast him before Alice, and then Oliver Rosskopf joined the group.

When I visited the set, a particularly long scene with Hanna and Marie was being shot—was that coincidental or part of the concept? Was little importance placed on shot-countershot? How did you develop the resolutions and cinematography with DoP Gerald Kerkletz?
Andrina Mračnikar: Gerald and I resolve a great deal in a very minimalistic way, but not rigidly or at a distance. We wanted to stay close to the characters, Hanna in particular. We intentionally employed the observational external perspective to suggest watching. The rhythm, for example in the shot-countershot scenes, of which there are a few, will be provided by Karina Ressler’s editing. It’s already turning out that it won’t be the conventional shot-countershot rhythm. I’ve known Gerald for a long time, since the Film Academy, and it’s great when you find someone who’s so committed and is fascinated by the same things about certain material.

Where do your perspectives coincide?
Andrina Mračnikar: In something that might not be visible right away. In the basic theme that underlies everything. This also involves images, portrayals. Representation and self-representation. How do you present yourself to others? What image do you want others to have of you? What’s the meaning of images in the media, how do they influence us? These questions are important to us. Our perspectives complement each other in a wonderful way.

Many things in MA FOLIE are in a lot of ways a balancing act where something can reach a tipping point. One of these borderline situations straddles two genres—the film goes from romance to horror.
Andrina Mračnikar: Everything starts out beautifully, like a great romance. I definitely wanted the story to be firmly anchored in normality. I didn’t want anything foreign or esoteric, but a psycho-thriller anchored in realistic, credible relationships. I wanted the romance to be beautiful for a while, even though script advisors argued that the thriller should start to emerge at the very beginning. I think that lots of good horror films start out with an idyllic situation. The change is what I find exciting. When something that was so beautiful at the beginning turns into something ominous, when characters change, as all of them should do in MA FOLIE. Genre film interested me, of course, because it’s fun to play with the genre.

There’s also a genre within the genre: the lettres filmées Yann takes with his iPhone. How were they done?
Andrina Mračnikar: They’re really filmed with an iPhone. In my first draft of the screenplay it was a video camera. During the writing process, technology underwent a massive change. I think that in the first version Yann sent VHS cassettes. Now there are links that you can open with any computer or smartphone. We decided on the iPhone because their cameras produce quite good quality and they’re handy, you can film or be filmed at any time.

How will the lettres differ formally from the rest of the film?
Andrina Mračnikar: They’ll be much different in a formal sense, and they will of course be filmed with a handheld phone. And they’ll have a number of different levels. They’ll contain things that we film during shooting, then there’ll be Yann’s own things, some of which we’ll film in Paris. That’ll involve some improvisation and experimentation. And they’ll have found footage filmed from a screen, because the lettres filmées also involve the interplay of the real and non-real. In some of them Yann quotes well-known films, and he also uses found footage from the Web for example. At some point the borderline between what he actually experiences and films and what someone else filmed first will blur. Of course, that also involves a huge issue with rights, because there’s a lot of material for which the rights must be straightened out, and it must be affordable for us in the next step.

What do the iPhone films look like on screen?
Andrina Mračnikar: We’ve already done a few test screenings, and they look surprisingly good. They resemble digital Super 8 a little and are clearly different than the rest of the film.

Ma Folie contains a film within a film. It’s also about the extent to which film cameras have become part of our daily lives and that surveillance is now a fact of life, which justifies paranoia. To what extent did you want to reflect on the medium?
Andrina Mračnikar: I faced this question at an early point, because I refuse to make films that don’t reflect on the medium. I want to make films that are interesting and moving, and at the same time reflect on the medium constantly. My work’s about reflecting on narrative. MA FOLIE is also about questioning the reality of images. Something isn’t necessarily true just because it was filmed. You never really know what you’re seeing. The theme of being watched has become omnipresent in the past few years, which makes the issue that much more relevant.

The first phase of shooting, which took place in a studio, is finished. Which locations were recreated there? Why did you shoot in a studio?
Andrina Mračnikar: A little more than half of the shooting’s done. Many interior scenes have been shot, but it wasn’t all in a studio, there was also some shooting at the Flex club, at a police station, in the Amalienbad swimming pool. In the fall we’re going to do all the exterior shots, in terms of atmosphere MA FOLIE should be a fall film. A great deal of the interior scenes are set in Hanna’s apartment, which is why we faced the question of whether to search for a location. While a studio costs more at first glance, it means a lot less money and trouble, and because we had so much shooting to do in Hanna’s apartment, our set designer Alexandra Maringer and producer Lukas Stepanik calculated that there were more advantages. In all you save a lot of time, studios are much better for lighting, there’s hardly any unwanted background noise, and we were able to arrange the floor plan the way I had imagined it. With a different layout I think I would have had to rewrite the screenplay. Hanna’s apartment is kind of labyrinth-like, there’s enough room to walk around and disappear into the next room. You can let yourself fall from one room to the next, and at the same time there are lots of unobstructed views and deep spaces. Of course, Alexandra and Gerald are partially to thank for that.

What’s scheduled for this fall?
Andrina Mračnikar: For example Hanna’s workplace, a counseling and aid center for children, and a lot of exterior scenes: in the Lobau wetland, in the center of Vienna and on the Danube Canal, which is of prime importance. We still have three weeks of shooting ahead, not including Paris, where just the very first scene’s set. By late October shooting should be finished. What will take a lot time in post-production will be the final editing of the lettres filmées, which have to be embedded and edited.

Interview: Karin Schiefer
June 2013