Eva Urthaler about TEENAGE WASTELAND


«I think that it's easier for a woman to tell a story about two boys than about two girls. It's hard to say why. Things that you're too familiar with possibly set off more inhibitions and might be less interesting - I can't say for sure. Our basic emotions aren't different, in the way we express them at most, the hopes are the same.» In Eva Urthaler's first fiction film, Keller, two 16-year-olds explore love and power. It will premiere internationally at Locarno in competition for the Golden Leopard.


You entered the exciting world of feature films without specific training in the field. Obtaining financing surely requires a producer and a screenplay. What lead up to the production of Keller?

EVA URTHALER: After finishing high school I started working for Franz Novotny as an assistant producer and drew storyboards at the same time. Then I quit to study something "more serious", went into graphic arts and worked at the News publishing house. I never lost touch with Franz Novotny and I continued drawing storyboards for him. At some point I told him about an idea for this script and he said, "Write it down and make it!" I started writing and heard about the Step by Step script-development program, which I applied for and was accepted.


What does working within Step by Step involve?

EVA URTHALER: In Step by Step you get a great deal of basic knowledge about dramatic structure, and you also learn to deal with the characters intensely. They start to live through conversations with other writers and take on their own dynamic. I don't think I would have been able to do it working alone. That was certainly the ideal solution for me. In total we met for a week three times over the course of a year.


Was it certain during this phase that you would direct?

EVA URTHALER:  I had the great fortune that Franz was interested in the project and suggested that I direct the film. A chance like that doesn't come up twice, it's more than you could ever dream for – that a producer's so prepared to take a chance and has enough much faith in you to say, "Do it! Make it!" I didn't even have a short film to show. And he always stood behind the project.

How did you prepare for your job as a director?

EVA URTHALER: I went to libraries and took out books, I read a great deal on my own and observed how commercials were made, even though the two can't really be compared. I also met with Michaela Rosen and discussed direction with her. I did have butterflies in my stomach before shooting started, but that was only beforehand. The first scene was kind of exciting, but that all went away. It's like you just start swimming when you're thrown into water. And I had rehearsed a great deal with the actors beforehand, so there was a great deal of trust.


The two main characters are from Germany, and the female lead is Italian. How did casting go?

EVA URTHALER: I invested a lot of time and energy into casting. The two boys in Berlin, I had also looked in Austria, but just fell in love with them at the very beginning. And I must have looked at no less than sixty actresses for the female lead, but it was love at first site with Elisabetta Rocchetti, and I couldn't imagine anyone else. Then I was lucky that we had more than a month for rehearsals. That was a big help, the roles were completely clear, everybody knew them inside and out. All we needed was the go-ahead to get everything underway.


What did you like about the two boys?

EVA URTHALER:I already had a certain idea because I always have stark images of things. It's often physical features, but it can also be a mere detail - in Sergej's case it was just his manner, the way he ordered cocoa during our conversation, I knew then, he's the one. Both of them had already acted in minor roles, but this is the first major film role for both of them. Neither have been trained as actors, they're really only 16, Sergej till goes to high school and Ludwig dropped out. I already had someone with a lot more film experience for Paul, and then there was Ludwig Trepte: He had such an intensity, a will to get this role and to act. I don't know how other directors make their decisions, I just look to see if anything reminds me of the character - for example a certain sensibility, even if they're completely different otherwise.


What was working on the set like?

EVA URTHALER: I'm not inclined to yelling a lot, I was extremely concrete and I try to direct in such a way that the actors can open up as much as possible. I spend a lot of time on preparation and have a very precise idea about how it should look, but at the same time I try to direct my actors so that they can find out for themselves. That's what I want to happen.


The subdued colors and the fact that there aren't many characters make the story resemble an artificial or dream world in which neither time nor place are clearly identified.

EVA URTHALER: That's what I intended to convey. It's not a realistic film, you're never really sure where it's set or how long the kidnapping lasts. If it were completely realistic, a lot of things would have happened quite differently, the police would have shown up much sooner and the end would have been completely different.


How can you describe the main characters, what's different about them, what do they have in common?

EVA URTHALER: What the two have in common is that they're both seeking recognition. One wants "normal" recognition, the other wants love. Sebastian is on an intense search for love and does precisely the wrong thing to get it. He's just not able to say, "I love you, I like being with you."

Does he first realize that he's homosexual after meeting Paul?

EVA URTHALER: I really don't think that he considers it homosexuality as such, it's more of a desire to belong to someone. He's not capable of admitting it because he wants to be the leader, and secondly because being attracted to someone of the same sex is still a social taboo. That's familiar to a lot of people, being attracted to someone and then doing all the wrong things when trying to get the other person to return those feelings. In Paul's case he feels he needs someone strong by his side and suddenly realizes that he can stand up for himself, and he finds the strength to do that.


One interesting thing about Keller is that a young director uses two boys to take a look at adolescence and sexual awakening in her first film.

EVA URTHALER: I think that it's easier for a woman to tell a story about two boys than about two girls. It's hard to say why. I once read an interview with a playwright where she said that she always writes for male leads because she doesn't have the distance with women. I haven't completely figured it out for myself, but that seems to make sense. Things that you're too familiar with possibly set off more inhibitions and might be less interesting - I can't say for sure. Our basic emotions aren't different, in the way we express them at most, the hopes are the same.


What was working with the cameraman like?

EVA URTHALER: The cameraman, Alfio Contini, is from Italy, he's 77. Working with him went extremely well. He doesn't speak German or English and we had to work with an interpreter. Working with someone with a lot of experience, who doesn't feel he has to make a name for himself, was great for me. He's an old pro and unflappable. He asked me, "What do you want?" and I showed him, and he was wonderfully supportive.


You started in the graphic arts, work as an art director. What fascinates you about filmic storytelling, what do you want to put on the screen?

EVA URTHALER:  Everything involved with interpersonal relationships. I'm less interested in the social aspect than what people react to in certain situations and how.


What does that mean for Keller?

EVA URTHALER: The theme of Keller isn't just how people deal with love or unrequited love, but also violence, threats, sexuality, awakening sexuality, power.


What's your next project about?

Eva Urthaler: Naming the theme is always difficult. It's another story with just a few characters, and it will be a kind of game of confusion, I don't want to say anything more about it yet.


What does the invitation to Locarno mean to you?

EVA URTHALER:  It seems to me that a film is like a child, on the one hand it's great when it starts to walk, and at the same time you're afraid that it'll run away or in a different direction. I'm very nervous about the festival premiere, I think I'll have to go on stage there. I don't like that, I'd rather do my job and not have to make an appearance at all. The thought of a premiere at a venue like that makes you realize how vulnerable you are with the thing you've created. But of course I'm extremely proud to have been invited.


Interview: Karin Schiefer (2005)