For me it is a kind of very dark coming-of-age story.

An interview with Paul Poet about My Talk With Florence, screened at FID Marseille section Histoires de Portraits.

The title of the film, My Talk ... , also places the focus on you as the other person in the conversation. It isn’t only that a woman reveals her painful story; you also present yourself as a film-maker at work. Was it your aim to create a “fair“ environment for the conversation, or to emphasize the strictly subjective narrative position?

PAUL POET: It is her female oral history, and I didn't want to deprive her of that. I would describe My Talk With Florence as a psychological theatrical monologue which describes reality. I provided assistance in order to penetrate deeper, so things could be verbalized. There was a lot that still occupied a subconscious space. In connection with the abuse of her male children, for example. At the same time I tried to guide the conversation to the extent that it remained roughly chronological. While we were shooting it was important to me that there should be something like a narrative film arc within the conversation – including ellipsis, self-analysis and reflection – with me not so much asking questions like a journalist and more providing cues like a prompter. By remaining out of sight and only having a verbal presence I was trying to create a projection area for the audience, and the idea was also to confront the audience with the question of what response is more comfortable for us as observers when we are confronted with a story like this: voyeurism or human empathy?
How did it come about that Florence related her very intimate story on camera?

PAUL POET:  I met Florence while I was working on my theatre play Satan-Mozart-Moratorium, which was a project I did for the Donaufestival in Krems, and afterwards I wanted to provide her with a stage for her story. The play is also about child abuse and the damaged destinies that result from it. The play was very activist, and as a result the story itself was submerged. Florence wanted to secure a wider audience in relation to her own story and the abuse of her children in the commune. But nobody wanted to hear it – nobody in the media, the world of publishing or members of the general public would listen. Her aim was to create an overall awareness of the dynamics in the commune, and she also wanted to get revenge – I think it's fair to say – for the decade she spent in the commune at Friedrichshof. In the end there was only one man who provided her with a sort of anchor there: Othmar Bauer, who left the commune with her. Her whole life story is extremely complicated, because in her case there were three or four different social structures where all this abuse took place. The narrative of the film is aimed more to confront these systems than to pull Friedrichshof to pieces.
You have intentionally created a film that is raw and unpolished: the microphone protrudes into the shot, none of the blemishes have been edited out... Why did you decide on this unpurified form?

PAUL POET: My intention in limiting it to 2 reels and making the beginning and the end of each reel visible was to raise the question: "How is it at all possible to capture a life with a technical device?" It always has to be the case that a large number of questions are left open, because a human life is an incomprehensible entity. All you can ever do is place the focus on something; you can't grasp hold of everything. The film succeeds in capturing a lot of dimensions, which makes it very moving. It is also a continuation of the idea behind Cinema Vérité: as the film-maker you always have influence, and you're always in search of a greater truth, but also of honesty. Of course I was faced with accusations that I had forced this woman to pour out her soul. But the truth was that I was the first person in 20 years to offer Florence the opportunity to speak in public.
In a conversation lasting two hours the setting plays an important role from the perspective of the camera. Throughout the entire time Florence is clutching a very battered doll. Did you ask Florence to bring along an object?

PAUL POET:  It was clear that the conversation couldn't take place in her home. The challenge was to create a platform for her that remained neutral. A kind of space for projection, and for this she very consciously chose the doll. For me as a director the doll would have been too striking. But the doll is taken from one of her installations. It is actually a doll that had been sexually abused, which she found; she then created a kind of setting for it and placed it in one of her installations. She took it out of there, and it functioned as an object she could clutch hold of. She brought along this prop, which had great personal significance for her, and in that way it gained its own dignity – also because an image that remains the same for two hours has a kind of insistence. From being a simple provocation the doll became something extremely personal that you can't ever really comprehend.
What motivated you to make this story available to an audience?

PAUL POET: In general I’m interested in the conflict between the individual and society, which quickly leads to abuse, suppression and rebellion. In Florence‘s story that's very apparent. She was introduced to me by a mutual friend who thought that my activist streak and my proximity to Schlingensief and to Actionism would provide a good foundation. I also have the reputation of being capable of great empathy for people who have been wounded. I am able to approach these situations with sensitivity, without suggesting that I am imposing any value judgement or pushing the people into some kind of moral dimensional, and that means I can concentrate more easily on the questions that really matter to these people. Where does the story tip over into a kind of projection, where does it become invented? What is the human core? Why is she telling me this? In that respect Florence felt very comfortable with me. She has a great fear of authoritative individuals, of men who interrogate her. That has a great deal to do with her grandfather, who abused her, with the suppression imposed by her bourgeois parents, and especially with Otto Mühl. She only told me a year ago that she was able to escape from this fear with me completely. We've also become friends. Traumatic experiences like that are very deep-seated, and of course in her case she was also bound to wonder whether she was being abused simply by being questioned. There's one very emotional moment after the film, which we didn't shoot. It was only then that she was able to weep in liberation and let go. After filming we went out into the street and embraced in sobs. The film itself was shot in one take. Nothing was manipulated. Certain points had been discussed in advance, there were catchphrases, and we had talked about the aspects that were particularly important to me, the harassment perpetuated by power and rebellion.
One thing which is omitted from the film is any sort of explanation about how Florence managed to get back on her own two feet at all.

PAUL POET:  That's because the reel ran out (he laughs). It was a conscious decision in the sense that there wasn't a third reel. I'm always asked about that. Florence would also have been prepared to continue shooting. I think it was a good point to break off. The film ends at a place where it's very intense, and it's effective. Now the film is beginning to attract international attention, and although it was a very cheap project, it's being released in cinemas in Austria and Germany. It has developed its own dynamic and power, and that shows me that a non-visible film narrative can also be gripping. I mean, working with images that arise in your head, which also create an adventure narrative. For me it is a kind of very dark coming-of-age story. The story of a woman who emancipated herself, who doesn't collapse, who displays the strength to persevere through the abyss and to be reconciled with her family. She also sees the ways in which she herself became a perpetrator, in the sense that she abandoned her children in the commune, and now she's developing the strength to work through that with children and grandchildren.
Interview: Karin Schiefer
June 2015