«THE NIGHT OF A THOUSAND HOURS is a living depiction of a family history.»

«The Night of a Thousand Hours is a living depiction of a family history. The mysteries are revisited.» Alexander Dumreicher-Ivanceanu talks about shooting Virgil Widrich‘s new feature film.

When shooting began Virgil Widrich explained that The Night of a Thousand Hours has narratives running through time in two opposing directions. How exactly should this be understood?
ALEXANDER DUMREICHER-IVANCEANU: In terms of the timeline, the film always goes forwards. We are in the present day, in a palazzo in Vienna, and the lives of the people who are living today continue, but the new day never dawns. An event takes place which means it remains night, and during this night dead members of the family return. There is a plotline which doesn't go forwards, beginning when Philip – a young man in his early 30s – takes charge of his father's family business. When he is handed the keys to the house and the company, events begin to unfold. The movement backwards through time is created by generation after generation of the dead returning. The longer the film proceeds, the more generations of dead members of the family appear. The building is therefore increasingly taken over by the past. The dead reappear with their values and moral positions, their ideas and political views, just as they were at the moment of death.

This also suggests that Amour Fou, the production company, has once again done justice to its mission: to provide opportunities for narrative experiments.
ALEXANDER DUMREICHER-IVANCEANU: I like the idea of a mission. Yes, that's right. We are doing justice to the mission of exploring narrative experiments. And thanks to the work of Virgil Widrich, Christian Berger and Christina Schaffer, it is also a very special film in an aesthetic sense. Just as with Virgil's short film Fast Film, film history has a role to play here. The dead members of the family who return from the past are furnished with a hint, a suggestion of film history from that period. If they return from the 1970s, or the 1950s, it's possible to perceive in their appearance and the aesthetic of their performance in the scene a slight reference to film aesthetics in the relevant period.  
In terms of casting, an expanding “household“ means that the film is an ensemble production. How does that come across?
ALEXANDER DUMREICHER-IVANCEANU: The characters at the center of the ensemble are Philip and Renate. Philip is the son of the businessman, while Renate is his aunt, who died in the late 1930s. Philip is played by Laurence Rupp, a younger and very interesting actor who has been with the Burgtheater for a year and a half. Renate, the woman he falls in love with, is played by Amira Casar. She is our star, who brings glamour to the story. They set off together to uncover the secret which inhabits the house. We have "constructed" a family around them, which works well: Lisa Oláh, who handled casting for us, did a great job. The cast features Elisabeth Rath as Philip‘s Aunt Erika, Linde Prelog as the mother, Johann Adam Oest as the father, Barbara Petritsch as his grandmother and Luc Feit as Dr. Wisek, a doctor who returns from the 1950s. Lukas Miko plays Philip‘s adversary, his cousin Jochen. A murder has taken place, but the body has vanished. While the members of the family try to find out what happened, Udo Samel arrives in the house wearing a police uniform dating back to the days of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy and begins to conduct an investigation as he would have done in the year 1900. 

During this "night of the thousand hours" are we presented with a condensed version of what somebody might discover about the history of his family during a long, arduous therapeutic procedure?
ALEXANDER DUMREICHER-IVANCEANU: The story proceeds from the assumption that there are secrets in every family. A lot of what we are told by relatives isn't necessarily true, or at least may have taken place in a slightly different form. The Night of a Thousand Hours is a living depiction of a family history. The mysteries are revisited. It raises questions such as: is it actually possible for everything to be uncovered? How do the lives of people in the present change as a result of this new awareness about the family? The film depicts a person behind which a large number of other people are standing: his ancestors. After all, it's relatively easy to calculate that if you go back a certain number of generations, we are all related to each other. And it isn't actually that many generations ago that we were one big family. Consequently, although we are all individuals, behind us there is a constantly expanding structure of people: 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, etc. It all happens in a flash, so all of them are part of our lives, even when we didn't know them, and there is simply nothing we can do about it. The film deals with the question of what happens when somebody's own family past suddenly reappears.
If the past and the present are intertwined, it means that real and virtual worlds are also juxtaposed. Is The Night of a Thousand Hours playing with genres and with the uncertainty of the viewer?
ALEXANDER DUMREICHER-IVANCEANU: It is both a mystery thriller and a black comedy at the same time. Uncertainty, yes, in the sense that it's a puzzle which is constantly turning. The search for the mystery surrounding the house and the family plays a central role. Resolving this mystery reveals how some of the members of the family are actually connected with one another.
How was Jean-Claude Carrière involved in the writing process?
ALEXANDER DUMREICHER-IVANCEANU: We started to work on this project with Virgil Widrich in 2008. Since the story has so many different layers, it was a very intensive process of writing; the more members of the family who appear, the further you go back into the history of the family, the more complex the relationships within the family become. By 2010/11 we had reached a point where a very exciting and at the same time extremely complex screenplay version had been created. It was at this point that Virgil expressed the desire to work together with Jean-Claude Carrière. There were two reasons for that: firstly because he had written the screenplay for the last Buñuel films, and secondly because he had also worked as a consultant for the script of The White Ribbon. Jean-Claude Carrière came to Vienna on the way to the film festival in Trenčianske Teplice, where he was to be awarded an honorary prize. He was to be driven there from Vienna Airport, and Virgil got a call saying he would have time to talk to him during the drive. So he and Virgil discussed the project throughout the drive, and that's how the collaboration came into being. Virgil then went to France, and they worked on the project together. The story was partially rewritten, partially simplified and partially revised. It was during this creative process that the version of the script was developed which we used to finance the film.
Interview: Karin Schiefer
April 2015