Marie Kreutzer about THE FATHERLESS



The subject, rebelling against a generation of adults that you don’t 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 weren’t 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 don’t 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 father’s role were redefined, and at the same time they’re fatherless. Is the absence of the father a topos which crosses generations and eras?
Marie Kreutzer: Someone said that the film’s title is wrong because these children aren’t 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 didn’t necessarily provide a sense of security. That’s what I’m 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 they’ve advanced beyond that. The title refers not so much to the father’s death as the many years he was there and played an extremely problematic role. There’s a scene in the film where two mothers discuss the fact that they’ve reverted to classic tasks, even in the freedom of the commune where they’re living. When all’s said and done, feeding and taking care of the children is left up to the mothers, and that’s 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 isn’t carried by one or two main characters, but an entire ensemble. For someone’s 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 didn’t 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 hadn’t 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 Chekhov’s Platonov in Cologne, the first version of which was called THE FATHERLESS. At the beginning, I used the play’s 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 don’t 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 can’t be transferred. This core group - the brothers and sisters, the stepmother and partners, who were there from the very beginning - didn’t 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 it’s more than just a group of people living together, and how I can avoid describing a commune like Otto Muehl’s, 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 it’s 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 you’re just working with people who don’t really exist and you’re 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. What’s your opinion of families, what is it about them that interests you so much?
Marie Kreutzer: Of course, something that’s vitally important to the film reflects my personal opinion, the fact that families aren’t defined and justified by blood relationships alone. I don’t 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 it’s something I view with a critical eye. I was fortunate enough to have grown up in an extremely harmonious family, and I’m 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 what’s 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. I’m 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 what’s most important at that moment so you don’t get lost in all the material. We didn’t 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 Lee’s 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 can’t answer your question, because I don’t 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 everything’s discussed so many times. Of course, I’m well prepared to direct, but on the set there are no pat answers to the questions that pop up, when that happens I’m completely intuitive.

Interview: Karin Schiefer
January 2011