«The collision of various elements became a narrative principle for us.»

How strongly was the story of PARABELLUM bound up with the location near Buenos Aires where you filmed it?

At the beginning of a project the location is a very important source of inspiration for me. And the Tigre Delta provided me with an extremely crucial impulse. It's a holiday destination, especially for Argentinian middle classes who go there for weekends to have a short break. You can be taken out there on a boat, for example, put down one of the islands, and then you hope the boat will come back to pick you up again. It's always struck me as an extremely lonely place, isolated from the outside world. Then in 2012 reports began to appear in the media about people preparing for the end of the world, and along with the increasing popularity of survival training, that made it apparent to us that we wanted to work with a group of middle-class people who set off for the Tigre to get ready for the end of the world. So we spent several months taking part in survival training courses ourselves; we made contact with trainers, so we could understand what motivates people like that. We performed a great deal of research when we were writing the screenplay. We worked more intensively with three of the survival trainers, and we also asked them to draw up an end-of-the-world training plan for us.

That sounds like the kind of research that must have included a lot of disconcerting experiences.

LUKAS VALENTA RINNER: The interesting thing was that we had considered our screenplay a work of complete fiction, but then we were confronted with a reality which was much more radical.
ANA GODOY: We had to leave some things out to keep the whole thing plausible. In reality we experienced things that would have proved counter-productive for the task of telling a story.
Would you describe PARABELLUM as fiction or as an experimental film?

LUKAS VALENTA RINNER: I would regard it as fiction, although it does come close to being an experimental film. Perhaps it's fiction narrated in radical style.

You develop a horror scenario from a situation which is reduced to the bare minimum in dramatic terms. The elliptical narrative approach appears to have been exploited to the extreme. You start with the protagonists, and although we discover virtually nothing about them – neither their fears nor their back stories – you develop a character profile with the group over time.

LUKAS VALENTA RINNER: It was fascinating for us to observe these people as they go through their routines for holidays or survival training and gradually arrive at an understanding of their inner character by means of their actions. We were trying to reveal as little as possible. We only make the tip of the iceberg visible; the viewer has to deduce the foundation from the images. It was an experiment for us as well. That's how things were set out in the screenplay. But we weren't sure ourselves whether it would work in a piece of fiction. The dialogue is reduced to the minimum. We wanted to avoid giving the characters psychological identities or providing extra information about them by means of dialogue. In order to follow the events the audience is kept at a distance, not only on a visual level but also in a narrative sense.

Actually the film manages without dialogue almost completely. It’s as though you leave out the moments where people talk to each other. So the film narrative seems to begin at the point when the characters have finished conversing with each other.

LUKAS VALENTA RINNER: That's how it is. We were making an attempt to illuminate the moments in between. Our scenes begin the point where scenes finish in classic fiction. We've often being confronted with the objection that the film is cold and lacking in emotion; in my view, you can read emotion into the very reduced aspects – the glances and small gestures. The inner life of the characters doesn't necessarily have to be accessible by means of words. It can be captured much more in details, in grey zones.

Was the reductive work part of the scriptwriting process, or did the editing make a bigger contribution?

ANA GODAY: Nature is a very powerful character in Parabellum. When a big storm brews up in nature and the accommodation begins to collapse, that also has a lot to do with the emotions of the characters. Things are expressed in the film not only through the human characters but also, and to a greater extent, through natural events.

LUKAS VALENTA RINNER: Originally there were a few more scenes of dialogue. But during the editing process it emerged that they created "noise" and didn't fit in. The screenplay itself gives nature and spaces the function of characters. In a very basic sense the film is intended to be a journey through spaces.

One of the stylistic devices you use repeatedly is to work with contrasts. Was operating with opposites an appropriate or helpful method in the extremely reduced narrative style?

LUKAS VALENTA RINNER:  In Spanish there is the term "choque", which means the collision of various elements, and that has become a narrative principle for us.
ANA GODAY: As we were editing the film things moved in the direction of having two fundamentally different scenes, one after another, with each of them establishing its own individual, powerful identity. This interplay of forces gave rise to the rhythm that we wanted to create.
Interview: Karin Schiefer
February 2015