«The period around 1810 was wild and colorful.»

Katharina Wöppermann (set design) and Tanja Hausner (wardrobe) talk about the making of Jessica Hausner’s Amour Fou.

Jessica Hausner’s Amour Fou puts us in Heinrich von Kleist’s time. When and where’s the film set?
Tanja Hausner: The film’s story is set in 1810/11 Berlin, where Heinrich von Kleist and Henriette Vogel lived. It plays out in the city – Henriette’s apartment was on what’s now Gendarmenmarkt – and also in the country.

How’s this era reflected stylistically in the set design, scenery and wardrobe?
Katharina Wöppermann: Stylistically, that means Empire, and it gradually transitions to Biedermeier.

Tanja Hausner: In terms of the wardrobe it’s characterized by a raised waist, rather flowing, simple line and short arms. A certain simplicity can be sensed as a response to Rococo. The layered crinolines were replaced by an artlessness and naturalness.

Was any travel necessary for the research?
Tanja Hausner: We did a lot of research at a library in Berlin, a certain Prussian touch had to be added. The gowns couldn’t look too French or English. Some work was done in London because we looked through every theatrical prop store that had something from this era, since we had to dress extras too. We found a great source by the name of Sands in London, where we then had everything made. That’s a great little company where you feel like you’re in a past century after crossing the threshold – incidentally, it’s the same company that made the wardrobe for Pride and Prejudice.

Does the wardrobe comprise a mixture of gowns you found and others that were made to order?
Tanja Hausner: In the end we had a lot of things made. Lead and secondary characters wore dresses that were made to order because it’s easier to follow your own style that way. Jessica’s someone who doesn’t like the wardrobe to look like it’s made up of theatrical props, she prefers a certain amount of color. So we faced the question of whether the theater gowns matched the others that were newly made. The intensity of their colors had to be increased a little to make them right.

Was everything designed for the same social milieu?
Katharina Wöppermann: No, not really. The Vogel family’s home was middle class, then there was the Salon Massow held in the home of one of Heinrich von Kleist’s aunts. She belonged to the nobility and lived in a mansion in the city. On the other hand we came up with a somewhat abstract solution. Heinrich’s room should clearly show that his finances were extremely limited. So there are definitely differences.

Is a great deal of creativity required to find solutions that are authentic and not overly expensive?
Katharina Wöppermann: You always keep the original premise in mind. At first you calculate costs while trying to make things look good in a way that’s practicable. This always involves a dilemma: Certain things must be made possible, and others have to be limited to save costs. Those kinds of limitations represent a challenge, of course, but I’d be lying if I denied wishing that the budget were twice as high.

Tanja Hausner: I would have liked to dress Henriette in something different every day.

Katharina Wöppermann: But we’re also used to dealing with limitations, that’s part of our work. I don’t think that you have to be more creative to find good solutions. This situation has been made part of the job.

When’s collaboration with the director most intense?
Tanja Hausner: It’s always intense. Jessica Hausner pays a great deal of attention to every detail up until the last moment. Tweaking often continues on the set, though she can say how she definitely wants something beforehand. Not everybody can do that. Jessica has an extremely firm opinion.

Katharina Wöppermann: Without a doubt, Jessica’s someone who influences our work to a great extent, because observing our work and how it’s realized up close is important to her. After a certain point our work together becomes nonstop. Discussion with Jessica started right away because work on the project was actually scheduled to begin last year. I developed the model, and the technical drawings were done after that. All the next steps take place after dialogue to ensure that we’re on the same page. Also important is the dialogue with Martin Gschlacht, the cinematographer, who’s extremely important to talk to with regard to spaces and resolutions. The choice of lighting required a lot of decisions beforehand. In 1810 there weren’t any kerosene lamps or gaslights, candles and oil lamps were used instead. There weren’t many lamps in the stocks of props we looked through, and working with oil lamps is extremely difficult. We also considered using artificial light, then decided against it, because we preferred real light from candles or oil lamps. That involved some extremely prolonged processes where we did test shoots for lighting and camera and looked at the results on a screen before making a decision.

Will Amour Fou, like Lourdes, have a distinctive look that dominates the film?
Tanja Hausner: Yes, you can definitely say that. A distinctive look, that was the objective, and it’s the reason why Jessica was afraid that some moldy dress from a theatrical wardrobe wouldn’t work so well, because it might undermine the clarity.

Does the presence of actors change a great deal?
Tanja Hausner: Yes. The actor trying things on is an important moment. In the case of Christian Friedel, who plays Heinrich, we tried a number of different jackets from theatrical prop stores, and suddenly you see him in something that’s just right, even though there weren’t any really concrete ideas about it beforehand. We then had that model custom made in his size and with different colors and materials. Therefore, his look was found jointly. It was similar with Henriette, because that’s how we could find out what suits her especially well.

Is making a costume film more interesting than one set in the present?
Tanja Hausner: In terms of the wardrobe, it’s interesting because the dresses are suddenly important. In contemporary films no one ever notices all the design work behind it. Contemporary films are a challenge for me too, especially when I’m able to add a certain style while keeping it all authentic.
Katharina Wöppermann: In my opinion the interesting thing about historical wardrobes is that they have to be designed from head to toe. That tends to be ignored with contemporary wardrobes, though it should be done in the same way.

Tanja Hausner: I’d like to contradict that: The problem’s that no one notices it.

Katharina Wöppermann: Of course, it’s obvious that with historical things you have to recreate this world. In contemporary stories the challenge in my opinion is that you want to portray a contemporary scene with precision and attention to detail. Even if the fact isn’t really obvious, it’s an interpretation. Every contemporary reality’s an individual perception. If you can manage to create a certain style on that basis, you’ve done something right. By that I don’t mean set design or wardrobe should always push its way into the foreground, but one aspect of it should be emphasized. Regardless of what time period you’re trying to portray, it’s always an interpretation of reality. A precise portrayal of a point in history doesn’t exist.

What particular aspect of 1810 was it important to tease out?
Katharina Wöppermann: The fact that things were really wild and colorful, and that this is expressed in the form of a liveliness, and there’s no pale aesthetic.
Tanja Hausner: We have lots of yellow and red. Interestingly enough I was more inspired by Renaissance and Baroque images for 1810. The first images that Jessica gathered include some of Vermeer’s paintings. They served as inspirations, with their clear, powerful colors.

 In your opinion, why was this period so wild and colorful?
Katharina Wöppermann: I think it was the advent of the pre-revolutionary period, influences from the French Revolution, which are discussed in the film. Sweeping changes in the Prussian administration and tax laws, which are dealt with in the dialogue in part. Jessica did a great job teasing that out almost in passing. How do the established classes and the nobility behave in the face of these monumental changes? Today, we don’t think about everybody paying taxes, but that was an issue people got excited about at the time. The middle class became more and more important, which can be seen with the apartment of Mr. Vogel, Henriette’s husband, an important official in the Prussian government who had a certain social position. At the same time there was a high nobility that was closed to him. All these circumstances play a role, and the wardrobe and set design can reflect how the middle classes did a lot more to set trends than the nobility. That began and then became increasingly common.
How would you describe the main characters?
Tanja Hausner: If I were to put it negatively, someone who manipulates and someone else who lets themself be manipulated. The film’s about 12 people who hope and love at cross-purposes.

Do their clothes reflect their personalities?
Tanja Hausner: Yes, I think so. Henriette’s somehow modestly natural, girl-like.

Katharina Wöppermann: That’s right, that’s one aspect. But I see something else in her. At first she doesn’t agree to Heinrich’s suggestion of a suicide pact, then changes her mind eventually, even though this is because she assumes that she’s fatally ill. For me, she’s headstrong in a certain way that’s always a basic characteristic of Jessica’s female characters. It’s so far beneath the surface that even with this fairy-like being we can tell that she’s a little headstrong. By finding out that she’s sick and through the discussions with Heinrich she gains a more discerning view of her existence. You can’t think of her as being like Nora in the Doll House because there’s definitely something positive about her family. She just starts thinking more independently. Heinrich’s portrayed as an extremely quirky individual who also tends to feel sorry for himself. He has an extremely critical spirit and is fascinating to a certain extent because he’s so sensitive and feels the world around him so strongly that he can barely stand it. You can consider that extreme sensitivity or somewhat exaggerated self-pity. He’s someone who has never received the recognition he wanted so much. But a final thing that must be mentioned is that, like in all of Jessica’s films, there’s a healthy dose of humor. There are overtones of her unique brand of dry, though not malicious, humor, which makes the whole thing amusing.

Interview: Karin Schiefer
April 2013