by Fabien Lemercier
- Interview in Paris with the Austrian director of Revanche – nominated this year for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar – on the occasion of its French release by MK2
Born in 1961, Götz Spielmann won acclaim for his debut features (in competition at Locarno in 1990 and San Sebastian in 1991). After a spell in television, he established himself as one of the most interesting contemporary directors in Europe.
After Antares (2004), selected at around 30 international festivals, Spielmann made his sixth feature, the subtle Revanche [+see also:
interview: Götz Spielmann
film profile]. Unveiled in the Panorama section at the 2008 Berlinale, the film won the Europa Cinemas Label Award and was nominated for the 2009 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.
Cineuropa: On the surface, Revanche is a suspense thriller centred around a bank robbery. However, the film combines numerous themes, including guilt, the search for identity, loneliness and contrasts between city and country. What is the film’s main subject in your opinion?
Götz Spielmann: What guided me was the idea that the film should be a journey towards silence. But essentially, it’s the possibility of tackling individual existential questions that interests me. The problems of conflict and social difficulties are also part of my work for I live in our society and I’m well aware of what goes on around me. I therefore have my opinion about what’s not right and what could be different. But I try to look beyond this for there are much deeper issues.
What was your method for writing the screenplay?
My writing process involves not finding any ideas at first, putting other ideas aside when they’re not good enough, reading books, being frustrated and trying over again. When I worked for the first time on the original idea behind Revanche, the plot thread immediately reminded me of Greek tragedy, which gave it a much more interesting significance in my opinion.
Your characters seem ruled by fate, but they always have a choice and you play on this with small recurring details (the intersection in the forest, the double photo, etc).
I like making a film’s story more complex. As in life, things repeat themselves, but their meaning changes because we change; we may have a deeper understanding of them for example. These elements are constantly connected to one another like a carpet that’s more solid when it’s not simply a mosaic of disparate things.
Did you aim to see how far you could go in slowing down the thriller format?
From a certain point of view, yes. But not at the writing stage. I just wanted to make a personal film. When the screenplay was finished, I realised that it was rather like a thriller and I felt the need to direct it as slowly as possible. From time to time during the shoot, I said to my team: "Don’t forget, I want to make a boring film".
Your film language seems to be moving towards purity.
Simplicity is the goal of my work and I try to be as simple as possible, but everyone knows that it’s very difficult.
Your work is somewhere between "mainstream" film – dominated by the plot – and a quasi-documentary approach.
I don’t consider myself to be in the middle, but rather different from both. It’s not a compromise, but rather a combination: putting elements together and giving them form to create something new.
In John Cassavetes’ work, for example, there’s a big difference between the strength, emptiness and rituals on the one hand and, on the other, actors who simply perform and a camera that follows. However different these two almost contradictory methods of filmmaking may be, I like them both. And the very lively energy in Cassavetes’ work is expressed with ease and clarity: it’s an attempt at combining different, conflicting elements to render them harmonious, which creates complexity and peace at the same time. For harmony means accepting tensions, not pushing them aside.
What are your main cinematic influences?
I’ve never followed them as I’ve tried to make my own way, at least on a conscious level. It’s not very original, but the most important directors in my view are Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni, Ingmar Bergman, Andrei Tarkovski, Yasujiro Ozu and John Cassavetes.
You produced your own film for the first time. Did you do so in order to gain more artistic freedom?
I was very free at the start of my career as a director and I’ve rediscovered that feeling since making my previous film, Antares. Before that, I relied on circumstances, even though I’ve never made a film to order and what’s essential is doing what you have to do whatever the circumstances.
Getting funding together is not particularly easy in Austria. I didn’t have any difficulties with Revanche – which we were able to get off the ground quite quickly without co-production support from other countries – but I did with Antares.
What will your next project be?
I have a few ideas and I’ve worked on them over the last few months even though I’ve had very little time due to the Oscar nomination. Now I have to return to silence, I must listen and focus my thoughts.