“Fully savour every period of life”
by Françoise Deriaz
- After a successful stint at comedy, the Swiss director was handed a brilliant screenplay by Martin Suter, which subtly and humorously explores the different ages of life
Cineuropa: How did you get your hands on the screenplay to Julia’s Disappearance [+see also:
interview: Christoph Schaub
film profile] (Giulias Verschwinden)?
Christoph Schaub: Martin Suter had written it for the filmmaker Daniel Schmid, who died in 2006. Marcel Hoehn (T&C Film), who produced almost all his films and several of my own, offered it to me after putting it aside for a year and a half. When I read it, I laughed a lot. Last year, I turned 50 – life’s midpoint! – and that’s perhaps one of the reasons why I decided to throw myself into the project. The ageing process interests me in particular, because my own perception of my age is at constant odds with the behaviour dictated by society when we are 20, 30 or 50 years old.
In 1989, you also made a film entitled Thirty Years …
It was a farewell to youth. At 30, you have to leave that wonderful period behind, be sensible and accept your responsibilities. At 50, you can’t escape any longer!
What attracted you to this screenplay?
The subject, which reminds us that we must fully savour every period and every moment of life, that there’s a dialectical link between the hunger for experience at a particular age and the ability to serenely move on to the next stage: if you haven’t enjoyed your youth, it’s harder to grow old. I was also inspired by the original structure and dramatic form of this ensemble film screenplay.
Julia’s Disappearance also shows that youth isn’t measured solely by age…
It is indeed an unexpected surprise to see youngsters old before their time and old people bursting with vitality! The film plays with clichés, conventions and feelings whilst simultaneously exploring three periods of life.
The dialogues are very impressive! Did you rework the screenplay with Martin Suter?
When I received the screenplay, it was completed. I nevertheless told Martin Suter about my ideas for the start and end of the film, but he’s a writer and likes working alone, so he made these alterations himself. He’s a true master of dialogue and my collaboration with him was very enjoyable and open. He is full of humour, experience and imagination for unusual situations. What I like in particular is the tension he manages to create by exposing the rift between being and appearing.
Corinne Harfouch and Bruno Ganz make a superb couple. Did these two actors immediately spring to mind?
Corinne Harfouch is very well-known in German-speaking Switzerland and I immediately thought of her. At 68, Bruno Ganz is a bit of a star, but above all he’s a personality capable of acting on the fringes of the film. His charisma was essential for the credibility of the fragile and sensitive character John, who magically appears like an angel. When he meets Julia on the evening of her birthday, she agrees to accompany him to a bar, even though people are waiting for her elsewhere. For the power of fascination to work, we really needed an actor of Bruno Ganz’s stature.
How did you work with the numerous actors and manage to maintain the dramatic tension in very long scenes?
Managing lots of characters is a real challenge for a director, in particular a nine-minute scene with seven characters sitting at a table! Before the shoot, I rehearsed with the actors for a few days and it was enjoyable because they really liked the dialogue.
DoP Filip Zumbrunn and I decided to work with two cameras on just one light axis. It was the right solution for handling this dialogue-filled scene and capturing the glances and smiles that the characters exchange when they are not talking. The actors didn’t know when they were on camera and were very focused, so much so that their performance gained a lot in intensity, energy, speed and vitality!
The film won the Audience Award at the Locarno Film Festival. Has its international career got off to a good start?
For the time being, it is expected for release in Germany, Austria and Spain. And although it’s an entirely Swiss production, I’m confident it will enjoy a decent international career.