“Transporting feelings of guilt to the next generation”
by Vittoria Scarpa
- The Dead and the Living by Barbara Albert tells the tale of a young woman through the ghosts and past of her family during the Second World War.
The Dead and the Living [+see also:
interview: Barbara Albert
film profile] by Barbara Albert, which tells the tale of a young woman through the ghosts and past of her family during the Second World War, brought Austrian actress Barbara Albert the Cineuropa Prize at the 14th European Film Festival in Lecce (April 8th-13th, 2013).
Cineuropa: Sita works for a television talent show. Why did you choose this profession for the heroine of your film, The Dead and the Living?
Barbara Albert: I wanted to create a modern heroine, someone who represents our world, how I see it. How many of us have to do with pictures, with media, but are not aware of how we work with it, how much we can influence our surroundings. Sita does a lot of things, the way how young people tend to live nowadays. She's a student of German, she's working for a TV show, she's travelling, always in motion, on the road – without a goal.
How much your film is autobiographical?
The film deals with the story of my grandfather, who was an SS officer. He died in 1999, when I was 29 – and I really loved him. When I found out about his past and when I asked myself, how much he was guilty – or not, I needed to deal with it. My way to do this was to make a film about it. The film is so much about family, about transporting feelings of guilt to the next generation. I think that it is important to talk about family taboos, not only with those who lived before you, but even more to the people who follow you, your sons and daughters.
In the film, the new generations seem to know how to better deal with the ghosts of the past. Why does the father of Sita refuse to talk about it? Could they be seen as two faces of Europe (the old and the new)?
Yes, that's a very interesting and good point. I hope that the 'new' generation, the grandsons and granddaughters, are able to deal with the issues better than their parents. They don't accuse so much, but try to understand. And what they see, is, that it is us, not the monsters behind closed doors, who might be the perpetrator. They are able to see the 'greys', not only the 'blacks' and 'whites'. Sita's father ivery afraid of the truth, as it would be too painful to face. He’s learned to run away from things, from pain. He's blocking, like his father had blocked. He's identifying with his father, because he's also fearing for him.
Once she discovers the truth, how does the vision that Sita has of her grandfather change? And how does she see her father?
She is afraid that she might not be allowed to love her grandfather any more. I even guess, she really doesn't love him so much any more. But it's very difficult for her to be clear about her feelings. It's too disturbing, what she finds out. That's why she is looking for closeness towards her father. She thinks, if she questions him and his approach, she will get answers. But I agree with her uncle, when he asks Sita: "Does finding out the 'truth' help us to come to a solution?" Her father is coward, in her opinion. She doesn't understand him, that he never even tried to find out about the 'truth'.
How did you choose the actress, Anna Fischer, for a role so delicate and challenging? What characteristics did you search for?
I understood that Anna acts very intuitively from the very first moment I saw her, and then again, when I met her. I thought that it is very important to work with someone who doesn't seem to be too intellectual at the first sight. There were so many things I was thinking about all the time myself, that I needed an actress with a very 'direct', spontaneous, emotional, even naive approach.
Usually, in films and documentaries, is the point of view of the victims of the Holocaust to dominate the scene. Your film, instead, speaks for one of the executioners. How was the film received upon its release in Austria?
If I may say so, it was somewhat disturbing. As I am not a film critic or theorizer, it is still difficult to analyse. There were people in the audience, who thought for the first time in their lives, that they should talk about their own family secrets with their parents/children (and they were not only the young ones). There were very touched people on one hand, on the other there were people who didn't want to deal with the subject at all. The reactions were very divided.
Responsibility, guilt, forgiveness, inheritance are the central themes of your film. How can one live with the weight of a truth so dramatic, to have had a family member in the SS?
When you find out about it, you first feel so ashamed. But I think that doesn't help. That's why I tried to get over the shame. Shame paralyzes, but I believe in development, in movement. I, like the character of Sita, tried to find out about my responsibility (and my guilt) in my own life. There is a burden, yes, but it was not you, and on the other hand you should never forget, that you are not a victim, so I never wanted to feel pity for myself. But I know about groups of people, who meet in a therapeutic way - grandchildren of victims as well as the grandchildren of perpetraters - to overcome the things their families did or had done to them. Nevertheless to give answers in films is at least as difficult as to give answers in life, and I doubt that I found the right answer to this question.
What is your next project?
I am writing a love story. It's dealing with the wish for a child, with cheating on your partner and about feeling guilty because of things that happened in the past. It is also a 'ghost' story. I've always been interested in the supernatural.