Ulrich Seidl • Director
by Domenico La Porta
02/09/2012 - After screening the first instalment of his trilogy titled Paradise in Cannes, Austrian film director Ulrich Seidl has just screened the second, Paradise: Faith [trailer, film focus], in the competition at the 69th Venice Film Festival. Cineuropa spoke to him.
Cineuropa: In the two first films of your trilogy, the quest for paradise involves or ends on sexual disillusionment. Is this a common theme to all three films?
Ulrich Seidl: The three films each have several levels and sexuality is one of them because I think that a woman who is looking for fulfilment and a way out of her own isolation is in fact looking for love, and this love has to involve sexuality. Sex is one of the most important driving forces of life. It's the quest for happiness that is the real common theme in this trilogy.
Paradise: Faith leans more towards grotesquery and slapstick humour than its prequel. Was this intentional?
No. I didn't want to make a grotesque or funny film, and I was very surprised to learn that the screening was punctuated with laughter and even applause. I think that it's because of the film's theme and the idea that each spectator has of faith and religion in general. This reaction says a lot about audience members who no longer take religion very seriously, but this is not my case. I was brought up in the strict Catholic tradition and I conducted enough research and interviews with fervent believers when I made Jesus You Know to be able to tell you that this is not the case for a lot of people. I do however like to blur the lines between drama and comedy. Perhaps I do it unconsciously.
Why did you choose to portray a very radical form of Catholicism and a very moderate version of Islam, as opposed to the idea that most Westerners have of these two religions?
Extreme devotion exists in all religions, but we tend to forget this today just because of a handful of fanatic Islamists who are not representative [of Islam]. I was actually surprised at the audience's exultation in the scene in which the Pope's portrait is thrown on the ground. Does this mean that the audience would have liked to do this themselves?
Your mise-en-scene is quite radical for an unprepared audience. But do you still feel that you have to compromise, when sometimes you film footage that is too extreme and then cut it out of the final film?
I am my first spectator. I decide what I want to show and I don't set myself any limits other than those that impose themselves when I film a scene. If it seems true, right, I have no reason to get rid of it. If it doesn't feel right, I start over or film something that seems more authentic and appropriate for the film.
As your own first spectator, are you surprised by your actors' improvisation during shooting?
I set my actors a limited frame in which to improvise, and these limits are sufficient for the film to evolve in the direction I want without me being surprised. We have rehearsals and shoot the same scene several times. There can be surprises at one point or another, but I continue to film until I have what I want from a scene.
How do you explain this radical wave of Austrian films lashing out on the European film scene? Do you think that this is due to Austrian society?
Rather, I would ask why there aren't any films like mine in other countries. I feel that I am addressing issues that are extremely relevant in all Western countries, not only Austria. I don't know why other directors refuse to address them more directly and realistically. Maybe it's because we Austrians have had to repress so many things in the past that today we still have the burning desire to transcend aesthetic appearances to uncover reality as it is.
After competing at both Cannes and Venice, are you hoping to screen the next part of your trilogy at the Berlinale?
Shooting is almost over and the film will be ready in time for the Berlinale. It's called Paradise: Hope, and I do hope that it will be selected for the competition.