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“It is better to admit an unsettling truth than to lie to ourselves”

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Florian Eichinger • Director

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- We caught up with German director Florian Eichinger at the Lecce European Film Festival, where he competed with Hands of a Mother, the unsettling tale of a mother’s abuse towards her son

Florian Eichinger • Director

Hands of a Mother [+see also:
trailer
interview: Florian Eichinger
film profile
]
is the third chapter, following on from Without You I’m Nothing [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
and Nordstrand [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
, of a trilogy on domestic violence and its consequences, directed by German director Florian Eichinger. The film, shown in competition at the Lecce European Film Festival, is the story of Markus, played by Andreas Döhler, a forty-year-old man who is married and has a son, and who, during a family meeting, starts remembering a terrible episode from his childhood: the abuse he suffered at the hands of his mother. An unsettling and unacceptable truth that Markus must face up to, re-process and confess to, if he is to save himself.

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Cineuropa: How does the tale of domestic violence unfold in this film compared to in your two previous features?
Florian Eichinger: Hands of a Mother is very different from my first two films, which were chamber pieces: one takes place in a cabin in the mountains, the other in a beach house. This film has a more urban setting, we have a family in a big German city. There’s the place they live, the place they meet, and the place where the protagonist works. The first film was more autobiographical, very close to my experiences with my stepfather; the point of departure for Hands of a Mother came to me from the Internet, by chance, while I was working on my previous feature: a man who had suffered abuse of this type gave a detailed description of what he went through. I had made two films on violence, but I had never thought of cases involving mothers and sons, which are less rare than you might think.

Where did this interest of yours in family dynamics come from?
I come from an extended family, a patchwork in which I have biological and adopted parents, biological and adopted brothers and sisters. I have experienced certain family dynamics more or less up close and personal, and felt like I had to recount them. I started, after my first film, to notice that lots of other people were interested in these topics. Each of us has a family, within which there are wounds along with situations and circumstances it’s worth telling the world about.

How did you prepare to write the screenplay?
I did a lot of research, I compared notes with other people who have been through similar experiences, and talked to psychologists and psychoanalysts, to create a story as close as possible to reality. The statistics tell us that 20% of sex offenders are women. I wanted to find an artistic way of conveying this extreme lack of trust: this inability to trust your own mother is the worst way to start your life. But I didn’t want to portray the protagonist as a victim. He’s a strong-natured man, very masculine.

Markus remembers the abuse he suffered after a long period of amnesia. Are these cases frequent?
What we see in the film happens extremely often in real life. A lot of men start to remember these episodes only once they hit 40-50, when they have a stable life and are married with children, because that’s when their subconscious allows them to. It’s important to embrace the truth, even if it hurts, because it always leads to some form of development and growth. It is better to admit an unsettling truth than to lie to ourselves.

And yet when Markus confesses to his best friend, he can’t manage to admit the whole truth.
Because it’s humiliating. We have certain roles in society, and when these don’t work we lose our bearings. As a man, you have to do certain things, be successful, you can’t admit you’re a victim. In schools in Germany, “you’re a victim” is the phrase most commonly used to humiliate someone. Admitting it is very painful. People are insecure, they need rules, but there are also lots of exceptions.

In the film the child protagonist is also played by the adult actor, Andreas Döhler. Why?
There are several reasons: because I didn’t want to adopt a documentary approach; because I didn’t want to bind such a shocking topic to just as shocking images; because I wanted to show how the present and the past are closely linked and capture Markus’ perspective, his memories as they re-emerge in his adult life. I like giving the viewer the space to reflect, which is also why I avoided showing the child.

Now that you’ve completed this trilogy, what’s your next project?
I have two projects on the go: one very big one (a co-production with the United States) which will be announced shortly, and another one which focuses on two twin sisters, in which there will be conflict and violence, but a certain humour too. It won’t be a comedy but it will have grotesque elements, while my previous films were more naturalistic. The provisional title is Jeanne Dark.

(Translated from Italian)

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