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Jan Speckenbach • Director

“We should definitely find different solutions in cinema”


- LOCARNO 2017: German director Jan Speckenbach discusses gender stereotypes, his writing process and the contamination of realism by dream imagery in his latest film, Freedom

Jan Speckenbach  • Director
(© Locarno Festival/Sailas Vanetti)

German director Jan Speckenbach has unveiled his sophomore feature, Freedom [+see also:
film review
interview: Jan Speckenbach
film profile
, as a world premiere in the Locarno Film Festival’s international competition. On the heels of his feature debut, Reported Missing [+see also:
film profile
, he presses on with the motif of vanishing, this time relating it to the scrutiny of the notion of freedom. In the movie, a middle-aged, middle-class lawyer abandons her husband and two small children and leaves the country to start a new life on her own.

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Cineuropa: In Reported Missing, we observe the leitmotif of missing or vanishing, which also rears its head in Freedom, as one of the characters goes missing on purpose. Why did you revisit this motif?
Jan Speckenbach:
 For me it doesn't seem like a revisiting of the same motif, but rather an ongoing interrogation of it. The void that somebody leaves behind creates a need to fill it with meaning, a meaning that apparently was absent when everything was fine. I find this situation very conducive to the dramaturgical set-up. I can’t really say why I am obsessed with this theme. I had a plan to make a trilogy on disappearance; this is the second part.

What are the origins of Freedom’s basic set-up? Did you want to go against gender stereotypes?
It is a construction or a habit that a father's bond should be less strong; likewise, it is a construction that a mother should always love her children more than herself. I am interested in these gender conflicts because we are all confronted with them every day. I turned the stereotypes around to examine them in a more extreme form. Someone told me, “A mother doesn't do that. Your character is either crazy or an arsehole.” That remark gave me the feeling that I was telling the right story. Isn't a result of female emancipation also to have the same right as men to drop out? To be selfish? To be proactive and leave the world as you know it behind? I think so. I am not promoting it, but I believe we should be allowed to talk about these things, things that hurt; we have to make films about them.

The dichotomy of West versus East Europe plays out in your film. How and why did that happen?
To tell you the truth, I didn't know Bratislava when I started putting the city in my script. It was only much later, when Sol Bondy and Jamila Wenske from One Two Films had already found our Slovakian co-producer, PeterBadač of BFilm, that I went there and I had to adjust the script to reality. Bratislava is just around the corner; it’s so close to both Austria and Hungary. It’s surprising, though, how different the atmosphere appears at first sight. Bratislava looks like a collage to me: the different styles are one beside the other, the old next to the new, without any real concept. However, when you spend time there, you lose sight of the differences, or rather they don't seem so big any more. The differences actually disappear. It’s above all a European place, and that's exactly how Nora perceives it. Once she is familiar with the place, she has to move on.

Why did you build Freedom’s script with a three-act structure?
I wanted a dialectic approach. I wanted to say yes and no. I wanted to sympathise with Nora and the fact that she is leaving her family without condemning the others. I wanted to sympathise with Philip, too, but still show that there is a shred of self-pity in him that he doesn't understand, because he doesn't want to. I wanted to show how fragile and delicate the truth often is – the truth that there are no clear or distinct reasons to allow us to say something is good or bad. There are always two sides to it.

Freedom’s style combines realistic, almost documentary-like, naturalistic style with occasional riffs on magical realism. What is the source of this style?
Even with the more documentary-like cinematography, it was important for my work with DoP Tilo Hauke and production designer Juliane Friedrich to find locations and lighting that were a bit magical, to use your term. We used coloured lighting quite often to create a realistic look, but not a naturalistic one, per se. I have never thought of it as magical realism, but I like it. I have the feeling that naturalism has become such a monoculture in cinema, contrasted only by, again, monocultural fantasy and superheroes. We should definitely find different solutions in cinema. We usually try to make dream different from reality, but my experience is that dreams often mess up our lives. They keep us awake at night, they make us sad or they usher us into worlds – erotic, adventurous or surreal ones – that we never thought we would care about. So I like to blur the boundary. Where reality ends and imagination starts is quite open because they are both real.

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