Barbara Albert • Director
“We talk a lot about assimilation and seem to forget about diversity”
- TORONTO 2017: Acclaimed Austrian director Barbara Albert explained her fifth feature, Mademoiselle Paradis, to Cineuropa San Sebastian 2017 - Competition
One of the most celebrated and active personalities in Austrian cinema, Barbara Albert, is taking part in the Platform section of the 42nd Toronto International Film Festival with her fifth feature, Mademoiselle Paradis [+see also:
interview: Barbara Albert
film profile]. Cineuropa talked to the filmmaker about her reasons for narrating the true story of her heroine, the evolution of society since the 18th century and the never-ending gender conflict.
Cineuropa: What were your reasons for following the real-life story of Mademoiselle Paradis?
Barbara Albert: First of all, the strong and ambivalent characters of the blind pianist and composer Maria Theresia Paradis and the doctor and healer Franz Anton Mesmer fascinated and really inspired me. And then there’s the fact that the story is not only about the characters, but also about power and society, and above all about the act of seeing and being seen, being a subject or an object – and about the relativity of senses and truth.
Do you feel that your heroine would have faced a similar social treatment today? Has society really evolved since the Habsburgian period?
Fortunately, parts of the world’s societies have definitely changed since the 18th century, but other parts haven’t, especially when it comes to the treatment of women. When we talk about European, American and Western society, there are some interesting similarities to the 18th century, especially when it comes to the pressure being piled on women (and increasingly also men) regarding their outfits and behaviour. I’m talking about influencers on the internet who state how you should look and behave in order to be part of society. I’m talking about the pressure on young people, who want to adapt and want to totally fit in. Also, politically, we talk a lot about assimilation and seem to forget about diversity.
There is a sense of a constant conflict between the leading characters and, more importantly, between what they represent. Is it just a gender conflict or something deeper?
The gender conflict itself seems quite deep to me. Especially over the last few years, we have seen that it has become even more intense, as women have insisted on their right to the same degree of visibility and the same amount of money as men. Nevertheless, the conflict of the main characters is an inner conflict between two extraordinary characters, Wunderkinder, who are not understood or accepted by society, and who are suffering because they know about their special status and have their own envy and ambitions.
In your previous films, your story was always set in a contemporary environment; do you think that a plot set 240 years ago is equally contemporary?
It is a universal story. I believe that each film tries to tell a universal story, no matter whether you as the writer and/or director aim specifically to look into the present or into the past.
Production-wise, how hard was it to finance and deliver a period drama?
We secured funds from several Austrian and German public film funds and TV stations, as well as from the Eurimages European Cinema Support Fund. Although in the end the whole budget was not what we would have needed in order to realise the screenplay, we decided to shoot anyway, as we really believed in the strength of the project. We cut some scenes and shooting days, but in my eyes, the production designer, costume designer, make-up artist and cinematographer performed magic.
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