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Lisa Brühlmann • Director

“Because I was an actor, I try to give my actors what I would have needed: space”


- SAN SEBASTIÁN 2017: We chatted to Swiss filmmaker Lisa Brühlmann about her feature debut, Blue My Mind, which is currently taking part in New Directors at the San Sebastián Film Festival

Lisa Brühlmann  • Director

Following her theatre studies, Lisa Brühlmann played a variety of roles in various TV productions and movies in Germany and Switzerland. She then decided to continue her studies at the University of Arts in Zurich, where she received an MA in Film Directing. Cineuropa chatted to her about her experience both as an actress and a director, and the way she worked with her teenage actors in her feature debut, Blue My Mind [+see also:
film review
interview: Lisa Brühlmann
interview: Luna Wedler
film profile
, which is participating in New Directors at the San Sebastián Film Festival.

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Cineuropa: Where did the idea for the movie come from? Is Blue My Mind influenced by your own experience as a Swiss teenager?
Lisa Brühlmann: Mia is a fictional character, but of course, I put a lot of feelings and experiences that I had as a teenager into that character. It’s a mixture of shame, being introverted and being very angry at the same time. Sadly, young women often tend to be self-aggressive when they feel like that. I know these feelings very well from the time when I was a teenager.

And then I have always been fascinated by fantastic creatures from mythology. I think it’s very interesting that some of them appear in various cultures, independent of time and place. These characters exist in our collective subconscious. So this idea just came to me; it was a very intuitive process and felt right from the very first moment. I wanted the movie to be very sensual and poetic and, at the same time, rough and realistic. It was very important to me that this story wouldn’t be “just a fairy tale”, but that it would feel very real and the setting would be well researched.

How did you approach the depiction of the current teenage milieu? Did you research a lot before shooting the movie? And how did you work with the teenage actors?
Yes, I did a lot of research. I went to all kinds of places where teenagers would hang around – rough places in the city, but also in the suburbs of Zurich. I did a lot of interviews where I not only found out how they speak nowadays, but also how they think about the world, and what makes them happy or sad.

Working with teenagers is a very rewarding and intense experience. They are so direct, so emotional, so permeable. The personal inevitably flows into their work, and as a director, I welcomed that because it meant that the film was enriched with some very true moments. At the same time, you also sense the immense uncertainty associated with this age, which reminded me very powerfully of my youthful self. As a director, you can’t impose the same demands on them as you would on adult actors. I often had to remind myself that they simply weren’t grown up and that we should shift down a gear or two.

How does your background as an actor and a director influence the way you make movies?
Because I was an actor, I try to give my actors what I would have needed and sometimes was lacking: space – the space to do what the actor needs for a particular scene. Every actor is different: some need to hear music, some need to sing – some want to be themselves and go for it in a state of absolute concentration. I just try to let the actors feel safe being unsafe.

Is Blue My Mind a universal coming-of-age story, reflecting the need to escape from a standardised future, or is it deeply rooted in Swiss life?
I think it’s both. I think in Western society, we all know this feeling very well – you have to fit into our system; you are told you are free, but you are not. And especially as a young woman, it’s very hard to reconnect with your true nature, your most powerful force, and to free yourself from the constraints of society, to go your own way and to love yourself even if you are different. Blue My Mind is also a story about that.

What does it mean for you to screen your debut film at San Sebastián?
This is a big honour. I’m very happy because this is my first feature, and I dared to dream that this movie would reach and touch a lot of people all over the world. And to see that happening now means a lot to me. And also for all the people involved, especially my young actresses, it is nice to see that all the work was worth it. 

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