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Henrika Kull • Director

"The question of what love is, and how it can work, is what drives me"


- German filmmaker Henrika Kull talked to us about her first feature film Jibril, world-premiered in Berlinale's Panorama section, and now screening at Cinema Jove in Valencia

Henrika Kull • Director
(© Robin Kirchner)

German filmmaker Henrika Kull's first feature film Jibril [+see also:
film review
interview: Henrika Kull
film profile
, which world-premiered in the Berlinale's Panorama section, is now screening at Cinema Jove in Valencia. Cineuropa chatted to the director about the structure of the film, the relationship on which the film is focused, and her experience of working with first-time actors.

Cineuropa: How did you come up with this story and what was it that interested you about it?
Henrika Kull:
It began with the question: To what extent do I really love the other, as opposed to loving the image that I create of him or her? Or rather: How much do I love the feeling he or she gives me?

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I was interested in the difference between a real, everyday relationship and the romantic exaltation of, or longing for, someone who isn’t available. That's why I liked the prison setting: it's a metaphor for yearning, but also for outdated patriarchal structures. And then, on the other hand, we have a strong, independent woman who’s looking for romance, but who also, due to her culture, has this yearning for “how things are supposed to be”: a stable relationship, a family, spending your life together…  

Why did you decide to structure the film in this way, with the story taking place over one year and alternating between the two main characters throughout?
I wanted the end to also be the beginning, or vice versa. With on/off relationships that are so very complicated, but also very stimulating, and which are largely based on projections, we often don’t know when things are finally "off" or how many "rounds" are yet to be played. So it was an obvious choice to set the film over the course of a year, with the seasons representing the various stages of a relationship. Often, it doesn't matter if the couple are in the first or the third year of their romance, or if we jump between years - their attraction and their problems remain the same. We actually shot over a period of 9 months, I'm so grateful that the actors and crew were so involved... 

How did you go about finding your actors and how did you work with them?
I wanted to achieve the realness and the closeness that comes with using a flexible handheld camera, and I knew that very strong faces and very strong characters were essential in this. I didn’t want to work with professional actors, partly because we had virtually no budget at all, but also because I didn´t want to have to deal with shooting days and blocking periods. I wanted to shoot chronologically on a very “organic” set. I wanted all of us, the cast and the small crew, to really involve themselves in the story, I wanted the actors to go on a real, emotional journey with their characters. I felt that for this to happen, it had to be the actors’ first film – and the same for the rest of the team too.

That’s why the casting process took so long. I went to plays, performances, and also spent a lot of time on Instagram. In the end, I opted for Susanna Abdulmajid, who I saw performing in an immersive theatre production in Vienna. We instantly fell in love with each other and with the idea of making a film together. The real challenge became finding the right “Gabriel” for her. She and I already had an idea of how we would work, and her character, Maryam, was also coming together very clearly... Until we found Malik Adan on Instagram, we were worried there was no Gabriel that could handle her. I knew immediately that he would be the perfect counterpart to Susanna’s character.

How do you feel about the audience and media reception of your film? What will you be working on next?
This has been the first time that any work of mine has been seen and discussed by so many people. It's great how often the audience members were able to identify with the couple. I was touched that my message, that what I wanted to say, went down so well with the audience. I also screened the movie in the prison where we filmed, and that was a very special screening. The film was worth making for that moment alone.

The question of what love is, and how it can work, is what really drives me. In my next film, which is about the love between two female sex workers, the characters go a bit further. They try to move beyond hedonism and narcissism, and maybe, just maybe, they’ll end up finding true bliss...

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