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VENICE 2019 Orizzonti

Katrin Gebbe • Director of Pelican Blood

“I am interested in people on the fringes of society, and I like to dig deeper into why they ended up like this”


- VENICE 2019: We chatted to German writer-director Katrin Gebbe about her second feature, Pelican Blood, which opened the Orizzonti competition

Katrin Gebbe • Director of Pelican Blood
(© Birgit Heidsiek)

Cineuropa spoke to German writer-director Katrin Gebbe (Nothing Bad Can Happen [+see also:
film profile
) about her second feature, Pelican Blood [+see also:
film review
interview: Katrin Gebbe
film profile
, which opened the Orizzonti Competition of the 76th Venice International Film Festival. The drama tells the story of a single mother who adopts a second child that becomes increasingly aggressive and poses a danger to herself and others.

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Cineuropa: In your films, you like to portray very extreme characters. Where does your interest in people with such extreme behaviour come from?
Katrin Gebbe: I am very interested in people on the fringes of society, and I like to dig a bit deeper into why they ended up like this and how society reacts. I like to tell stories that are challenging for the audience. I grew up in a very pleasant family, but in my teens, I realised that some people in our village had secrets that they hid behind the curtains. For example, our neighbours tortured their eldest son. I found it exciting to figure out what kind of family they might be. But I am not judging people. Most of us want to be good people.

What kind of research did you do for Pelican Blood?
After Nothing Bad Can Happen, I did a lot of research into good and evil. I want to find out how people actually become evil. Are they suffering from some kind of trauma, have they had to endure negative experiences, or were they born like this? This is all part of the character of the little girl. The question is whether we can have an impact on a traumatised child that has been adopted, and if so, what will it take? Pelican Blood is also about the metamorphosis of the leading actress because it’s not only the child who has to change, but also the mother.

Which of your characters do you consider to be the craziest? The mother or the child?
I discussed with leading actress Nina Hoss what might constitute “normal”. It is challenging to have a child, and it creates a lot of pressure if there is a fear that the kid could harm a sibling. This can push you to the very verge of sanity. In the end, she gets out the envelope because, otherwise, she wouldn’t find a satisfying solution. There is some truth in the story because the norm in our society won’t stay the same forever, as people change. When we look behind the curtains, we see that nobody is normal. We all have certain fears and longings.

Did you have to convince Nina Hoss to take this difficult part?
I didn’t have to convince her at all. We sent her the script at a very late stage because I thought that the more I wrote, the better the actor could embody this role. When we sent the script to Nina, her agent told us that she was doing a stage show and it was possible that it would take a month before she could get back to us. One day later, we received the message that Nina would take the part. From that point on, we discussed with her what the character would be like and started to shoot.

How did you work with Katerina Lipovska, the little girl?
The biggest challenge is always the casting because you need to find good actors. Children can be great actors and act in a very natural way, but that needs to be prepared well beforehand. We did a huge casting session for children in Sofia, already at an early stage of production. I wanted to work with kids from Bulgaria who spoke the language so that their accent would be authentic. At the beginning, I was also looking for kids who had skills in the German language, but I quickly came to understand that that would not be an option. Therefore, we had to have a coach who taught them some German. I needed to find young kids because a child that goes to school has a different type of behaviour. I was looking for a child with raw energy.

Our young protagonist, Katerina, was six years old but wasn’t in school yet. When we cast her, she had a lot of fun filming the scenes. Later on, I found out that her mother is a children’s coach who runs a theatre for kids, where she had already acted in various plays. She has great acting skills. We really hit the jackpot because her mother was a coach who worked with her for months. When we cast her older sister, she went with both of them to a summer camp. They studied the script together and became siblings, in a way.

Why does the story take place in Bulgaria?
When I did the research for the film, I learned that Bulgaria is the only country where a single parent has the chance to adopt a child. It was important for me that the film had a realistic background. Therefore, it seemed natural to do a co-production with Bulgaria. In addition, it is much cheaper to shoot there, and they also have great horse trainers. Our producer Verena Gräfe-Höft met Mila Voinikova from Miramar Film when they were both presented as Producers on the Move at Cannes in 2017.

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