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GERMANY

Rick Ostermann • Director of The House

“This is not an alien world that one can look at from a distance”

by 

- In his thriller, the German director tells the story of a house that knows its inhabitants better than they do themselves

Rick Ostermann  • Director of The House
(© Stephan Rabold)

Rick Ostermann's new feature film The House [+see also:
interview: Rick Ostermann
film profile
]
is based on a short story by author Dirk Kurbjuweit. It is set in an isolated house somewhere on an island where a middle-aged couple seeks refuge after it has been through some hostilities at work. He is a journalist and she a lawyer, both criticize the ruling party for being too totalitarian. But the house is not necessarily their friend. We talked to the German director about the core of the story, the location of the film and humans' relationship to technique.

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Cineuropa: What fascinated you most about the short story by Dirk Kurbjuweit?
Rick Ostermann:
I was fascinated by the complexity of the story. It was the actual and socio-critical theme told from the exciting and conflict-laden perspective of a married couple that interested me. I wanted to tell the story as close to the couple as possible. The viewer should experience the critical consequences of the ever more absolute digitalisation of our everyday lives through the evocation of an oppressive atmosphere. Not least because of the Corona crisis, digitalisation has been given an immense boost, which needs to be critically examined. For this reason, it was important to me to give this film its very own visuality and atmosphere, but at the same time to make it tangibly and comprehensibly close to the current world and the everyday life of the viewer. This is not an alien world that one can look at from a distance. 

How did you proceed in adapting the story?
How do you adapt a near-future story realistically? For me there were three roles carrying this film: a man, a woman and the house. For me, the house is a very serious character in its own right. The house had to be narrated and treated as a character. The supposed place of retreat, the holiday home, is actually an observer, a holder of power and a controller. It captivates — first in a positive, then in a frighteningly literal sense. The house takes control of the other two characters. It reduces the people further and further to the essence of themselves, until they finally face each other naked as what they are inside. 

When was it decided that Tobias Moretti would take the lead role?
We had a classic casting for the roles of the married couple. But then the idea came up that Tobias Moretti would be the ideal cast and I really wanted to work with him anyway. I was very pleased that he was already very interested on the basis of the short story and then very quickly agreed to do it after reading the first draft of the script. 

Was it difficult to find the location?
It was a long journey through northern Europe. In the short story, the house is actually on an island with a direct view of the sea. This connection was also very important for me and the film. I wanted to visualise the exile, the seclusion and the loneliness of the house. Unfortunately, there were not many houses that were suitable for our film, as they also had to do justice to a near-future aspect. The house also had to be logistically convenient for the shoot. So we had many aspects that we had to bring together. But then the final house captivated me from the first visit. 

What challenges did the house offer as a filming location?
The house offered almost everything we needed for the story in terms of its construction and interior design. It was already equipped with a lot of technology. The biggest challenge was to create the "autonomy" of the house on set. The doors, windows, drawers and lights that worked independently were all manually directed and controlled during the shoot. There were days when I and the team felt like puppet masters. There were a lot of cords, wire ropes and pulleys that all had to be coordinated. In the end, though, the challenge was great fun and an incentive for all of us to portray it as perfectly as possible without having to get too much help from digital visual effects.

The technology that the film describes isn’t that futuristic. How do you yourself feel about it? Is it something you see rather positively or rather negatively?
Personally, I try to use technology as much as possible so that it doesn't patronise me. I find technical possibilities, such as playing music everywhere in my flat and controlling light sources, quite positive, but I still want to decide for myself when something is set or switched on. Personally, I don't talk to my mobile phone or to technical interfaces in my flat; I don't want the technology to know too much and end up determining me. 

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