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Frauke Havemann • Director of Be Right Back

"It's about giving possibilities or limitations, and less of a psychology or a historical background"


- The German director's slightly enigmatic and at times nearly psychedelic feature is screening at Slamdance

Frauke Havemann • Director of Be Right Back

German director Frauke Havemann presents her new feature film Be Right Back [+see also:
interview: Frauke Havemann
film profile
, in which a forest becomes the shelter for very different characters, at this year's edition of Slamdance Film Festival. In it, she recreates a sense of isolation and introspection that most people have experienced or are still experiencing since the outbreak of the pandemic. But the film is also a more universal, timeless reflection on humans' need for both interaction and seclusion in different situations. We talked to the director about her inspiration for the film and her work with the actors.

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Cineuropa: Where did the idea for the film come from?
Frauke Havemann: There were two strands. One was more abstract and conceptual. I was concerned with the relationship between character and landscape. That was the beginning, a still very much open situation, not focused on characters but more on the camera. My dramatic adviser Rose Beermann and I went with these approaches and to prepare the project and script to the Uckermark, to the Kastavensee, a small holiday settlement in the middle of the forest. It was before the lockdown in Germany and we didn't even know what would happen next. Isolation in Berlin was looming, we were in this idyllic forest, which against this backdrop took on a strange, surreal atmosphere. There was also no one else around. We began to imagine things in the forest, like thoughts about our own existence and our transience. At some point we had to laugh at ourselves because this took on a certain degree of absurdity. I was very interested in this absurdity. And then when we were back in Berlin, during the lockdown, observations came in about how people tried to keep normality in that situation or build a new one. In the film, we wanted to exaggerate this obsession with certain things in order to maintain a structure.

How does the material relate to your other work?
In previous works, I've dealt a lot with what natural phenomena can trigger. My previous feature film is set in a house from which the protagonists cannot get out because of an extreme weather situation. The theme of isolation already plays a role there. In many cases, aspects of one of my projects reappear in the new one. My way of working is mostly to combine theoretical approaches with the work of the writers, but also with the actors and actresses. So I don't determine from the beginning what the story will be, but it develops in the collaboration.

How did you put together the ensemble and how do you work with actors?
With some of the actors it was clear from the beginning that I would work with them. But the whole team was not fixed for a long time. I have already worked with most of the actors, even if in different constellations. I don't associate the first texts and dialogues with specific characters. In rehearsals, we then assigned certain characteristics or tendencies to the characters. Then the text was distributed and redistributed. This approach runs through all my work. The way I work with actors is very physical. It's about giving possibilities or limitations and less of a psychology or a historical background. So the actors are all letting themselves fall into the situation without knowing how their characters are and without getting a backstory.

Each of the character actually sees something different in the forest. What does the forest symbolise for you?
For me personally, the forest is very important because it is an important place for thought, it has something liberating about it. In this specific forest, I was very interested in how so much magic can take place in an organised piece of forest, created by people. This refers to the light and the mood that change or to the complexity of the green of the forest floor. On the top layer it is organised and below there is a lot going on that is beyond our control. This mixture of control and uncontrollability fascinated me. And it was also exciting how it was possible to lose one's bearings in this forest in such a way. This corresponds with the characters who, in a way, also lose their bearings in their self-created structure, they get lost in it.

What do you associate with games like charades or Scrabble?
Charades is exciting because it's about reading into something. You always have to interpret and also get physically involved. Scrabble is about having a kind of obsession and a proof of knowledge. There's also a desire for control in it, control over language.

What exactly does the title of the film refer to?
For one thing, it's quite literally about, one leaves, another comes back, someone else has already come. So it refers specifically to the story of the film. And then I'm interested in this cycle in a larger sense, when do we come back, do we come back, where do we come back to?

How did you develop the visual concept? What were the most important aspects?
The cinematographer, Joji Koyama, has an incredibly sensitive eye for light and detail. The compositions are crucial for me and we quickly came together. Then the green was a very special journey in colour correction, guided by Jorge Piquier Rodriguez. It was an art to determine which green to use and when. I experienced that the shades of green change with the characters and their different trips through the forest.

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