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BERLINALE 2022 Panorama

Isabelle Stever • Director of Grand Jeté

“Because of the funds’ rejections, it seemed all the more interesting to me to tell the story”


- BERLINALE 2022: The German director takes a considerable risk as she tells this story of the unusual love between a mother and son

Isabelle Stever  • Director of Grand Jeté
(© Fabrizio de Gennaro/Cineuropa)

The Panorama section of this year's Berlinale is playing host to the world premiere of the new feature by German director Isabelle Stever, Grand Jeté [+see also:
film review
interview: Isabelle Stever
film profile
. Once again, as was the case in her last film, The Weather Inside [+see also:
film profile
(2015), she is interested in the relationship between an older woman and a younger man – this time between a mother and her son. We talked to the director about her interest in the story, how she developed the characters and the aesthetics of the film.

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Cineuropa: Why was it important to you to tell this story?
Isabelle Stever:
The film had a long gestation period of 16 years. My interest in, and view on, the story changed a great deal during that time. I think that's why the movie has become so dense now. In my opinion, it can be seen from many angles. By crossing moral boundaries, a space is created in which it is possible to think about questions concerning society, which are even detached from the plot itself. These include the role of women, and women's bodies. Or what does motherhood mean, to whom does this body belong, how does one relate to one's children? What alternative models of family are there? In a sense, the film could also be called a body horror. It's about exploiting oneself and one's body, about alienating oneself from one's own body. Something breaks out of Nadja's repressed body that develops its own ideas.

It's about an unusual mother-son relationship. Where did the inspiration come from?
In a twisted way, the main character is trying to catch up on her childhood, and also to catch up on her motherhood. At the same time, it's about challenging her own mother. I had heard about this idea. An actress had written a treatment; I then passed the material and my thoughts on it to author Anke Stelling, who wrote a first exposé that seemed too explicit and too drastic to be filmed. Stelling eventually wrote a novel. It wasn't until ten years later that I dared to adapt it into a film. Anna Melikova then wrote the screenplay.

Does the theme have a political background? Did you intend to break one of the last taboos of our time?
Not primarily. It's more about describing a feeling of irritation and finding a language for it.

Would it have been conceivable to swap the roles around? And have a man as the older character?
I wasn't directly interested in that, but I think I could have financed the material more easily that way, because I experienced such enormous resistance. Most of the funds rejected us, even after several attempts. I think it was because the story was about a mother and her son. But because of this rejection, it seemed all the more interesting to me to tell the story.

What were the production conditions like in the end?
We had to cope with one-quarter of a normal budget. I worked on the film mostly with students: in the form of a workshop, we worked out how to create an atmosphere. They contributed and learned from it, and it was a good experience. I handled the post-production virtually on my own.

What was important in the casting?
The character of Nadja is defined by her body, which is heading towards decay. I wanted the actress, Sarah Nevada Grether, to have that, but I didn't want her to seem hardened or bitter. Mario is a fantasy made flesh; we don't know what he wants or what he thinks. Emil von Schönfels has great aplomb and is good at conveying the mysteriousness of the character.

What does ballet represent in the film?
Ballet shouldn't be a cultural thing, but rather a training method for the body, which helps to cross boundaries.

The camera is always very close to the characters or various objects. How did you develop the visual concept?
It was important to allow a certain distance so that the viewer could play with elements of the story himself or herself, and feel that the world he or she sees is changeable. A certain distance also creates a sense of hope. But one should also keep an interest in Nadja and have her world in focus. The camera should appear random but be narrative at the same time. The film should be reminiscent of a legend, of something that is predetermined, yet also unpredictable.

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