Ulrich Seidl • Director of Rimini
“Richie Bravo isn’t some shining hero; he’s actually a loser”
by David Katz
- BERLINALE 2022: The Austrian director makes his return to fiction filmmaking with one half of a diptych focusing on two enormously troubled siblings
The question this writer was most inclined to ask Ulrich Seidl, director of the Berlinale competition contender Rimini [+see also:
interview: Ulrich Seidl
film profile], is something that’s likely occurred to many viewers of his provocative work over the years – a point-blank “Why are your films so weird?” Thankfully, our conversation went in other directions, as Seidl was able to unveil many interesting insights about the making of the movie.
Cineuropa: Was there a precise moment when you knew this would be your next film?
Ulrich Seidl: With me, ideas always percolate for a long time – there may be older ideas coming together with newer ones. There may be a scene, a character or a location that I want to develop, and that may lead somewhere different. For Rimini, the character of Richie Bravo stretches back to 15 years ago: at the time, I was shooting with Michael Thomas for Import/Export [+see also:
film profile] and saw that he was a gifted singer, and that was the starting point for the film.
When you’re researching a project, starting with the locations you shoot in, do you know what you’re looking for in advance, with help from the internet, perhaps? Or is it spontaneous, finding things off the cuff once you’re actually there?
My films always involve very long preparation processes, and lengthy location scouting. I knew for a long time that I wanted to make a film set on the Adriatic, in the wintry landscape, on the sea and on the coast – with the empty beaches, the fog and the chilly atmosphere. And I loved the idea of shooting there with the hotels that were closed, the beach bars, the restaurants, the city in the off-season. The atmosphere was extremely important for me. It lent itself perfectly to the Richie Bravo story. Locations are always very important to me, and they inspire my scenes as well. On one hand, I write a script that’s based on locations and that takes them into account. But there are other fortuitous places that I may find when I’m on location, which inspire me to shoot specific scenes or give me ideas for scenes – the hotel discotheques, say. There are fortunate accidents that happen – there was snow in Rimini, something that hadn’t happened in decades. And this was a gift I couldn’t pass up – if it hadn’t been for that, we wouldn’t have had Richie Bravo dancing in the snow on the hotel terrace.
Tell me more about building the character of Richie Bravo. Was it important for you that he sung Schlager, an unfamiliar genre to some?
Whether you like Schlager or not, it’s a matter of taste. Some people like it; for others, it leaves them cold. I would say that it speaks to me because I was confronted with this music from my earliest childhood. I had cleaning ladies who would listen to it on the radio or on the phone; my mother listened to this music. And Richie Bravo sings this music with complete honesty, with complete conviction, and that’s one of the reasons why it affords him this connection with his audience. It speaks to real emotion that his audience can relate to. The music speaks of unfulfilled longings, of the pain, tears and romantic let-downs that his audience feel. It’s central to his character: Richie Bravo isn’t some shining hero; he’s actually a loser. It’s appropriate for him. He’s in the depths, he’s a loser whose life is a mess, and his life is always about trying to climb out of that to keep things under control, and return to success again.
Could you explain your thinking behind the character of the father, played by Hans-Michael Rehberg?
The original story I started to shoot was about two brothers. We have Richie Bravo, who is in Italy, and his younger brother, who has sought to make a new life for himself in Romania; linking them is their father. It starts with the dad: he has dementia and he’s living in a nursing home, but also the family home at the very beginning. The mother is present in the film – she’s not present physically, but she plays an important role because she’s present in their hearts and their minds. The film ends with the father crying out for the mother. At the funeral, we have the boys’ mother, his wife, and it ends in the nursing home. And the father represents that generation – the generation that grew up under National Socialism.
I remember reading that this project would be one film, concerning both brothers, called Wicked Games.
With the way I work, things turn out differently to how they’re planned. Thank God I’m able to react and make decisions like that – I’m also the producer of the film. Most directors don’t have that luxury, and they’re dealing with contracts or financial questions. And for me – thankfully – I’m able to make decisions, and I saw that the project made more sense as two different films, as opposed to a longer, single one.
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