Michael Koch • Director of A Piece of Sky
“What interests me is the immediate power of nature that one feels in the mountain world”
by Teresa Vena
- BERLINALE 2022: Both the Swiss mountains and their inhabitants are the protagonists of this intimate and artistically appealing drama
Michael Koch's drama A Piece of Sky [+see also:
interview: Michael Koch
film profile] was one of two features that represented Swiss cinema in the competition of this year's Berlinale. We talked to the Swiss director about his approach to the mountain landscape, his work with non-professional actors and his vision for the visual concept of the film.
Cineuropa: After your last feature, Marija [+see also:
interview: Michael Koch
film profile], A Piece of Sky is now set in a completely different environment. What significance does it have for the film?
Michael Koch: Marija is set in a completely different world, yes. But I carry both the urban milieu and the rural one, which is seen here, within me. I have lived in the city, but I have also spent a lot of time in the mountains. During the research, I realised that I see the place as one of the main characters in the film. The place has a big impact on how Anna deals with her difficult situation. She grew up in a place where she experienced from very early on the fact that perhaps nature is stronger than humans. I wondered if that makes you develop a different kind of serenity in life in order to deal with difficult things. I encountered this serenity again and again in my research in the mountains. In the people there, I felt a certain acceptance about them not being able to influence various things in life. I am sure that because of this, the story in the film would have developed differently in another place. Therefore, the location is elemental for the story. I try to introduce the mountain world as a character. The first shot shows a stone and is meant as a portrait. Then the portraits of the people follow. I tried to get very intensely involved with this place, its characters and its animals. All of my artistic decisions were based on that.
Were you concerned about what kind of image of Switzerland you were conveying?
I was aware that I was treading a fine line. There was a great danger that one could lose oneself in the romanticism of the Swiss Alps, in this idyll. I didn't want to convey a romantic image of the mountain world, even though I was playing with it somewhat. The Indians who come to Switzerland, whom I incorporate in the film, are looking for exactly that. What interests me is the immediate power of nature that one feels. You can almost feel this more intensely in bad weather conditions than in the bright sunshine. This force of nature is elemental for me.
How did you develop the story and the characters?
In parallel with the research about the place, the people and their everyday lives, I kept meeting folks who interested me, and then I asked them if they would play in the film. The longer I dealt with them, the more I realised that I was almost more interested in the local population than in my own characters. Therefore, it was a logical consequence for me that I would work with non-professional actors. I felt that the environment was reflected in their bodies, their faces and their attitudes. That was an authenticity I wanted to use. I then wanted to contrast this documentary approach with a strict formal design that created a certain friction. For this, I used things such as the choir, which was meant to give the movie a structure and divide the story into different chapters.
How did you research the main character's illness? And how did the sexual aspect specifically come in?
I researched several cases of people who had lost their impulse control due to a tumour. I worked with a neurologist who was able to tell me a lot about it. For me, it's not just the sexual loss of control that's in the foreground, even though it culminates in that in the film. I was interested in the moment when a person's basic needs can no longer be regulated – when unpredictable behaviour develops out of the disease, which resembles that of a child who doesn't know how our social behaviour is regulated. There are various allusions in the story to this loss of control, such as when, at one point, Marco partially loses his eyesight.
The camera almost seems to be breathing down the necks of the characters.
My point was to showcase the physicality of the actors. In particular, I wanted to show Marco's massive body. He is so taciturn and introverted that his body tells us much more than his words. With Anna, I wanted to show the delicacy of her body, which contrasts with Marco. Moreover, it was also about the development of Marco, who first seems very strong, and then, because of the tumour, collapses. It is the opposite with Anna, who develops an inner strength and a backbone to deal with the situation.
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