Philip Scheffner and Merle Kröger • Director and screenwriter of Europe
“Through the film, our lead actress regained a certain visibility outside of the movie as well”
by Teresa Vena
- BERLINALE 2022: The director and screenwriter discuss their intriguing feature, in which the protagonist navigates through bureaucracy and a life of uncertainty
Europe [+see also:
interview: Philip Scheffner and Merle …
film profile] is the first fiction feature by German director Philip Scheffner and screenwriter Merle Kröger, who have previously worked together on documentary projects. The film was shown in the Forum section of this year's Berlinale. We talked to the filmmakers about their protagonist and their concept for the movie.
Cineuropa: How did you come into contact with the lead actress, Rhim Ibrir?
Philip Scheffner: While shooting Havarie [+see also:
film profile], we met Rhim's husband in Algeria. We did interviews with him and learned, among other things, why he crosses the Mediterranean. He has no papers to visit his wife in France. We then contacted her, visited her in Châtellerault and shot with her. We were very impressed by her, by the way she speaks and by her presence in front of the camera. For Havarie, however, we decided not to use any of her images. But after the film, she stayed in the back of our minds, and it was clear that there was something about her that we wanted to develop further in another project, beyond the documentary form.
Merle Kröger: I had written the novel Havarie at the same time as the film. For the novel, I also thought about Rhim and her husband, and the character of Zohra emerged. Rhim thought it was funny that she got an alter-ego, and then we started playing with it.
How did you develop the character of Zohra?
PS: Because we had done the research for the documentary, we visited her on location again and again, and had close contact, in this small town and the small neighbourhood. We got a very good insight. We developed scenes that were first very close to Rhim's own life and discussed them with her. Then we developed the various versions of the script, which were discussed with Rhim, adjusted them and developed the dramaturgy.
MK: We started with the scene in the prefecture. When we met Rhim, she was in exactly the same situation as the character at the beginning of the film, when she received the positive news that she could physically move around freely, but at the same time, the state restricted her freedom of movement by cancelling her residence permit. It was a very drastic moment for her, which she was able to process and, in a way, change through the film. We did some intense work on the text, but we also involved the location itself. The community kept creeping into the film. Everyone got involved: we also shot in people's real homes and experienced a great sense of cohesion.
Why was it important to introduce the character in the first few minutes of the movie?
PS: We felt that it supports the film if you reveal its documentary origins, steering clear of disguising them, and you therefore address the question of fictionalisation in the film. The parts that seem most like fiction to us are Rhim's everyday life as it was at the time of the film. It was important to trace the character's development, which was driven by the state's decision regarding her political status. This created a space in which she was able to act as a fictional character, and which gave her back a certain autonomy and authority.
MK: She could decide for herself when and how to be visible. Through the film, she regained a certain visibility outside of the movie as well. In fact, we had to obtain many permits, which forced the state to deal with Rhim.
What inspired you to create this original artistic form using voids?
MK: That was a very strong directorial desire from the beginning. Already in Havarie, the question arose of how one can deal cinematically with the structural violence of the European border regime. How can you put this presence and non-presence into the picture? We then decided to focus on the role of the spectators because it was important to reflect on the situation from this perspective. In Europe, it was then a matter of taking this concept of being and not being further, and thinking about how to deal with a character who is not allowed to be there.
PS: It was important to understand the structural situation and to develop a cinematic concept out of it. What happens when a person is stripped of permission to move in a certain social space? She disappears. This also happens to Rhim: her image disappears, and so does her sound. What remains is a monologue from the person who has retained her right to exist.
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