VENICE 2022 International Film Critics’ Week
David Wagner • Director of Eismayer
“There are many actors who have a similar background to their character, and I think it's a shame not to use that”
by Teresa Vena
- VENICE 2022: We spoke to the Austrian director about his big-screen adaptation of a love story that unfolds within the Austrian army
A portrait of real-life vice-lieutenant Eismayer and his involvement with one of his recruits is the topic of the first feature by David Wagner. Eismayer [+see also:
interview: David Wagner
film profile] has premiered at the Venice Film Festival, in the International Film Critics’ Week. We spoke to the director about his protagonist and his personal approach to such an ambiguous character.
Cineuropa: When did you learn about this story? Why did you want to tell it in your own way?
David Wagner: I read about his homosexuality and this relationship in a newspaper article in 2014. But I knew stories about Eismayer from my own time serving in the army. For example, apparently he blew up a cow with a bazooka, and a man was said to have died in the shower because of him. My research on Eismayer inspired me to get to know him better and tell his whole life story. There is so much drama in it, and there are so many emotions. There are many colours – not just the military green or the pink from the article. Besides that, I realised how limited my image of gay men was. I met two who were completely different, and then that got me thinking. I also asked myself the question of what masculinity is.
How did you find the actors to play Eismayer and Falak?
Some colleagues who read my script drew my attention to Gerhard Liebmann. I then did some research and felt really ashamed that I wasn’t aware of him yet. For Falak, I wanted an actor with the same immigrant background as the character. There are many actors who have such a background, and I think it's a shame not to use that. Luka Dimić was also recommended to me. Then it was a matter of finding out if the chemistry between them worked.
How did you make contact with the real-life characters? How did they react to what you were doing?
I made contact with Eismayer through a friend. At first, he was sceptical. On the phone, I had to give a certain codeword to identify myself to him. I was a bit intimidated, as he was very strict on the phone. Then I was invited to a dinner with him and was a bit scared at the beginning. But I was surprised how hospitable he was, and we gained his trust very quickly.
You said you had experience with the Austrian army; did you do any specific research in addition to this?
After I had talked a great deal with Eismayer, due to the fact that he is so likeable, there was a danger that I would take his side too much. I also had to show the other side. He is a much-feared figure in the army, and I therefore had conversations with a lot of recruits who have had experiences with him over the last 30 years. All of these opinions on him are very different: there are men who still have panic attacks because of him, while others say that he helped them a lot in a difficult phase of their lives. I quoted a lot from these conversations in the dialogue.
What did Eismayer say about the voices that were critical of him?
He knows about the accusations against him. He also knows that he is tough, very tough. But he says that he has a clear line, a purely legal line, which he has never crossed. That is his perception. In fact, there are many complaints about him.
He is definitely not portrayed as an actual villain.
I didn't want him to be. That's only true in a fairy tale or an action movie, anyway. People do bad things, but these are people who have problems; you still have to try and understand why they do it. I discovered a monster and looked to see what was behind that mask.
The camera is often steady; what were the most important aspects for the visual concept of the film?
The camera is hand-held, but the cameraman is very meticulous, and even from the hand or shoulder, the camera is very calm, very focused. I was lucky that the cinematographer cared about the same things as I did. We wanted to make the core and the inside of the protagonist visible, and we had to find the right perspective for it. Then, what was important was to capture a scene as simply and in as focused a way as possible.
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