Bettina Blümner • Director of Vamos a la playa
“Humour is how we cope with life, especially today”
by Marta Bałaga
- In the German director’s awkward new movie, privilege meets good intentions, to amusing effect
Fresh off its world premiere at the Zurich Film Festival, Bettina Blümner’s Vamos a la playa [+see also:
interview: Bettina Blümner
film profile] is heading to the Cologne Film Festival next, where it will introduce a different audience to Katharina, Judith and Benjamin, who fly to Cuba to find their friend Wanja. But a relaxing time on the beach is just not on the cards, as tensions start to run high.
Cineuropa: The film is set in Cuba. Why did you want to show these kids, be they privileged, spoiled or well-meaning, faced with a world so different from their own?
Bettina Blümner: For me, it’s also a personal story. I studied at the Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg and then went to Cuba for a student exchange. When I was there, I experienced the same feelings. As a Western European, you notice these differences – not only cultural ones, but materialistic ones as well. This film is about all these contradictory emotions, about people trying to behave the “right” way, but not knowing exactly what it is.
Money certainly seems to be very important in this story – you have one character who literally tries to buy people, while the other wants to help a family out. It’s all very awkward.
It’s one of the things you notice when you get there. You go: “How can I help?” Wanja, played by Jakub Gierszał, tries to do just that. But is that really what he should be doing? Katharina is looking for a connection with Cuban men, basically turning to sex tourism. It’s about all these differences and the many questions they raise. I don’t have any clear answers, I am afraid, but maybe you can start wondering about it as a viewer as well.
Everyone here is unsatisfied and frustrated with this holiday, in so many different ways. There is something funny about it, though. Is this your sense of humour?
I am glad that you found it funny, as it’s a tragicomedy. Humour is a great way of dealing with our problems. It’s how we survive and cope with life, especially today. That being said, I think it would be much easier to make a typical drama. You win more awards that way, and go to more festivals. Still, it’s interesting to bring in subtle humour sometimes. I wanted to make a film that would be entertaining but also quite serious. I think that’s how I experience things, noticing these two sides, and I appreciate other films that try to convey it.
You do not shy away from intimacy or sexuality either, although it’s not always fully realised.
Sex and money go well together in this film. Katharina wants to pay to get it, while Benjamin declares that he could never have sex with someone he doesn’t love. In the end, they do the exact opposite of what they had planned. I think this story really relies on these characters, on what they want and what they ultimately get. Which is not what they expected at all.
My actors really committed to their roles. It was an intense shoot. We went to Cuba and just stayed there. You could say that we actually went on this journey together. I asked them to film themselves – which you can see in the film – and at one point, they didn’t know what was coming from them and what was coming from the characters in the movie.
Why the decision not to show any adults?
Katharina and Wanja’s father is the only one they keep mentioning. We did shoot a scene where he was featured, asking Benjamin to go to Cuba and to look for his son. But it was more interesting to just have them figure things out on their own. When they do find Wanja, it’s almost anticlimactic. Nothing comes of it, really. It’s more their story, how they develop throughout this journey. They don’t behave how they thought – or wished – they would.
Your film brings to mind the “white saviour” trope. It’s almost odd to see young people – including this boy – repeating the same patterns.
It’s good to help, but how do you go about it? Wanja is spending his father’s money. Our Cuban actor was nervous when we were shooting that scene in the store, and so was I. It’s an odd mix of naivety and good intentions you can see there, and Jakub plays it so well.
It was hard to finance this movie. Many people said they would rather see these events play out from the Cuban perspective, but that’s not what I know. I made two documentaries in Cuba before, but I wouldn’t want to pretend I am a Cuban filmmaker. I came up with this idea 18 years ago. Six years ago, I got the Wim Wenders scholarship and could finally focus on it. It feels great that it’s finally out.
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