Aron Lehmann • Director of What You Can See From Here
“I tried to build the script like an okapi: things that seem strange at first glance turn into something beautiful later on”
- The German director has made a poetic and funny film based on a best-selling book by his fellow countrywoman Mariana Leky
What You Can See From Here [+see also:
interview: Aron Lehmann
film profile], the new feature by German director Aron Lehmann (Highway to Hellas [+see also:
film profile], The Most Beautiful Girl in the World [+see also:
film profile]), opened the third edition of the German Film Festival, organised in Rome between 16 and 19 March. We took the opportunity to find out more about this adaptation of Mariana Leky’s bestseller of the same name, which has so far been translated into 14 languages. In Italy, the movie will be distributed in theatres by BIM.
Cineuropa: How did you come to make this poetic and funny film, and what attracted you most about Mariana Leky's book?
Aron Lehmann: I got involved in this project through the producers. They called me and said, “We believed we needed a female director for this,” but then they saw my last movie, The Most Beautiful Girl in the World, which was something akin to a fairy tale, a modern remake of Cyrano de Bergerac for teenagers, with a much more modern, female character. So they asked if I was interested; I read the book and was absolutely fascinated. At the same time, I asked myself how I could get a movie out of this, because it’s not a plot-driven book.
What I really loved was the tone of this novel, and I wondered if it would be possible to translate it onto the screen. I talked to Mariana and told her that my idea was not to make a movie exactly like the book; I just wanted to bring that feeling to the screen. She loved the idea, and then I started writing the script. I wrote alone, but she was an important sparring partner for me: I could always call her first to get her approval before I went to the producers or the distributor. When I said, “Marianna loves it,” they always said, “Okay, then it's fine.”
When writing the screenplay, what major changes did you have to make compared to the book?
I had to change a lot because the book tells a story spanning about 20 years. It's epic, and I knew I only had two hours of screen time. I reduced my movie down to four days: two days during Louise’s childhood and two days when she is grown up. I tried to build the script just like an okapi: things that seem strange at first glance fit together and become something beautiful later on. What we do now can have consequences for perhaps 100 years to come. Even if bad things happen, it can create something new. That was the idea behind the script. I loved working on it because it was not a classic structure; it was much more experimental. The goal was not to lose the audience, and then bring everything together at the end.
How did you work on the visual concept?
I worked very closely with my cinematographer, Christian Rein. We always asked ourselves: “What do we need for this scene? What is it about?” I think one particularly brilliant moment is when Selma is lying on her bed in agony, and the optician realises that it's the last chance he has to do something. There are these dialogues happening all around them, and we said, “Let's keep the camera on him because it's his scene.” So we decided to make one, long movement, while everyone's in the kitchen – I think it's almost a one-minute, slow glide towards him, as he’s just sitting there. You hear the others but are just looking at him. I think it's one of the magic moments in this movie.
We tried to find a way to transition between genres because Leky also slides into something between comedy and drama, but in a way, it's also a thriller about who will die in the next 24 hours. For the comedy part, we chose a theatrical approach, rather than a naturalistic one – for example, when the characters are presented as they would be on a stage, at the beginning. For the dramatic scenes, we stayed very close to the characters, also with a handheld camera.
The film is also a portrait of rural life and its people. Where did you shoot it?
It’s a small village that we found in Hessen, in the middle of Germany. It's called Ulrichstein, and we shot it almost entirely there. Many years ago, this village had a lot of tourists, but they have gone, and a lot of the houses are empty. They’re just ruins, but they have this special architecture with these small, wooden shields on the walls. In a way, it was historic, it was vintage, but not too beautiful. Half of the village was empty, so we had the chance to build our own shops there. The funny thing is that just two weeks ago, I read in the newspaper that the tourists are starting to come back to the village because people have seen the film.
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