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CANNES 2023 Competition

Jessica Hausner • Director of Club Zero

“Every young generation has to change the world”


- CANNES 2023: The Austrian director returns to the competition with a bleak but very colourful film about a wellness guru and her teenage followers

Jessica Hausner  • Director of Club Zero

Austrian director Jessica Hausner has presented her second English-language film, Club Zero [+see also:
film review
interview: Jessica Hausner
film profile
, which is competing for the Palme d'Or at the 76th Cannes Film Festival. In it, conscious-eating teacher Miss Novak (Mia Wasikowska) manages to charm her students into believing that their giving up food will be revolutionary and meaningful. But is it that simple?

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Cineuropa: If the teenage protagonist in Little Joe [+see also:
film review
interview: Jessica Hausner
film profile
was possessed, the characters in Club Zero seem obsessed with defiance as a means of changing the status quo. Is there a wider statement about the younger generation there?
Jessica Hausner:
I definitely wanted to make a wider statement about our society, about how much responsibility parents actually take on, or whether they’d prefer to transfer it to teachers or caregivers. I think it's not about blaming caregivers; on the contrary, I think as a [European] society, we should really worship caregivers and teachers much more than we do. Also, every young generation has to change the world. I mean, that's their job: they have to remind us of what has to be improved. And nowadays, my impression is that they have more dramatic situations to face because, actually, our time is up, climate change is happening, and they will face all the results of it. So there’s more pressure on them.

How do you balance this message with your distinctive visual style?
When I think of a new film that I want to make, I always look for the right tone. When I have exactly that weird mixture of tragedy but also light comedy, it’s like an awkward laugh. It comes from understanding a certain absurdity of life in general. I like all my characters, so I would never just laugh at someone; it's more about understanding that every one of us is also sometimes ridiculous. That's normal; we take ourselves seriously. But from another perspective, it's not so important after all, so the humour comes from that slightly more distant perspective on us as human beings.

How does this particular tone you strike translate between the different stages of the process?
For example, for the script for Club Zero, I collaborated with Géraldine Bajard, and we sometimes read the dialogue to each other. And it's important to feel that it has that awkwardness, dry humour or weirdness, so we sometimes deliberately make people say the wrong things. We like to play around with who is right and who is wrong.

The production design and the costumes are incredibly important in all of your films, but in Club Zero in particular, in a way, they mirror the state of the characters.
It’s very important to me to have quite a long phase of preparation with Tanja Hausner, my costume designer, six or seven months, or even more, starting as soon as we begin the location scouting, in order to create the style of the film. I also storyboard: I draw every single scene of my film in a sketchbook, and then I turn it into a book of images that every crew member has. Sometimes it's terribly precise because the actors have to do exactly what is in the book. Sometimes it’s unusual for some actors to have to work like that because they want to feel free, improvise or change things. But with me, that's not really possible. That said, when I find actors who are a good fit, I tell them every little detail, and it’s almost like they have to do a form of choreography. We then repeat everything often enough so that it becomes sort of natural again.

The teenage protagonists who refuse to eat are making a radical statement, but do they really own their bodies in this web of inauthenticity that our world is caught in today?
That's an interesting question. I don't know if it is possible to be authentic. I wouldn't ever really know what it is – take actors, for example. They can be so real, but they are acting. And then sometimes, I think we all act, all the time. A really good actor can often actually be a non-professional actor.

Can you give a sense of how you use the English language in the film? There is a certain artificiality to it.
I always try to find a way of speaking that reveals that the person who is talking is not very original. All of my characters somehow seem to say things that they've heard somewhere. They repeat things that sound like slogans, and I like showing people who are under the influence, who are being manipulated constantly.

But everyone is convinced that they are being authentic, so there's no room for doubt in their world. But we, as viewers, are invited to doubt them.
Yes, this is how I create that gap between the characters and the audience. Maybe that's also where the humour comes from.

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