Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Götz Spielmann: Finding a great idea is like falling in love -- and other topics

Though not as impressed with Austrian filmmaker Götz Spielmann's Revanche as some critics, I found the film interesting enough to want to speak with the writer/director, whose earlier movie Antares I loved. So IFC's Harris Dew graciously set up an interview with Herr Spielmann (shown right) to take place at the Manhattan offices

of The Criterion Collection/Janus Films. The first thing that greets the viewer who sees Revanche will be the famous old Janus Film logo (at left) -- which greatly surprised me and the friend who accompanied me to the press screening, since we had not seen this two-sided face introducing anything other than a classic film in, well, decades. Turns out that's exactly the case, as Revanche is the first new film to be released via Janus in -- count 'em -- 30 years.

When we arrive at the offices, we learn that Herr Spielmann will actually be waiting for us at his hotel a mile or two uptown, so the Janus/Criterion representative Sarah Finklea hails a cab and we speed north. During the cab ride, Finklea explains that, so impressed and in love with Spielmann's film were the Janus people when they first saw the film, that they bought the distribution rights practically on the spot. We talk about our varied reactions to Revanche: While I found the plot turns predictable, Sarah says that although she did not find the plot to be "super-surprising," she nonetheless found the emotional resonance that occurred for her after each plot twist to be enormous -- particularly regarding the character of the wife. "Everything she reacted to and how she felt seemed so fresh to me," said Sarah, "and not at all what I would have expected." For both of us, the acting from the entire ensemble was so good that it brought the movie to life without a moment ever seeming false.

Spielmann on the set of Antares

In the lobby of the upscale Hotel Roger Williams, Götz (pronounced Getz) Spielmann is waiting for us, and a very casual, classy figure he presents. In appearance he seems one of the more effortlessly elegant film directors I've encountered, a fact I attribute perhaps to his having worked in legitimate theatre for some years. As the director must leave for another interview soon, we get down to business immediately.

TrustMovies: What was the biggest difference between filming Antares and Revanche?

Götz Spielmann: I would say that Revanche was much easier to make because, for some reason, it seemed to have a more closed structure, and so Anatares was the higher risk. Antares was three stories combined into one which means that it had a lot of very important characters, which you then have to work with…

Antares, as I recall, had three stories while Revanche, in its way, has just one -- although it does bring together maybe three stories. So the films are similar in that way, except that Revanche has its separate stories that seem to move outward and then encompass each other as the film returns inward.

Above, from Antares

Uh-hmmm. Uh-hmmm. (He seems to be agreeing). The poet Rilke, he said, at the end of his life he had the impression that he also wrote the same poem. I think this is a kind of paradox…

Well, I think it is true that artists are most interested in… what interests them the most.

Yes -- and you know, for some reasons, I hope that my movies are as different as possible. And for other reasons I hope that they really have something in common because I think that is what happens with works of art. It shows that they… it shows that they are -- I am missing an English word here that I cannot think of. (Ed: I can't either. ) But I hope you get my meaning.

One of the things, it seems to me anyway, that interests you a lot is sex. What impressed me enormously about Antares is how sexual it was without ever being "leering." When I watched it, I felt absolutely no sense of that sleazy quality you get from some movies, and yet I found it to be one of the most adult and mature looks at sex that I have ever seen -- right up to and including the fact that we glimpse an erection once or twice during the film. When I saw that, I remember thinking: Wow -- why don't we see this in films more often? It is so much a part of the sexual act, yet in most films, it’s as though the penis either does not exist or, if it does, it's always flaccid.

I am glad to hear you say this.

Above, from Antares

That's the effect the film had on me because it seemed so real and yet it was nothing like pornography because it was all about the feelings attached to the act. In fact I was hoping for more of this from Revanche, but it didn’t happen. (Götz laughs) But that was OK. Your films also take a look at the "uses" of sex -- how important sex is and how strange it can be, too. In fact, now that I think of it, without giving away a spoiler, Revanche seemed very much about, among other things, the uses of sex.

Well, what can I say? I am interested in human beings, you know, and life and sex are an important part of all that. When I tell stories, this is one aspect -- one level of possibility -- to tell what I want to tell. I never have done a sex scene or shown a naked body just to, I don't know, just to make something more interesting or be provocative. I think for me it is something which, well, I just don't see any problem with at all. I simply start out to tell a story.

Maybe there is no problem because, where sex is concerned, you don't have one?

Above, from Antares

Well, of course there are problems in sex and sexuality, as there are in everything in life. But these are often hidden and private, although sometimes they are not. But in dealing with sexuality, I don't see the difference, I guess. (He shrugs.) I am sorry, because I simply don't see any problem with showing all because all of this is important and all of it is interesting and part of life and all of this can be used to tell a story. And because it is like that in life, too, as when people use tenderness when they are making love, then this changes things and tells a different story. So of course the sex scene then has to be different.

In your two films, I never got any of that sleazy sense of the way in which the camera moves that I sometime feel in watching other movies. I think this is good, because it allows us to look at what is going on not as a voyeur (though we’re all voyeurs, I suppose, where watching movies is concerned). But there are sleazy voyeurs and just regular voyeurs, and your films make us the latter, I think. You do not seem to appeal to the sleazy sense.

Um-hmmm. You are right.

So, what are you working on next? The IMDB doesn't give me a clue about this.

No. The IMDB does not know everything. (He laughs) But I don't know yet myself. I am working on different projects, different ideas. And things have not gotten to the point where I can tell what will really be my next project.

You don't seem to work terribly quickly. There were four years between Antares and Revanche, right?

Something like that, yes.

But, then, quality takes time.

Above, from Antares

Yes, quality does take time. Especially the ideas. And finding a really nice idea that will carry me, this can be the most exhausting, the most time-consuming part for me. Once I get this good idea, I am quite fast in taking it and getting the script.

You wrote and directed both Antares and Revanche.

Yes, I write and direct all of my movies.

Considering the time involved, how long would you say it took you to get the script in the shape you wanted before you began filming?

After really having the idea, it takes maybe two months.

Wow-- that's fast.

Yeah, but it can take years to get the idea.

That's why there are four years between films?

Yes, but I also worked in theatre at this time.

That's right: theatre.

Yes, I directed for theatre and I wrote a play, too. So I was not lazy. (Now, I laugh.)

Would you say you are now fifty-fifty between theatre and film?

Now? No -- film is now dominating my working life.

How many full-length films have you made?

I have made eight.

Really? And I've only seen two?

Most of them for television.

Ah, that accounts for why we have not seen them over here.

Most of these were from my own scripts and most of them, except one, were not original stories.

Is there anything else you'd like to say? Like, questions you wish people would ask you, but they always leave out?

I never thought about that. Interesting question: Let me see… At the moment, no. I am quite satisfied with your questions.

OK, then. I am really happy to have been able to meet you and I look forward to your next idea -- and the film that comes from it-- whenever that may be.

(I start to stand up but Spielmann
suddenly lights up and continues speaking)

I am working on some ideas, but for me it is sad because I have a lot of ideas -- at least once a week -- but having an idea is not enough. It has to be something which thrills me and leads me and which opens some profound energy in me. The process is that I work on ideas and I wait, and when it happens, good; when it does not happen then I put it away. And wait for the next idea. It’s a mixture between work and waiting. So I wait.

It's like falling in love, you know. It's like you have it in your hands to go out and make it possible, but you have to be open for the possibility for falling in love. You can wish it like mad and it won't happen. You have to have humility. That's what I’m doing whenever I am sitting around the writing table with ideas, waiting to see if I fall in love or not. Up to now I didn't fall in love with a new idea for my next movie, but I have some ideas that I am working on. And it could happen tomorrow, in the airplane back. Or maybe it will be in one year, you know? Because, really, you never know when you will fall in love.

Spielmann's Revanche is currently playing in Manhattan
at the IFC Center and will play other cities soon, we hope.
His Antares, distributed by Film Movement,
can be purchased from that company
and is available for rental via Netflix or GreenCine.

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