New York Safari, Part 1

Daniel Hoesl on wildlife, Ulrich Seidl, Soldate Jeannette and the cost of eggs.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Anne-Katrin Titze goes on safari in New York City with Soldate Jeannette director Daniel Hoesl.

Meeting up with Daniel Hoesl in a Manhattan café before he jets off to the Sundance Film Festival where his Soldate Jeannette is showing in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition category, we discuss working with director Ulrich Seidl, wildlife, the cost of eggs, and how Anna Karina in Jean-Luc Godard's Vivre Sa Vie watching Carl Theodor Dreyer's Passion Of Jeanne D'Arc, becomes one with Chantal Akerman's Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles to enter a new chapter in cinema history.

Anne-Katrin Titze: Let's start with the beginning. You start your film with crocodiles and leopards and end in a farm.

Daniel Hoesl on safari in New York, by Anne-Katrin Titze
Daniel Hoesl on safari in New York, by Anne-Katrin Titze Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
Daniel Hoesl: That's a long bridge. It brings us back to a safari which I took last spring. I was working with Ulrich Seidl. I was his assistant director in the Paradise trilogy. So we were traveling in Africa. And there I saw elephants. The first time in my life I saw wildlife. Until now it strikes me that we live in a society, especially here in Manhattan, the capital of money, and there are so many people on the street who suffer and starve. And an elephant, a simple animal which mourns the dead, would never let a child starve to death. They are living in a community and that is the major difference between animals, elephants, and people. We are living individual lives, and the rich try to keep in power and they also try to keep the poor in the hamster wheel. They have to run to produce cheap meals. Like the corn and the eggs, which are totally undervalued, which you see in the second part of the film. And others, who speculate with money and don't work can afford to buy crocodile shoes and leopard fur coats. That is also a pretty long bridge.

AKT: The way you show farming is not exploitative.

DH: I think we are not exploitative. We have shown the work as it is. The farmer let us shoot there and he helped us a lot. We show how the work is done in an industrialised fashion nowadays. It is run by one person, there is no humanity left. 50 years ago a farm was run by a community of people who lived in an autark (farming autonomously) kind of way. They could sustain themselves. But now in Austria one egg costs 24 cents, even less. You cannot make a living unless you get the support of the government. An egg has a much higher value than these Russian eggs. I forgot what they're called, the Parisian eggs with diamonds?

AKT: Fabergé.

DH: Yes. It's just clutter.

AKT: Let's talk about Jean-Luc Godard. Your character Fanni (played bewitchingly poker-faced by Johanna Orsini-Rosenberg) goes to a cinema and watches his film Vivre Sa Vie and you show the scene in which Anna Karina is watching Dreyer's Jeanne d'Arc. While Anna Karina is deeply moved, Fanni falls asleep and snores loudly throughout the scene.

DH: That's about our society in relation to the culture. Now culture is just consumption. It doesn't trigger any dialogue. That's why she's sleeping in that scene because she just had to kill time.

AKT: Later on she makes a comment about seeing "that funny movie Jeanne Dielman".

DH: She herself is being sarcastic. She suggests to her friend to watch it and she wouldn't even go see it herself. Maybe she does so that she can fall asleep again. But she knows about it. She is one of those people who knows about it and I'm sure she has seen Vivre Sa Vie numerous times, that's why she walked in. But in the end…

AKT: She is changing and in a way, living her life. Who is she?

DH: She tries to keep her facade up. And she knows that money is a curse for her. I'm not so sure if she still has money or is not paying the landlord because the landlord is a prick. She is tricking people who have money and maybe she is running out of money. She isn't able to keep up the facade as she has been for many years. You always need something to push you over the cliff. And that's when she's thrown out of the apartment. And the same with the other girl (Anna, a soulfully fox-like Christina Reichsthaler). She's stuck on the farm and needs someone to push her out of there. Again, the bad thing is a farm shouldn't be looking like this, with no human life and community to run the place. She is intrigued by the pearl necklace. She is going where the other one has left.

AKT: The two women cross paths, and yet they don't go on a journey together.

DH:That was important for me that they go in different directions. Anna thinks that the world of materialism is exciting. The movie is basically about what Jean-Jacques Rousseau said, and it's 'don't do what you don't want to do.' Both have to stop what they don't want to do. Maybe it's the wrong direction, but it's trial and error and at least she got out of there.

AKT: Tell me about the title. The English title Soldier Jane loses some of the enigma.

DH: In English and in French there is no female form of the word soldier. We put the e at the end of Soldat, because manhood forgets that there is a female gender. When you think about Jeanne d'Arc or Jeanne Dielman, or Soldier Jane which is, by the way, a song by Beck which was very inspiring for us. The line is "Soldier Jane, don't be afraid to take the heart out of the shell". Every human being can be Jeannette. Soldate Jeannette doesn't appear in the film. Everybody who is a soldier. Everybody who is rising up and falling on their feet. Everybody who is not accepting the status quo.

AKT: That's the big question. Do people know what they want? Who determines what you want?

DH: Well, they have to try. Get on your feet and do things, to get a feel of liberty.

AKT: In a society where capitalism is so completely ruling the dreams and the desires, probably the most shocking scenes in your movie are when Fanni throws away the dress she just bought into the garbage dumpster and the burning of money.

DH: I agree. That's why I decided to have the money burnt. Nowadays, you shop, therefore you are. It's not about being, it's about having. If you slapped your child on the street, that's everyday life. If you destroy a car, for example in protest, that's what's really upsetting people.

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