New York Safari, Part 2

An expedition with the director of Soldate Jeannette.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Daniel Hoesl takes Anne-Katrin Titze on a journey into the world of Alain Resnais, Louis Malle, Werner Herzog, the inside and out of fashion, scoring with Bettina Köster, the art of casting with biographies, and moving on taking time and image with Gilles Deleuze.

Soldate Jeannette, selected for the 2013 Sundance, Rotterdam, and Göteborg Film Festivals, is his first feature after being assistant director on Ulrich Seidl's trilogy. Paradise:Love was in competition at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival and the sequel, Paradise:Faith won the Special Jury Prize at the 69th Venice International Film Festival. The final part, Paradise:Hope, is scheduled to premiere in competition at the upcoming 63rd Berlin International Film Festival.

Anne-Katrin Titze: How did you journey from photography to moviemaking?

Daniel Hoesl: In my Aesthetics of Cinema course at University, we had to read Gilles Deleuze's books. It really challenged my thinking regarding time and image.

Executive Producer Katharina Posch, Director Daniel Hoesl, Cinematographer Gerald Kerkletz in the limelight of Sundance
Executive Producer Katharina Posch, Director Daniel Hoesl, Cinematographer Gerald Kerkletz in the limelight of Sundance

AKT: The Time-Image.

DH: Yes, the second of his two books, the Time-Image, starts with Rossellini's Germania, Anno Zero (Germany Year Zero, 1948)…Today in a Hollywood movie you don't have to think where you're going, you are held by the hand. Then Alain Resnais, too, the world was smashed into pieces. If you look at Nuit Et Brouillard (Night And Fog, 1955), you cannot tell a normal story anymore.

AKT: What are some of your favorite cinematic inspirations?

DH: Mon Oncle d'Amérique (My American Uncle, 1980) by Resnais is my favorite film of all time. It talks about power. The mode of becoming something else. Marguerite Duras films, Godard's Ici et Ailleurs (Here and Elsewhere, 1976). How you generate identity through thinking and becoming.

AKT: You told me you saw Tarantino's Django Unchained and liked it. What films did you like of last year's crop?

DH: Only, I fell asleep during Django, because there is a long dialogue when Leonardo DiCaprio and Waltz and Samuel L. Jackson are at the dinner table. There is nothing going on. I don't understand why he didn't cut it. I read your interviews with DiCaprio and Tarantino after seeing the film. And I liked (Joachim Trier's 2011) Oslo, August 31st.

AKT: The remake of Le Feu Follet (Louis Malle's film of 1963).

DH: I prefer Le Feu Follet, because there he is a drinker, so everybody can identify with a drinker, in my opinion. Everybody understands drinking, not everybody understands drugs.

AKT: Casting is key for you.

DH: I had little money and time restraints. First, I knew that my cameraman would be available. Because I don't have a screenplay, I start with the characters and then I have the biography. And with the biography, I can add relationships and put them together. I read the biographies of more than 100 women and picked those two (Johanna Orsini-Rosenberg as Fanni, and Christina Reichsthaler as Anna).

AKT: They play their biographies in the film?

DH: A variation thereof… Orsini is from an aristocratic family who own castles and have a long, long history in Austrian society. They were landowners and many still are. But she knows people who inherited a lot and lost everything, so she can relate to the story. The other girl (Reichsthaler), Anna, in real life was forced to work for food and lodging on a farm because of a difficult childhood situation. So we meshed up the biography with the fiction. It's just like picking grapes. You have the biography, and pick as you go along; or like a river delta with different slopes to go down.

AKT: Tell me about the language. The pivotal scene at the beginning consists of an outrageous sales pitch for a dress. Here, for me, is the core of the movie. You said there was no script.

DH: It's a little bit complicated… I didn't have much money for the movie, about €60,000 and no script. The European Film Fund is where you go. I didn't do that. You have to have a script there. Especially after working with Ulrich Seidl who made his first documentary after applying and re-applying for funding for many years and then wrote to Werner Herzog, who helped him to get his first film (Good News 1990) made. After that he still was only able to make documentaries, not fiction (until Seidl's Dog Days released in 2001).

AKT: Did you film in sequence?

Hoesl on set with Johanna Orsini-Rosenberg
Hoesl on set with Johanna Orsini-Rosenberg

DH: We didn't. Well, there are three parts, the city part, the forest part, and the farm. That was the order but then we could play around. Everything is improvised. The dialogue you mentioned, was just delivered by this man (listed as Couturier, the eloquent salesman is played by Gerald Matt).

AKT: He was making this up? It sounds like something out of Roland Barthes' Language of Fashion.

"The dress is a piece of art," he purrs, "the dress makes you… It's not only a dress you wear, it's a dress people talk about." Then he sums it up in English: "It's the power of being deeply moved by beautiful objects."

DH: He was making this up. He ran the Kunsthalle. He basically is an art manager. He is one of the best dressed men in Austria. He is a neighbor and I would see him walking down the street in his 1930s vintage suits.

AKT: Tell your neighbor that he impressed with his words of the ridiculous and the sublime.

DH: He is a very well-read man and he has a lot of humor.

AKT: At first, I just misunderstood you. I thought you said: "He's a very velvet man."

DH: That's good. That suits him. He is velvety.

AKT: Speaking of materials. The coat Fanni is buying is made from the Burberry plaid lining. You are turning the classic Burberry trench coat used in so many films inside out?

DH: I never thought about it. It's a nice interpretation of her character, that she wears the Burberry inside out. First, you have to be able to afford to wear it and not to make the other people laugh about you. You have to have that chutzpa. She shows a lot of chutzpa in the first part.

AKT: On the other hand, she does wear her label on her sleeve. She signals: 'Look at me, I am wearing my Burberry brand.'

DH: You know, she wears a Burberry coat because there is nothing else to wear but Burberry. What else would she buy?

AKT: It's a fiction. She buys it in your film, so there is more to it. This is a choice.

DH: Everything in my film is very stylized. The whole interiors are completely designed. I mean, all ready-made. It's all a ready-made. I captured the farm. But just got rid of the clutter for a clear image.

AKT: There is number magic. The women talk a lot of numbers. They count cars, they talk about why 2011 is special, they talk bowling, yet unlike the investment talk Fanni has with her Swiss friend at the start.

DH: I wasn't aware of that.

AKT: You have an eclectic selection of music, for example we hear Sehnsucht Nach Der Nächsten Katastrophe (Longing For The Next Catastrophe), while the cows are walking home. It had a wartime feel for me.

DH: I don't like to throw molotov cocktails. I am absolutely anti-violence. I refused to go to the army. Which was problematic, because it's mandatory in Austria. I can not hold a gun. It is prohibited to me. I don't miss it. But I am rebellious. The rebellion is fought elsewhere. It's fought when you talk about education and value. The value is where we learn a foreign language and you cannot buy the knowledge of a language, you have to learn it. And you also have to learn that money is something that helps us change things. It is not there for speculation or to feed the kings. Money itself is very sad about that because like text, which is her sister, she was created by man to educate and to help each other communicate. Text is there to tell stories… Gustav, the musician is a soldier in this war that was started by Jeanne d'Arc.

AKT: Bettina Kõster recapitulates on camera in her haunting song: "I used to be strong, tall and so much admired for my resilience, my diligence, and my good sense of humor."

DH: Bettina Köster is a member of Malaria which was a very successful band in Germany and also the US. As I said, we started with the biography. You have to float down the river and choose and pick the grapes. And she was one of the grapes. I listened to a lot of music and needed something that would fit into the meal we were cooking. And she fit in, because she was quiet rebellious, quiet and rebellious. She does not cook with what society looks like, as a lesbian forerunner, she was 30 years ahead of time. So I was very, very happy about her song.

Hoesl calls his company European Film Conspiracy a 'fleeing entity… a vehicle, a phantom, a momentum, an engine of war," in which castings and biographies replace a script and the budget is minimal to insure independence.

The war in Soldier Jane (Soldate Jeannette) is in the great disconnect. Money burns, numbers are magical, Burberry trench coats have lost their outer protective layer and are worn as lining only, for the world to recognize the strict commercial coordinates of the plaid. The absurd timing of an improvised tea ceremony will throw you off your carousel at the perfect speed.

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