At the 68th Berlin Film Festival, the jury, led by Tom Tykwer, with Cécile de France, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Stephanie Zacharek, Chema Prado, and Oscar-winning producer Adele Romanski of Barry Jenkins' Moonlight and Independent Spirit winner If Beale Street Could Talk, gave the Golden Bear to Adina Pintilie's Touch Me Not, produced by Philippe Avril (Cristian Mungiu's associate producer on 4 Months, 3 Weeks And 2 Days), and Bianca Oana.
Adina Pintilie: "I think you can find an emotional mirror of what happens within the characters." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
Pintilie's début feature, shot by George Chiper, bested such films as Wes Anderson's Isle of Dogs, David Zellner and Nathan Zellner's Damsel, Christian Petzold's Transit, Benoît Jacquot's Eva, Cédric Kahn's The Prayer (La Prière) and Laura Bispuri's Daughter Of Mine.
Tómas Lemarquis, file clerk in Denis Villeneuve's Blade Runner 2049, Bong Joon-ho's Snowpiercer's Egg-Head, and Caliban in Bryan Singer's X-Men: Apocalypse, acts as one of our guides in Touch Me Not as does Laura Benson, who seeks her connection to intimacy.
When I met with Adina Pintilie at the offices of Kino Lorber in New York for a conversation on Touch Me Not, I started out with two of the people she thanked.
Anne-Katrin Titze: I noticed in the end credits that you thank Terry Gilliam, among other people, and Blixa Bargeld.
Adina Pintilie: Blixa definitely. With Terry Gilliam we didn't collaborate in the end but at one point he was helping us with some recommendations in the casting process. But Blixa was a hugely important collaborator. Actually, he saved us from a very critical situation.
AKT: How so?
AP: I mean, for me the work of Einstürzende Neubauten and Blixa Bargeld it's very important. It has always been. In particular the piece that you hear in the film. Melancholia speaks about the subconscious of the city. Those layers of the psyche of a space, of our urban space nowadays, that are really complex. The film, you know, it's a European film.
Adina Pintilie on the timing with Tómas Lemarquis for Touch Me Not: "It was after. Blade Runner 2049, X-Men: Apocalypse, Snowpiercer."
It's a Romanian, German, French, Bulgarian, Czech co-production. It's really a sample of how the idea of cultural collaboration in the European Union could work. It's a direct product of that. It was absolutely fascinating to work with cast from like seven, eight countries. The cast is coming from Bulgaria, France, Germany, UK, Australia, Iceland.
AKT: You can feel the communication across all of this.
AP: Exactly. And it was very important that the space in the film is not geographically defined.
AKT: White walls.
AP: It can be any Western city. It can even be New York. It can be Berlin or Bucharest. So there is this non-geographically defined space where we all speak this broken English. For me it was very important to keep the authenticity of the brokenness of each. You feel the local accents in all the conversation. This was quite a challenging discussion with the different producers and financiers.
They proposed that if you make an English-speaking film to have proper English spoken in the film. I totally disagreed with that. Because I think the type of the accent that you bring in English, it's really important. It's part of your specificity.
Curtis (Chris Evans) with Egg-Head (Tómas Lemarquis) in the classroom of Bong Joon-ho's Snowpiercer
AKT: It touches something when you hear a certain accent and not have everyone sound the same.
AP: It's the same with different possibilities of the body, different possibilities of beauty. It's part of the same diversity which is giving you a sort of, let's say, individuality.
AKT: The song speaks of future ruins and that the new temples are already crumbling. Your film is about the bodies but then we get to see the ruins of the city landscapes, too.
AP: What was really important for me in the Blixa piece - I have to go back and explain a bit. This film is a fusion of reality and fiction. We worked with a mix of personal material and different fictionalizing procedures. Like staging reality, reenacting memories, reenacting dreams, pre-enacting fears about the future, situations that you are afraid of.
AKT: That's good, "pre-enacting". One definition of melancholia is, if I'm correct, that you have the object of desire but you don't desire it anymore. The desire is not there, but the thing is there and I wondered about that with Laura.
Adina Pintilie on Touch Me Not, shot by George Chiper: "It was very important that the space in the film is not geographically defined."
AP: You can see it also the other way around. There is this whole concept of melancholia which was going from centuries ago. Melancholia was for a while the medical name for depression. If you look also at Dürer, like the whole history of the concept also in visual arts, it's describing this sort of malaise. It's connected to angst, it's a fear about something you cannot identify.
This undefined malaise which has often at the core, like depression has, this inner conflict. It's like a life energy, it's there, it's latent, it's wanting to come out, but it's blocked. For example, as they say in psychotherapy, the depression is the anger turned against yourself.
The anger as an energy is very connected to the life energy, the creative energy. It's essentially positive and healthy and it's very important to be able to express your anger and your aggression. But because of all the blockages we built, we suppress it.
You feel it in Blixa pieces. And in the way the music works in the film, I think you can find an emotional mirror of what happens within the characters. You feel in the screams the anger that comes out and then it's cut. And then you struggle again. It's boiling and then it goes out and it blossoms.
Adina Pintilie on Einstürzende Neubauten's Melancholia in Touch Me Not: "Those layers of the psyche of a space, of our urban space nowadays, that are really complex."
The last scene in the film for me is emblematic because you have all that life energy which is freeing itself. The piece of Blixa, I don't take it necessarily totally literal, if you ask me about the ruins, but I worked with it and his music in general, on an energetic level.
We were really lucky to have him come to one of the work-in-progress screenings of the film in Berlin. We wanted to show him the film and to ask for the rights for the permission to use his music and he was extremely helpful. Luckily, he loved it, I think, or at least he appreciated it. And then he offered all his possible support for us to get the rights.
And he said at one point "You know that the body is one of the main focuses in my work?" So we very much connected in this area of exploration. I think when he talks about the melancholia and the future ruins, it's not talking about literal ruins but this inner tension between fear and desire, the energy clashing with the blockages and that whole thing which is creating the state of melancholia.
AKT: When I first saw Tómas in your film, I thought - "I recognize that face! But from where?" And then it came to me - Blade Runner 2049. Was that before you filmed with him?
AP: It was after. Blade Runner 2049, X-Men: Apocalypse, Snowpiercer. I worked with a mix of professional actors and non-professionals but for me it didn't matter because we worked with our human material. It's a hybrid, it's a fusion.
Officer K (Ryan Gosling) with file clerk (Tómas Lemarquis) in Denis Villeneuve's Blade Runner 2049
And then when I was searching for my collaborators it was not like a regular casting, it was searching for like-minded people that shared the same interest I had in exploring intimacy and share it with an audience. Because it's not something that we do just in our bubble, but through cinema via cameras. So it is a dialogue with the viewer.
AKT: How did you find Tómas?
AP: The search went - I hesitate to call it a casting - in the beginning they had to do these personal diaries, video diaries. I didn't give them the script. I would propose them to do these video diaries on different topics connected to intimacy.
AKT: And you gave them the topics?
AP: I gave them the topic. So for example for Laura it was a conversation with her lover. The camera was supposed to be her lover and she was supposed to share something that is very difficult for her to tell him. And for Tómas it was a piece of music that was very important for him. And he shared with me the lullaby that you see in the film.
AKT: It's fascinating that Laura sings the title song from Bob Fosse's Cabaret, that she mistakes for a lullaby.
From Blixa Bargeld, Einstürzende Neubauten - SO 36 collection Ed Bahlman Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
AP: Exactly. Totally unexpected.
AP: It's the beauty of authentic encounters between people. Basically, coming back to the question with Tómas, for me I was very interested in their personality and the complexity of it. And Tómas, apart from being an actor, he studied shamanism.
He is passionate about the shamanic view on the world and the shamanic view on therapy. He has a lot of experience on several spiritual practices. So the spiritual personal search went parallel with the acting.
AKT: You can feel it, even in the films that are not that spiritual. Although I shouldn't say that, I know the writer of Blade Runner [Hampton Fancher] a little and he would be upset. What I mean is that you can see something in his [Tómas] face, even in these other films.
AP: I think your body carries. Each person's body carries the richness inside. At some point we went even further than [post-screening] debates and created this format called Open Debate - Touch Me Not The Politics of the Body with which we travelled all the international premières.
Adina Pintilie on Laura Benson's topic before filming: "The camera was supposed to be her lover and she was supposed to share something that is very difficult for her to tell him."
AKT: You bring the dialogue from the screen, where you cannot touch, into the room of the cinema.
AP: We went even further at the Polish première at the New Horizons Film Festival. The festival invited the protagonists to give workshops. Workshops on intimacy related to the film. It was a very interesting workshop held by Tómas about shamanism and acting.
AKT: Sounds fascinating.
AP: And he did hands-on bodywork exercises on that and he shared a bit about the shamanic view of the world and how you can work with your emotions. You have these kind of energies in the traditional medicine - in certain spiritual practices they have names. You have the jaguar, which embodies a certain kind of energy. So you have these inner animals. I'm not so familiar with the terminology.
And how you work with these energies or animals in the acting process. And he was giving this absolutely wonderful image about how you deal with fear in the creative work. For him the whole process of Touch Me Not was very challenging because it triggered all those protection barriers, walls that we build, that also he had inside himself. And we triggered each other in this mirroring process. So the jaguar inside him, he was saying, was really active.
File clerk (Tómas Lemarquis) in Denis Villeneuve's Blade Runner 2049
AKT: That's a good way to put it.
AP: It was really dangerous around. And he explained how he worked with the jaguar when the fear came. When the jaguar and the aggressiveness came, he would have this taming ritual. Like, being kind with the jaguar, talking with him. It's a way, if you want, of magical thinking of the everyday.
It has a very poetic quality. And it's not that you fool yourself. You don't disconnect yourself from reality. It's just a poetic way to relate yourself to reality and to work with your emotions.
AKT: Work with it - that's important, I think. And not use it as an excuse, like, sorry that wasn't me, that was my inner jaguar who did that. There is a moment when Laura growls back at invisible dogs.
AP: The animal inside her!
Touch Me Not also won the Best First Feature Award at last year's Berlin Film Festival.
Touch Me Not will have its Los Angeles theatrical première on March 1.