Borders of information

Florian Schmitz on Le Pré Du Mal, Baudelaire, Truffaut, mumblecore and Love Steaks

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Luisa (Lou Strenger) and Chrissimo (Christoph Bertram) get distracted by the wildflowers on their way to his parents, Ferhat (Ferhat Kaleli) and Peter (Peter Brachschoss) in Florian Schmitz’ smartly edited Le Pré Du Mal
Luisa (Lou Strenger) and Chrissimo (Christoph Bertram) get distracted by the wildflowers on their way to his parents, Ferhat (Ferhat Kaleli) and Peter (Peter Brachschoss) in Florian Schmitz’ smartly edited Le Pré Du Mal

Florian Schmitz’s Le Pré Du Mal, along with Alison Kuhn's Fluffy Tales, Jonatan Schwenk’s Zoon (co-written with Merlin Flügel), Luis Schubert’s Blind Spots, Kilian Armando Friedrich’s Edgy, Lina Drevs’s Sis - Best Sister, Felix Länge’s Why We Juggle, Laurenz Otto’s Against All Odds (Allen Zweifeln Zum Trotz), and Jakob Werner’s How Such An Annoying Drizzle Can Be Silent (Wie Ein So Lästiger Regen Schweigen Kann) is in the Next Generation Short Tiger program screening at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

Florian Schmitz with Anne-Katrin Titze: “I have different influences I would say. The basis for me - I know it sounds like a cliché, but Truffaut is always a big inspiration.”
Florian Schmitz with Anne-Katrin Titze: “I have different influences I would say. The basis for me - I know it sounds like a cliché, but Truffaut is always a big inspiration.”

When I spoke with Florian Schmitz he had recently watched François Truffaut’s The Man Who Loved Women. We discussed the influence of Charles Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs Du Mal, Jakob Lass’s Love Steaks starring Franz Rogowski and Lana Cooper, mumblecore films, and how he put Le Pré Du Mal together.

Chrissimo (Christoph Bertram) and Luisa (Lou Strenger) are on their way to visit his parents, Ferhat (Ferhat Kaleli) and Peter (Peter Brachschoss), for coffee and cake. Baudelaire’s poetry sets the tone as they are driving. Or is evil lurking in the luscious field of flowers in which they stop along the way? Luisa may not be ready to be formally introduced to his two fathers and Chrissimo may be moving too fast.

From Cologne, Florian Schmitz joined me on Zoom for an in-depth conversation on Le Pré Du Mal.

Anne-Katrin Titze: Hi Florian! You’re in Cologne?

Florian Schmitz: I’m in Cologne, I’m in quarantine right now with Covid but I’m fine, no big symptoms or anything.

AKT: Good to hear - not that you have it, but that you’re fine. You pack a lot into eight minutes in your film. What came first, the idea of a visit to the parents or Baudelaire and that they would be listening to Les Fleurs du mal in the car?

FS: I think first came Baudelaire actually. At the time when we shot it it was a topic we had to deal with. It was Les Fleurs Du Mal, this Romantic circle of poetry that Baudelaire wrote. So we came up with this idea of having a field of flowers and something romantic but also something bad would happen in that field, a fight in the relationship or something. From that point we came up with different ideas. Where could they be with the parents? Who could the parents be, two guys?

Charles Denner with Brigitte Fossey in François Truffaut’s The Man Who Loved Women
Charles Denner with Brigitte Fossey in François Truffaut’s The Man Who Loved Women

AKT: It’s interesting that we don’t know too much about the parents. You leave it open if both are the fathers or whether one of them came later into the life of the son. You have that comment “At least they talk for once.” Did you script out more of the background for yourself and omitted it for us?

FS: To be honest, I think we didn’t script much at all. We talked about the relationship between Chrissimo and his two dads. I mean, there must be a biological mother, so we had an idea about this relationship between mother, father, Chrisssimo, and his new dad who was joining the family at some point. We didn’t want to put too much of it in the film, just some borders of information that characters need and then get them into the moment.

AKT: There’s a nice moment when they arrive and you have a doubling of language, the sentence “Darling, you go first.” You point to a universality in all relationships this way. I want to talk to you about the editing and the decision to move back and forth between the field of flowers and the visit.

FS: This idea came up in the editing and it made a lot of sense. The film was really freestyle. Coming up with the idea , then shooting one day. We had really these two scenes, put them together, improvised the whole thing. We had this bunch of material and had to bring it in order.

Luisa (Lou Strenger) kisses Chrissimo (Christoph Bertram)
Luisa (Lou Strenger) kisses Chrissimo (Christoph Bertram)

The first version of the film was chronological, first the field, then with the couple who just had the fight to the parents and they were trying to act normal as if nothing had happened. In a dramaturgic sense it made sense to veil what had happened. I tried things out, rearranged it. It turned out that to have two very specific locations worked pretty well, like a Zahnrad [cogwheel].

AKT: That’s a good image for this edit. Are you going to Cannes?

FS: Yeah, we’re going with the Next Generation Short Tiger group. We already booked the accommodation, a big villa for all of us.

AKT: You said you met Alison Kuhn in [Filmfest] Dresden?

FS: Yes, we met in Dresden for the first time.

AKT: What are some of the filmmakers you particularly like?

FS: I have different influences I would say. The basis for me - I know it sounds like a cliché, but Truffaut is always a big inspiration. Because he was doing this go-with-the-flow, telling stories he liked, characters he was attached to. This direct approach of cinema really.

Florian Schmitz on Jakob Lass’s Love Steaks, which stars Franz Rogowski opposite Lana Cooper: “I had to adapt during watching the film.”
Florian Schmitz on Jakob Lass’s Love Steaks, which stars Franz Rogowski opposite Lana Cooper: “I had to adapt during watching the film.” Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: He also said that the more information you can put into a scene, the better. The more layers there are, the more interesting, like a Baudelaire poem on the radio we can only partially follow. It’s not a cliché at all.

FS: It’s really nice you’re saying that actually. Because it’s not something I think a lot of but his films just follow my perception of cinema all the time. I’m talking with a group of friends on Zoom about film and we just watched a Truffaut last week.

AKT: Which film did you watch?

FS: It was The Man Who Loved Women.

AKT: I haven’t seen this one in a long time.

FS: It was my first time, it was interesting. At first I thought it didn’t age that well because it’s about this guy who is all about attracting women and getting to bed with them, one after the other. You feel a bit awkward, but you see that he has a really different perspective on this character. It’s actually a fine look on being a man, this hetero man.

Anyway, the style of Le Pré Du Mal is also influenced by mumblecore films as well. There’s the American mumblecore wave in the early 2000s, but my inspiration was more like the German wave that followed this like ten years ago. I was going to festivals and there was a film like Love Steaks by Jakob Lass, you might know.

AKT: Yes I do. I actually gave it the top award at First Time Fest here in New York where I was on the jury.

Le Pré Du Mal screens at the 75th Cannes Film Festival
Le Pré Du Mal screens at the 75th Cannes Film Festival

FS: Wow!

AKT: We loved it. That’s how I discovered Franz Rogowski.

FS: Nice! This was actually - I always come back to this moment. I watched this film at Berlinale and first I was like, what is this? Is it documentary? What is it about? Because you can’t really follow, because you don’t have this specific way of telling with imagery what this film is about. Not every sentence has a meaning because it’s really spontaneous. I had to adapt during watching the film. But after that I was going with improv and trying to get this way of working for myself for a lot of projects and this one as well.

AKT: The short is an interesting format. I talked recently with Kim Magnusson, the producer who keeps being nominated for an Oscar in short film category over and over again and won three times. In a way you have to use poetic language, film language, more than in a longer film.

FS: Interesting. I have to say, when I have the choice in a festival for example, I always go for long, for a feature film, I wouldn’t go for the short film program. I enjoy short films when I see them, but I feel more connected following a story for a longer time. Also making or writing films - maybe also that’s why there’s so much information in mine. I wanted to create a world and have freedom and not put things precisely.

AKT: Are you aware of the New Directors/New Films programme here in New York at Film at Lincoln Center and MoMA?

2022 Next Generation Short Tiger
2022 Next Generation Short Tiger

FS: No.

AKT: You should have a look and maybe submit your work. They have allowed audiences to discover a lot of very interesting filmmakers.

FS: Cool, I’m going to write it down.

AKT: I noticed two little mistakes in the subtitles for your film, if there’s a chance to fix them.

FS: Actually it was my old subtitles, German Films did a new version of it.

AKT: Well, congratulations on having your short in Cannes. What is the date of the screening?

FS: I think it’s May 24, Tuesday. Thank you! That was fun!

The 75th edition of the Cannes Film Festival runs through Sunday, May 28.

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