Gaps of communication

Jessica Hausner on Lovely Rita and Hotel

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Jessica Hausner on the references to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining and Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby: “The idea behind Hotel [starring Franziska Weisz] was to use all those classical horror film elements on purpose, to put them together but to not lift the secret.”
Jessica Hausner on the references to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining and Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby: “The idea behind Hotel [starring Franziska Weisz] was to use all those classical horror film elements on purpose, to put them together but to not lift the secret.”

In the second instalment with Jessica Hausner on three of her feature films before her latest, the bewitching Club Zero (European Film Award Best Original Score to Markus Binder), we move the conversation to Hotel, starring Franziska Weisz with Birgit Minichmayr (Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon) and Lovely Rita with Barbara Osika as Rita, Wolfgang Kostal and Karina Brandlmayer as her parents, and Peter Fiala as her man of interest. The two films have the costumes, as always, designed by Tanja Hausner (recent work includes Frauke Finsterwalder’s Sisi & I, Ulrich Seidl’s Rimini and Sparta), cinematography by Martin Gschlacht (Silver Bear winner in the 2024 Berlin Film Festival for Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala’s The Devil’s Bath, Des Teufels Bad, screening in this year’s Tribeca Film Festival), sound design by Erik Mischijew (Maren Ade’s multiple European Film Awards winner, Oscar and BAFTA nominated Toni Erdmann, starring Sandra Hüller and Peter Simonischek), and production design by Katharina Wöppermann (Shirin Neshat and Shoja Azari’s Women Without Men).

Jessica Hausner with Anne-Katrin Titze on Elfriede Jelinek’s Wonderful, Wonderful Times: “There is a film by an Austrian director of it [Franz Novotny’s The Excluded, 1982].”
Jessica Hausner with Anne-Katrin Titze on Elfriede Jelinek’s Wonderful, Wonderful Times: “There is a film by an Austrian director of it [Franz Novotny’s The Excluded, 1982].”

From Vienna, Jessica Hausner joined me on Zoom for an in-depth conversation on Hotel and Lovely Rita.

Anne-Katrin Titze: Let’s move back in time to Hotel. One of the greatest moments to create suspense in such a simple way is all around the cellar door. We hear “That door must be locked. The devil never sleeps.” Simply by having this sentence in the beginning makes the door menacing and ominous and threatening throughout the entire film. Please tell me about the door, the Lady of the Woods and where the fairy tales enter this film!

Jessica Hausner: Also for this film, as always I start with the research. I visited several hotels and asked them to give me a tour around the hotel. And I remember in one hotel they showed me around the whole basement. That is basically what is in the scene.

And they also told me that this is the backdoor and it has to be locked. Then it was of course my invention to say the devil never sleeps. Also the alarm button and the corridor on the top floor and the swimming pool. While I was visiting those hotels I was collecting those ideas and specialities. The witches of the woods is a story that is quite common in one of the hotels.

AKT: It doesn’t work that well in German, but in English the connection of the lady of the woods and Our Lady of Lourdes is a good one. The “Waldfrau” not so much, but it sounds more menacing.

JH: Yes!

AKT: I also thought about the real classics of horror. Of course the hotel setting is there in The Shining. And the Dakota location in Rosemary’s Baby came to mind with the couple and the smell that suddenly appears.

Rita (Barbara Osika) with her father (Wolfgang Kostal) in Lovely Rita
Rita (Barbara Osika) with her father (Wolfgang Kostal) in Lovely Rita

JH: The idea behind Hotel was to use all those classical horror film elements on purpose, to put them together but to not lift the secret. That was the whole idea to make that film because otherwise why would I be the hundredth filmmaker to repeat it all? I thought it’s funny to dismantle also the technique of a horror film if you want.

It is a dismantling because there is nothing behind all the fear. It ends nowhere. The girl disappears in the woods and no one has any satisfying solution for it. That was the whole fun about making that film, as if the house of genre were falling in on itself in the end.

AKT: The curtain is lifted. And you do show curtains a lot. I think also in Lourdes we see curtains a lot; reminiscent of The Wizard Of Oz - what is behind it is maybe not a miracle, nor are there spirits or the devil in the woods, but something very human. To move on to Lovely Rita - while watching it, a book came to mind, Die Ausgesperrten by Elfriede Jelinek. The English title is Wonderful, Wonderful Times. It’s a novel about teenagers in Austria in the 1950s and there is a murder, I only have a vague memory of it.

JH: I haven’t read it. But there is a film by an Austrian director of it [Franz Novotny’s The Excluded, 1982].

Petra (Birgit Minichmayr) with Irene (Franziska Weisz) in Hotel
Petra (Birgit Minichmayr) with Irene (Franziska Weisz) in Hotel

AKT: I haven’t seen it. The connection I made was that in the novel one of the boys longs to have an expression on his face that gives others nothing. I thought about that with some of the characters in Lovely Rita who seem to be trying to not express anything, to not be legible in a way to each other, which is very frightening. Does that make sense for these characters?

JH: Yeah, they seem like that. There is a lack of communication, that is definitely the case. They don’t really talk to each other, they don’t express their thoughts and feelings well. That creates a strange gap, like a vacuum of nothingness. A bubble of not speaking?

AKT: Of silence, muteness?

JH: Muteness, yeah.

AKT: Human warmth is lacking; they may sing to each other but the strings are cut.

JH: Yes, they are like in a theatre play. This one scene when the father had his birthday we shot it with three cameras, which was back then a typical set for a TV show. How it’s lit and shot from the front as if it were a TV stage, three cameras and one is live editing it - I wanted to create that feeling that they pretend, they play themselves in their own lives.

Rita (Barbara Osika) with her mother (Karina Brandlmayer) in Lovely Rita
Rita (Barbara Osika) with her mother (Karina Brandlmayer) in Lovely Rita

AKT: It is disturbing. I think I saw your film when it came out and rewatching it now, I was as confused about one small detail. The bus driver has a picture of the model Tatjana Patitz on his bus window.

JH: Oh really? I don’t even know that. In the station or on the bus?

AKT: On the bus, and I remember thinking what kind of a bus driver is this? Anyway, watching some of your films together, you suddenly see things that overlap. The new-employee plot is present in Lourdes. Léa Seydoux’s character is clearly new at the Order of Malta and doesn’t have much experience. The newcomer in Hotel and also in your latest, Club Zero.

JH: It’s a version of describing how it feels to be a foreigner in a certain society or field. I think also Rita - someone described it once that in my films the main characters are always shown as lonely in their field. They cannot really connect. My films are very much talking about people who don’t feel welcomed in their surroundings or they cannot connect so well. Either it’s the others, or is it themselves?

There is a sort of gap of communication. Also in Little Joe we have the feeling that there’s a big problem between the mother and the son if she has such doubt about him. There also seems to be a missing link where those two people, who you would want to think should be very close, mother and son, are not. They have doubts about each other and there is mistrust and fear.

Rita’s romantic interest, the bus driver (Peter Fiala) in Lovely Rita
Rita’s romantic interest, the bus driver (Peter Fiala) in Lovely Rita

AKT: Some characters seem to mirror each other. I thought for instance that the head of the hotel reminded me a bit of Sidse Babett Knudsen, the head of the school in Club Zero. There is the classmate in Rita, at the end when they eat at her home, and she tells the mother she wants only a very small piece. Watching the movies together you see little kernels in your earlier work already.

JH: Sure, I have a certain amount of characters. But that’s also the idea about showing archetypal characters. I don’t strive to invent characters that are very special or unique or that have a very specific psychology. I have characters that are quite simple and it’s not about them in a way, but they are part of a system. In all my films the characters show us certain aspects of the theme, of the topic, more than they show us much about themselves.

AKT: Same goes for fairy tales, characters are typical, rather than unique [which is the case in myths]. Was there a specific tale that influenced your first film Lovely Rita?

JH: Lovely Rita was inspired by a true story that I was following. I knew I wanted to make a film about a girl that commits a murder. So I asked in Vienna the court for juvenile delinquents if they can show me some cases of young people who committed murder. I remember that was the time before the internet. Nothing was digital, it was in 1997 or something, and they had all those maps in the cupboard. The man who was in charge, he was very nice, an elderly man, and I was 25 years old and didn’t look very dangerous.

Irene (Franziska Weisz) at the reception desk in Hotel
Irene (Franziska Weisz) at the reception desk in Hotel

He said, yeah, you can read those files and he said there’s this one case that is really interesting. There were not many young women who committed murder. He had five cases and one of them was a girl who had killed her parents.

And those details from Lovely Rita are really from that case. The father had a cellar in his house where he practiced shooting and one day he left the weapon unobserved and they had a fight about some problems at school and the girl shot at him. The weapon didn’t fire, so all of that was in the real story also.

Read what Jessica Hausner had to say on Lourdes, Sylvie Testud, Léa Seydoux, and Johanna Spyri’s classic Heidi.

Read what Jessica Hausner had to say on food, fairy tales and parental fears, Pied Piper of Hamelin, wanting to be seen, casting Elsa Zylberstein and Mathieu Demy as parents, and more on Club Zero.

Read what Jessica Hausner had to say on her longtime collaborators, costume designer Tanja Hausner and cinematographer Martin Gschlacht plus Sidse Babett Knudsen and Peter & the Wolf in Club Zero.

Jessica Hausner’s Lovely Rita, Hotel, and Lourdes are available on the Film Movement Video on Demand platform.

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