Fascinating People :: André Schneider
by Kilian Melloy, EDGE Media Network, 3 March, 2015.
André Schneider is a German filmmaker who’s been working in France the last few years. (Let’s hear it of the creative compass of the “Eurozone!”) Schneider acts (he co-starred in the comedy Alex and Leo and its sequel Men to Kiss), writes (he has a long list of credits including The Man in the Cellar, Deed Poll, Alex and Leo, and A Second Chance) and directs (A Second Chance and the upcoming What Spring Does with the Cherry Trees).
Schneider kick-started his career with a one-man show, delivered in three languages, that combined acting and singing. He’s also a stand-up comic, a skill that has served him well in his comic films. (As for his more dramatic turns, an acute sense of timing never hurts — and in any case, Schneider seems to apprehend dramatic material with as much fluency as he does the funny stuff.)
In terms of the intensity of his work, Schneider demonstrates an unusually expansive dial: In Deed Poll, a short film from 2004, a brother-sister tag team of killers lure a rent boy to their posh home, kill him, and use his skin for their own amusements. Contrast that to the complexities of Schneider’s first French film, A Second Chance, which he wrote, directed, and starred in opposite Laurent Delpit. The two play a former couple who seek to reestablish some level of connection years after a painful breakup.
Such range and variety characterizes his career. After the bright and bouncy comedy of the films in which he played Alex to porn star Marcel Schlutt’s Leo, Schneider went on to explore dramatically charged stories with the aforementioned A Second Chance and the recently completed One Deep Breath, which Schneider co-wrote with director Antony Hickling.
One Deep Breath is a marvel of a movie, fraught with symbolism and revelation. The best way to explain the film is just to jump in and sort through its many layers with the man himself… so, readers, here he is: The fascinating André Schneider.
EDGE: I have to muse aloud here a little about the movie, and you can tell me if I’m getting it right or totally misinterpreting it. One Deep Breath sinks deep into the fevered, grieving mind of a Paris-dwelling man named Maël (Manuel Blanc), whose lover Adam (Thomas Laroppe) has seemingly died. Adam, an immigrant from Germany, suffers deep emotional disturbances, perhaps caused in part by a problematic relationship with his father and his older brother, Adrian, whom you play. When we see Adam and Adrian in flashbacks, it’s clear that Adam is furiously angry with his brother. We also see that Adam and a woman named Patricia (Stephanie Michelini) have a spark between them, and possibly have had an affair.
Maël’s jealousy rages on after Adam’s death, unresolved, as he struggles to come to terms with his loss; some scenes that show us Maël dressing like Patricia indicate that he’s not only fantasizing about murdering her, but also taking her identity for himself, as though to secure Adam’s devotion. Other fantasies show Maël confronting Adam about his suicide, and even demanding that Adam explain how Maël might go about killing himself. His mental upheaval is so severe that the ghost of Adam seems to accompany him as he moves through life, withdrawn and uncommunicative.
But here’s something I don’t think I’ve ever seen before: Scenes that we first witness through the points of view of others, like Patricia, recur later on, then see those same scenes from Maël’s eyes — and we realize that Adam is still physically present, at least in Maël’s imagination! But there are also many indications that all of this is a dream made up of memory fragments, abstractions, and metaphorical imagery from Maël’s subconscious mind. What really sells the idea that this is a dream is the odd, sometimes frightening music by Stephane Guirriec and Julien Melique.
André Schneider: I can’t really say anything [about the music] since I was hardly involved in this stage of the production process. All I could do is quote Audrey Hepburn, who once wrote a letter to Henry Mancini saying, “A movie without music is a little bit like an aeroplane without fuel. However beautifully the job is done, we are still on the ground and in a world of reality. Your music has lifted us all up and sent us soaring.”
EDGE: Regarding the summary of the film, have I more or less understood what’s going on here? Or am I off track? I suppose there is room for multiple interpretations…
André Schneider: …and every interpretation is right. The film is more a mood piece than a linear story, so whatever you associate is right. I think you captured it wonderfully. Thank you!
EDGE: Tell me about how you and director Antony Hickling came to work together on this movie, which credits you for its “scenario.”
André Schneider: In 2012, I presented A Second Chance at the Paris film festival. Antony was part of the jury that year. In preparation for my Paris trip, I googled all the people involved in the festival, and so I stumbled across some of Antony’s film clips on Vimeo. I was absolutely overwhelmed and thought, “I have to work with that artist, I just have to!” So I got in touch with him, we exchanged e-mails and movies and decided to work together. I started writing the script in late 2012, and kept on writing and changing and evolving until mid-2013. Then I sent Antony the script and he made his changes. After all, it had to fit into his universe, and after I’d learned to trust him, I was okay with being “in the shadow.” His artistry is truly unique; he’s one of the very, very few geniuses I have had the pleasure to meet. You see, my part in the movie is really the least important. We shot it in three days. But I have learned more in those three days than I’d learned in three years of working on movies in Germany.
EDGE: I personally love movies that are not presented in a linear fashion, but instead create a mood and tell a story through strange juxtapositions and jarring imagery. There are many such moments here — a woman in a yellow dress doing a sensuous dance appears in the background in several scenes; a scene shot like a living portrait, with the dead Adam slumping out of Maël’s arms, is shown once but then is repeated, later, with both actors in the nude; mundane moments that show Maël shuffling in depression from one room into another are cut into the film with as much obliqueness as the truly surreal images, such as a dead Patricia in a bathtub, surrounded by flowers floating in what looks like milk; and there are even a couple of hot sex scenes between Maël and Adam. Did your “scenario” generate these images and their juxtapositions?
André Schneider: No, that’s all Antony’s vision. I actually wrote the scenario more linear, in the vain of A Second Chance and Deed Poll. There were the different layers of reality and dream and nightmare in it, and Antony and I talked on the phone very often to analyze what I’d written, but in the end he was the one who found the images to fit my dialogue and the poetry. The lady in the yellow dress symbolizes life, by the way.
EDGE: This movie made me think of David Lynch and Derek Jarman, among other filmmakers. Were they influences for you and Mr. Hickling?
André Schneider: Antony is a great admirer of Jarman, yes. And of Pasolini, of course. But this is a question you should really ask him, since I cannot speak for him.
EDGE: This is a much different move in tone and feel from some of the work you’ve been in previously. Do you feel you are being drawn more toward this kind of visual poetry, and this sort of non-linear storytelling, as time goes on?
André Schneider: I was almost desperately looking for a change, yes. I had wasted so much time doing movies I didn’t want to do in an unhealthy environment that was excessively tiring and humiliating. With A Second Chance, my first French film, I took a great step forward artistically, and meeting Antony had changed my way of looking at things. You know, making a movie devours so much time and energy. It’s two years of giving, giving, giving. I don’t want to do any more movies that don’t have a meaning. In One Deep Breath I also went back to my own story, since my partner had taken his own life in 2004. I really thought I needed to revisit that chapter of my life one last time before being able to move on.
EDGE: With American movies dominating so much of the global film market, and American movies being dominated recently by super-hero epics, are smaller, more experimental movies like One Deep Breath being put in danger of not getting made?
André Schneider: There will always be a no-budget independent film scene, so I’m positive that smaller movies will be made. It is, however, harder to find an audience and therefore also harder to get the financial backing. It’s truly a miracle that One Deep Breath exists, since we hardly got any money to make it. Our French distributor supported us with 5,000 euros, which is virtually nothing to make a feature-length movie. So Antony and I paid a lot out of our own pockets, and everyone on this film worked for free. It still touches my heart when I think about it: They all believed in Antony and his talent, and worked their arses off, week after week. One Deep Breath is truly a work of love.
EDGE: One Deep Breath is, I think, the second film in a row you’ve made that features Germans living in France. Do you think you’ll relocate, filmically, to Germany again in the future?
André Schneider: Right now I can’t envision myself working in Germany again, no. But in the end it all depends on the project. I was looking for work in France because Germany couldn’t seem to provide any challenges for me at that time. That might change again someday, sure, but right now I don’t want to go back.
EDGE: Are there plans to get One Deep Breath into film festivals, or released on DVD/Blu-ray/VOD? How can our American readers see it?
André Schneider: The Open Reel has obtained the world sales rights and is trying to find an American distributor for us. The problem is the movie’s length [which is just over an hour]. But it has started a rather successful festival run already (Cannes, San Sebastian, Lisbon, Paris, Sao Paulo…). The French DVD release (with English subtitles) will be in September. In Bilbao (Spain), One Deep Breath has won its first award for Best Experimental Feature, by the way.
EDGE: All your movies that I know of feature gay characters and have gay themes. Needless to say, I appreciate this! I also appreciate how you veer away from the gay movie formulas — no “coming out” films or movies about rent boys. What sorts of gay movies do you should be getting made that aren’t?
André Schneider: Oh, that’s a hard one. I think there are wonderful movies being made where ‘gay’ or ‘non-gay’ isn’t the issue anymore. Xavier Dolan’s movies, for instance, often have gay characters in them, but sexual orientation isn’t the subject anymore. Times have changed, thankfully. I don’t really want to watch another coming out film. I’m interested in following an interesting story or being sucked in by a special atmosphere, and as long as this is provided it’s not really important whether the protagonist kisses a man or a woman.
EDGE: If you were to film in some other country you haven’t filmed in yet, where would that be? … and why?
André Schneider: I’d like to do a movie with Pau Masó, a Spanish director who is very gifted in terms of creating a dark atmosphere on screen. So that would mean Spain. I have a dear friend in California, Daniel Rhyder, a fine actor and writer. We both have been planning on working together for quite a while now. But who knows when this will come true? But my next movie will be shot in France again, since Antony has offered me a part in his new film, “Where Horses Go to Die.”
EDGE: According to IMDB you have another movie in post-production right now, titled What Spring Does with the Cherry Trees. What’s that one about?
André Schneider: It’s a long-term project I’ve started early in 2014. I’m collecting clips from friends from all over the world — Spain, Portugal, the US, France, Germany — who give me their interpretations of love poems by Pablo Neruda. The movie will be a collage of clips, and since I’ve asked actors, dancers, musicians, and filmmakers to send me their visions, it’ll be quite a mixture of genres, but they’re all united in poetry. I hope it’ll be finished in 2016, maybe early 2017.
EDGE: Of the various capacities of artist that are involved in filmmaking — writing, acting, directing, producing — which appeals to you most? Is this something that is changing with time and experience?
André Schneider: I am a writer and an actor. Sometimes I take on directing, but it doesn’t drive me.
EDGE: Tell me about your wild, grand, as-yet unfilmable movie that you want to make. I know you must have at least one!
André Schneider: I still haven’t made a gripping psychological thriller in the likes of “Basic Instinct” or Cape Fear. That’s something I would really love to do before I’m 40.