1. September 2018

Adam Friesinger

Am 22. August fiel die erste Klappe für »Ein Liebhaber für drei«. Ian und sein Team drehten auf der Dachterrasse im 14. Stock eines Wohnhauses am Halleschen Tor. Es war ein Massaker. Als ich am 23. dazu stieß, um meine ersten Szenen mit Mirko Kraft zu drehen, schnürte mir die toxische Atmosphäre beinahe die Luft ab. Hier ein Fauchen, da ein Blaffen, dazwischen ausufernde Streitereien um Kompetenzen. Eine chaotische, schlecht organisierte Produktion. Nach vier Drehtagen war nur etwa ein Drittel (!) der geplanten Szenen abgedreht, und in der Nacht zum 26. August streckte ein leichter Herzinfarkt unseren Regisseur nieder. Noch im Krankenhaus liegend, entließ er den Kameramann und dessen Assistentin, der Aufnahmeleiter legte daraufhin ebenfalls die Arbeit nieder. Es war (und ist) ein Schock, der längst verdrängte (Dreh-)Erfahrungen, die ich seinerzeit in Deutschland machen musste, wieder an die Oberfläche spülte; seit Le deuxième commencement war ich ein respektvoll-umsichtiges Miteinander gewohnt gewesen. Jetzt weiß ich, dass das sieben luxuriöse Jahre bzw. Projekte waren.
Für die Rolle des Adam Friesinger habe ich mir die Haare aufhellen lassen. Die blonde Haartolle wurde mit Gel und Spray fixiert, dazu ein kleiner Bart. Das Bäuchlein passt auch, denn Adam ist ein fußballaffines Bärchen in Liebesnöten. An meinem ersten Drehtag wurden Mirko und ich auf besagter Dachterrasse von einer Drohne umkreist. Die Bilder sind wirklich außerordentlich schön. Besonderen Spaß hatte ich mit Nico Geiger, der den Thierry spielt, und mit Francisca Heldt. Nach Ians Genesung wird »Ein Liebhaber für drei« mit neuen Kräften weitergehen.

199 Zuschauer sahen Les Fantômes bei seiner Premiere. Nicht schlecht. Im November sind wir mit dem Film in Rumänien, diesmal im Wettbewerb in den Kategorien Bester Film und Bester Schauspieler. Ich werde Euch auf dem Laufenden halten — wie immer hier — und wünsche jetzt erst einmal ein entspanntes Wochenende,

André

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August 12, 2018

André Schneider on the Haunting Secrets of »The Ghosts«
by Kilian Melloy, EDGE Media Network, 1 July 2018.

Les Fantômes (»The Ghosts«) is a tiny European movie — the sort of thing that once was called an art house film. But the movie’s small scale serves as a reflection of the limited space in which the entire universe of a person’s mind can exist. In the case of Nicolas (André Schneider), a successful novelist who has just taken up residence in the Paris apartment once inhabited by his recently deceased grandmother, it’s a world ablaze with anxieties, pressed upon from every direction by the past, and peopled with shady figures who might or might not be spectral in nature.

Nicolas’ one friend is an elderly woman named Natalie (played by French star Judith Magre), whose pragmatic words of advice are free of coddling. A sample: We might be tormented by the tinges we are driven to do, but we do them anyway because we love what we do. We love it, that is, until we don’t. Obviously, Natalie keeps in mind that she is talking to an artist. Disillusionment, she knows, is part of the price. After Nicolas has a tryst with a hot male escort, she tells him to find a wife; sex is less important than companionship. Her idea of respectability might be quaint and narrow, but it also fits into the claustrophobic confines of the flat, the walls of which are covered in the memorabilia of someone else’s life.

But The Ghosts isn’t completely metaphorical. There’s the matter of that threatening man who keeps appearing in the flat — a man Nicolas can sometimes see, and sometimes can’t, and sometimes perceives only in his nightmares. When he panics and phones for the cops, Nicolas finds himself caught in an even more surreal situation: Being Austrian, he’s a target for the wrath and contempt of the racist police officers, just as he’s a handy whipping boy for the rages of a continually dissatisfied neighbor. Is Nicolas truly being haunted — and if so, by what? Lingering and malevolent spirits? His own terrors? Or the driving, devouring forces to which artists are sensitive… and, in some sense, accountable?

André Schneider, photographed by Eugen Zymner.

Schneider, who also wrote The Ghosts, was also the co-writer and star of director Alexandre Vallès’ last work, Bd. Voltaire, which follows a group of gay men in the hours leading up to their fateful decision to go to the Bataclan nightclub on the night that it’s the scene of a terrorist mass shooting. The Ghosts is much more a story of one person, as opposed to Bd. Voltaire, with its ensemble nature. EDGE had a chance to chat with Schneider about The Ghosts, and hear why it just might be Scheider’s last movie.

EDGE: The film starts off with some interesting mood-setting imagery. A metronome keeps time; Nicolas meticulously, even ritualistically, lays out a tea service. Is this to create a sense of the everyday against which to play the film’s coming strangeness? Is it to underscore Nicolas’ isolation?

André Schneider: Both assumptions are right. This first sequence also gives us an insight into Nicolas’ psyche. In less than three minutes, the audience knows that there’s definitely something wrong with this man. He is obviously suffering from some sort of obsessive compulsive disorder.

EDGE: It’s interesting to see Judith Magre bring this character to life. She seems to be in it purely for the fun! How did she come to be part of this project?

André Schneider: Judith Magre is a close friend of Jean-Pierre Stora, our composer, who is a friend of Alexandre Vallès. She liked our script and the part, and she was very fond of Alexandre, so she said yes. It’s been an extraordinary experience working with her. What a formidable lady! You know, she turned 91 the week we started shooting. She’s the Queen of the Paris stage, hasn’t been out of work once in 72 years, and still performs regularly. She’s a true professional, a force of nature, and has a good sense of humour.

EDGE: There’s a strange and tension-filled encounter between Nicolas and a rent boy named Guillaume (Pierre Emö). Ostensibly, Guillaume was there as a last-minute substitute for Nicolas’ usual escort, but there was a sense that maybe they had planned this scenario all along.

André Schneider: I like your way of thinking. All is open to interpretation, and I think your approach is wonderful. Pierre Emö’s character was the ray of light in this piece. He oozes a unique sort of sexuality: quite raw, pure, and strong, but at the same time strangely innocent, naive, almost child-like. Pierre is a model and works mainly in porn, so he’s totally at ease with his body and his sexuality. He was the perfect choice for the part and did it better than any trained actor could have done it.

EDGE: I wondered whether the character Nicolas might be a little autobiographical when he talks about how “the dark” wakes him up. He’s got some sort of obsession going on with the passage of time, with the past, and with death. All very true and maybe necessary for an artist!

André Schneider: Some lines here and there may be autobiographical, but let me assure you, this is not an autobiographical movie. I did that once, with One Deep Breath, and I honestly don’t want to put my life on display again. I’m not that interesting. I simply wanted to make a good, old-fashioned thriller before I turned 40 — one that also has a profound meaning behind it and that leaves the audience with plenty of ideas or thoughts. Les Fantômes is, among other things, definitely about the fear of death, or maybe even more: the fear of not having lived before you die, and the fear of being alone… or not being alone.

EDGE: There are various intimations that the flat is haunted, and it seems like the place has been engineered to give that feeling.

André Schneider: We were damn lucky to be able to shoot in Jean-Pierre Stora’s large apartment in the 16th Arrondissement of Paris. The moment I walked through the door I thought, »This place is a character in itself.« Honestly, both the apartment and the basement seemed like living, breathing creatures. There was so much history and soul on and inside the walls, it was genuinely spooky. We didn’t need a set decorator or an architect, we simply had good luck in finding the perfect surrounding for Nicolas.

EGDE: There’s a creepy sense that maybe all these strange people who come intruding into Nicolas’ home are ghosts of some sort. They seem ordinary enough — a neighbor, a passer-by in need of a phone, a couple of cops — and yet they are also menacing and accusatory and hostile.

André Schneider: Each scene had to convey a certain level of hostility, coming either from Nicolas himself or from the people he’s meeting. It’s layer upon layer. That’s what life in a big city is like.

EDGE: Those menacing and hostile people from outside, though, also seem like a comment on tensions in today’s world — the cops especially are overtly xenophobic. Are we seeing not a haunting so much as the effects of alienation?

André Schneider: Both are correct. I wanted this movie to have a slight political undertone. With all the horror and inhumanity that’s haunting both Europe and North America these days, it was inevitable.

EDGE: Several of the actors in this film were in Bd. Voltaire, too, in which the ultimate event was the shooting at the Bataclan. I wondered if you were making a reference: The victims from that film are showing up as ghosts, maybe, in this one?

André Schneider: [Laughs] No, no. The casting of both Walter Billoni and Bastien Gabriel was purely coincidal. We’ve had such a good time doing Bd .Voltaire that we wanted to work together again, and they were both available at the time of shooting. But the character names were borrowed from other co-stars or movie characters of my past: Nicolas Wolf was named after Nikolaus Firmkranz and Dominique Wolf, who played the leads in my directorial debut; Natalie Delpit is named after Laurent Delpit from Le deuxième commencement; Xavier Blanchet is a combination of Xavier Théoleyre and Rudy Blanchet from Bd. Voltaire.

EDGE: The director you worked with here is Alexandre Vallès, with whom you have worked before. In this case it seems there is a tighter and more intense energy to the work. How did the two of you negotiate, and then generate, that creative energy?

André Schneider: Frankly, we never negotiated, or even conversed on-set. I never got a single direction from him. We did discuss the script beforehand, though, and I gave him and Vanessa, our DP, total artistic freedom to do whatever they wanted to do with it. While we were shooting I tried to remain in character as much as possible, so I chose to isolate myself from the rest of the cast and crew as much as I could. I didn’t go out at night and didn’t meet any friends until the shoot was over.

EDGE: At various times Nicolas really seems to have reverted to a childlike state. We even see him curled up and sucking his thumb at one point! We don’t really know a lot about his backstory, but it seems there must have been a real trauma. Did you have something in mind that you played to? Some tragic event from the character’s past?

André Schneider: Yes, of course. To understand Nicolas completely, I had to develop a backstory and made up a complete biography. I even wrote a couple of journal entries from his point of view to get the emotions right. Music is always important, so I put together a playlist of songs that Nicolas would listen to. His voice and way of talking was also crucial; it changes a lot, depending on who is with him. By the time our camera started rolling, I knew Nicolas’ character inside out.

EDGE: You mentioned to me that preparing for this role took the better part of a year. What did that preparation consist of?

André Schneider: Before I started writing the script, I did a lot of research on psychopathology and paranoia. Reading Robert D. Hare’s book »Without Conscience« was highly educational. I listened extensively to scientific lectures on the subject. One of the best was held by Suzanne Grieger-Langer, who has incredible knowledge on the subject matter. When it came to preparing for the role itself, I studied the behaviour and mannerisms of the pychopaths I’ve known personally. I can tell you this much: It can be awfully disturbing to play a disturbed person.

EDGE: At various times, Nicolas is tormented by spectral voices. But who is the narrator at the film’s beginning and near the end? Is it the grandmother, who is musing about the nature of her life now that it is complete?

André Schneider: [Smiles] Could be, yes.

EDGE: You told me that this might be your last movie. Could you say a little about why that would be the case?

André Schneider: Oh, there were many different reasons — financial, artistic, and personal ones — that have led to this decision, and I could go on for hours, maybe even days, telling you about them, but I don’t want to bore you, nor your readers. Let’s just say that in recent years, it has become increasingly more difficult to make movies; the obstacles are enormous. Agreed, one should never say never, but honestly: I’ve grown tired of the business side of filmmaking. I’m going back to school now and am looking forward to giving my ambitions a new direction.

EDGE: Okay, but for the sake of discussion let’s assume this will not, in fact, be your last movie. Are there films you haven’t made yet that you would still like to get to?

André Schneider: It’s really not on the map right now. I can’t really think of an idea that would make all the effort worthwhile. I will always express myself through my writing, and maybe one day I will even act again. I would love to be in another Antony Hickling movie, or work with Daniel Rhyder in California. But these might be just dreams. We’ll see.

Note: Kilian Melloy has interviewed André three times before. You can read the previous articles here, here and here.

January 31, 2018

»With a dream in your heart you’re never alone.« (Hal David)

Deed Poll

It certainly wasn’t much of a career. But I am not complaining. I have always been much more independent than ambitious. To me, being ambitious implies wanting something so badly that you’ll compromise yourself here and there to get it. I don’t have that in me. I never have and I never will. For all my ambitions, I think my peace of heart was more important to me than being in the spotlight. Thanks to my work, I got to travel a lot, for which I’m deeply grateful. I spent some merry times in London, Dublin, Madrid, Paris, and Scotland, meeting (and often working with) remarkable people. I’ve had the most fun working on Le deuxième commencement and Bd. Voltaire (which, alas, doesn’t mean they are the best films). I think I gave quite a convincing performance as Anam Wagner in Sur les traces de ma mère; unfortunately, the movie itself was a mess and is practically unwatchable due to technical shortcomings. My best movies were Deed Poll and One Deep Breath. (Released in 2004 and 2014, so I suffered through many not-so-good pictures in between.) Ingo J. Biermann and Antony Hickling were both, each in their own personal way, intense and demanding directors, and it’s been an honour working with them. I also cherished working with Alexandre Vallès on Symptômes, my most ambitious project, in late 2017. Post-production won’t finish until mid-2018, so I don’t know how it’s going to turn out yet.

I am a few weeks shy of my 40th birthday now. It honestly doesn’t bother me. Bebe Neuwirth once said, »If you have to ask how to be sexy after 40, you probably can’t do it.« No worries about that. There are some spectacular aspects of becoming 40. But it is also a time to reflect and reminiscent. That’s basically what I’d been doing in 2017. It was a tough year, but it led me to a serene and sensible conclusion: I’ll be going back to school and change gears one more time, so Symptômes will be my last movie — at least for a while.

I don’t want to bitch or complain about how the business has changed in recent years. Let’s just say the wind has gotten rougher over time. The distributors and festival executives don’t treat you as fairly as they used to. There is a lack of basic respect, at least on the LGBTQ movie market. Yet, they (distributors, festivals, etc.) make good money out of you. I am not bitter about this; it’s simply the way it is. — The magnificent Spanish artist / filmmaker Noel Alejandro recently wrote the following article regarding the treatment of filmmakers:

»It took me so long to finally speak about this that I’ll cut the rambling and go straight to the point: From now on, I’ll think twice before participating or giving my films to film festivals that don’t pay directors and filmmakers. And the same goes for screenings and other conferences in general.
Maybe you don’t know this, but the majority of the film festivals and screenings out there don’t pay the people actually making the content they offer on their program. They don’t pay for your talk, or your lecture, or the movie that is the headline of the program — and that will be screened to 500 people at 10pm on a Saturday — and that, in a wonderful combination of luck and opportunity, was made by YOU.
They would pay for the venue, the catering, the promotion and everything else, but hardly offer anything to the film directors. And when they do, it’s often ›visibility‹ or ›exposure‹.
Of course exposure is important — it’s probably one of the most important things for an independent artist or filmmaker. It’s also the one thing that will happen for sure on a screening festival, since it’s all about showing stuff. However, exposure won’t pay my bills, or my actors caches, or the Alexa’s rental fee. It’s also a bit contradictory since normally these film festivals brag about their quality curatorship: if they know me enough to respect me and invite me to be featured, then this means that I already have some relevant exposure. The only reason why my name is there is because I do my work well enough to be selected in the first place. In order words, I am there because I deserved to be there.
At the same time, festivals charge for tickets. If people want to go, they actually need to pay for it. But are they paying to sit in that chair or simply enter that event? Nope. They pay because they want to hear what the speakers are saying, or watch the films that we made. They pay for the content — and content makers are the only ones leaving the room with 0 money.
Them and the people volunteering in the backstage, who also don’t get paid for their work and make sure to tell everyone else as a paradoxical passive justification. ›I’m sorry we can’t pay you. We don’t get paid as well‹. I’m sorry to say, but every time someone is putting working for free, someone else is making doubling their profit.
I hope that by now you’re not seeing me as a skinflint. My intentions aren’t to make money out of festivals — I know how cultural organizations struggle to remain on their feet and how unfair that world can be, too. But that’s not what this is about. The last pay I got from a Festival was as low as 50 euros, and it included the screening of the director’s cut of ›Call Me a Ghost‹. And I was very happy about it. Is that gonna bring me closer to a wealthy retirement? No. But it’s something. It’s a symbolic — and still, monetary — gratification for using my work on their project.
I don’t believe there is such thing as a ›no payment policy‹. There’s just a weird modus operandi in this world, on which organizers would try to get people saying yes for as little as possible, so that they can profit on their talent.
It also doesn’t always have to be money. Festivals are wonderful because you get face to face with your audience and see their reactions to your films in real time. Plus, they are the perfect excuse for taking a trip to a city you never thought of going (I like big trips and I cannot lie). If organizers don’t have the budget but are willing to help me get there, sleep there, or eat there, I am up for it, too!
Again, is not about pettiness, it’s about being fair and valuing my own work. I know, this can backfire at me and I can grow up to find that all other directors are accepting lame offers just for the fate of being there, and I’m suddenly out of the equation.
I can only hope not, and continue raising a flag for all independent artists and filmmakers who struggle to make a living outside the mainstream industry to take a look at their work and put a price for their presence. Because even if they don’t, the organizers will — only that in that case we don’t see not even a penny.«

Noel’s brilliant text speaks entirely for itself and doesn’t need any addition from me. That being said, I am not closing any doors. I will always express myself artistically. Eventually, I will be doing another movie. But for now, I am taking this hiatus to figure out the new path(s) I want to take.

I’ve been listening to a lot of rather sweet and soft music lately, mostly Burt Bacharach’s classics from the 1970s. I also discovered the loveliness of Piero Piccioni’s jazzy movie soundtracks: »La volpe dalla coda di velluto«, »Senza via d’uscita«, Marta. He often collaborated with a magnificent singer named Edda Dell’Orso. I am so in love with this kind of music right now, it calms me down and lifts me up at the same time. Just what I need. Do you know Traincha? She’s a Dutch singer who has released several Bacharach albums. They are incredible! The best interpretations of his songs since the great Dionne Warwick recordings (in my humble opinion). — I am looking forward to watching plenty of good movies in 2018. The first one I saw was »L’amant double« by François Ozon. Jérémie Renier gave an enormously skilled performance.
Apart from listening to music and watching movies, I’ve been reading a lot again lately, mostly Camille Paglia and Brendan O’Neill. But I don’t want to bore you with details about my (currently) pretty ordinary and (almost) lame life. For now, I just want to wish you a lovely and peaceful 2018. Lots of friendly affection,

André

Some more diary entries in English:
June 1, 2017
January 9, 2017
December 31, 2016
November 2, 2016
June 13, 2016
April 26, 2016
March 10, 2015
March 2, 2015
April 7, 2014
April 5, 2014
March 31, 2014
February 14, 2014
June 10, 2013
January 28, 2013
December 6, 2012
May 18, 2012
May 6, 2012
January 18, 2012
October 20, 2011
May 11, 2011
March 18, 2011
March 17, 2011
June 15, 2010
April 10, 2010
May 18, 2008
April 26, 2008
November 25, 2006