“I always wanted less”: Writer-director Marie Kreutzer discusses striving for simplicity in The Ground Beneath My Feet
With a “Not my Government” badge pinned to her blouse, Marie Kreutzer sat down with us and discussed her marvellous competition film, The Ground Beneath My Feet. Despite being about sisters, one a high-efficiency consultant and the other a paranoid schizophrenic, the feature is more relatable than it may initially appear. It evokes the pressure to perform in society and how existing in this pressure cooker can cause people to burst. The writer-director opened up on the Austrian picture and discussed her reliance on research in the writing process, her desire to always imbue her characters with real flaws and how today’s politics influence her work, both for her viewers and herself as an artist.
Why is this film such a good metaphor for the state of the world?
That was not my first inspiration. The first inspiration was personal. By writing and then directing I found that this was not just a story about two sisters but about our society now. That was not the intention but that’s why it’s working.
Can you talk about your writing process and the research you did for the film?
It was difficult to write the dialogues because I couldn’t make them up. For quite a while my focus was really on research. Writing is always difficult for me. Afterwards, it’s gone. It’s a little bit like giving birth, where the hormones protect you and you forget everything. It just develops and grows.
An argument I have with every film is whether my central character is likeable. I am interested in ambiguous characters. That was the hardest part, to describe her as the difficult person I wanted her to be. She is living is not so far away from how I’m living and how many of us are. She is trying to be perfect on every level. I realised how much she is so much like me very late in the editing process.
The film centres on these three fierce women struggling with the pressure to perform. How do you see the role of men in this film? Do you think men are under this similar pressure?
There are different demands. I don’t say it was better 50 years ago, I would never say that, but it was maybe easier because it was clear – our roles were clearer. I don’t think it was fun for women. Though now they have to be the better women and the better man. I think men still have to be strong and all that. That might be very demanding but no one is asking them to be more female. While everyone is asking us to be more male. The demands are just different.
Can you talk more about Lola’s relationship with Elise? They seem to have a similar dualism to Conny and Lola.
Actually, this kind of happened. Elise’s role was written for a man. It was a male character in the beginning. Then when we started the casting I only asked three or four actors who are very successful and known. They all said no. That was one of those moments again was I was like, “what am I doing wrong?” Two agents and one female producer then told me they suppose the part is too small for an actor like that. An actor that is already famous would not play a character that is not the main character. They all said that. I don’t know.
When I did my second feature film, it was the other way around. It was a male main character and we looked for a love interest. I had three German actresses who wanted the part. It was exactly the same, really comparable. It was like a little gender study that I did by just trying to cast a role. Then I came up with the idea to make it a woman. I just changed the name actually.
Do you try to know everything about the people you create?
I try to. I write biographies for the actors and for myself. Then I have mood boards for the characters and I have children’s photos for the actors for them to have a vision. Especially with a constellation like these sisters who have known each other for 30 years. You have to make up something because otherwise, they don’t know what their relationship is. It has to be more than what we see in the film. With relationships like this, it’s important because people have to believably know each other for a long time. You have to find a language and something that they can relate to.
The film has elements of thriller. Was that something you were playing with?
Of course, there are these elements but I tried to be genre-neutral. I felt that the people I worked with were tempted to do more all the time – to make the light more dramatic, and the costume. I always wanted less. It’s all normal and simple. A few scenes play with the elements of thriller or maybe even a horror movie. I tried to dose that.
Can you talk about your “Not My Government” pin?
We have a very right-wing government right now. It’s very traumatic and it’s going too fast. We can’t really stop it. Nobody knows what to do and we’re all shocked. We live in a very wealthy and safe country and it is so absurd that they are telling everybody that we don’t and that they have to save you from everybody who comes from outside. Actually the poor are getting poorer. I thought that when I’m here representing our country, I may not be able to talk about it but I have to show that I am not identifying with what’s going on in my country.
Do you feel like you have to become a more political filmmaker? How does it translate into your work?
I have never been really interested in making films with an obvious message. But of course, all of my films are political in a way because they are telling something about our society. I have three scripts I am writing about. One of them is about Princess Elizabeth, who was proud of not being politically interested. I have another project which is a comedy, and then I realised at some point I wrote like that five years ago but now I can’t do it in the same way. I don’t really know how it will come into the script. Writing about people who have everything in Austria right now means more than it did five years ago. I’m not sure how much of that you will see in my films but it changes the way of seeing stories as well.
Photo: Wolf Silvery
The Ground Beneath My Feet (Der Boden unter den Füßen) does not have a UK release date yet. Read our review here.
Read more reviews from our Berlin Film Festival 2019 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Berlin Film Festival website here.
Watch the trailer for The Ground Beneath My Feet (Der Boden unter den Füßen) here: