“I only shot at the Sacher for two days, but I took full advantage of that!”: Maeve Metelka on Sachertorte at Zurich Film Festival
Just in time to ring in the season when romantic comedies hit their yearly high, an enchanting new representative of the genre hits Amazon Prime’s streaming platform.
Sachertorte tells the story of a man who impulsively moves to Vienna to find the girl of his dreams, but the film’s principal actress is not his initial love interest. Maeve Matelka plays Miriam, a baker, who befriends Karl and helps him navigate the new city. With her candid charm, the young woman easily wins over characters’ and audience’s hearts alike.
One would never have guessed that this Austrian talent is still in acting school and shot the film during her break, so naturally does she fit into the mould of a romantic lead.
We spoke to Maeve about how she experiences the two cultures, about touristic places and shooting with dogs.
As an Austrian living in Berlin, you are quite familiar with both cultures. There is a sort of competitiveness between those countries that the film manages to portray in a really endearing way.
It’s an axis between the two. In Austria there really is a collective antagonism against the Germans. When I said I wanted to go to Berlin, I was warned and I thought: “Of course, it will be the same on the other side; the Berliners will say, ‘Oh, dumb Austrians.'” But the shocking thing is that when someone hears you speak with a Viennese accent here, they go, “Oh, how cute!”.
So I realised it has more to do with an inferiority complex – that this competitive thinking is one-sided. There is this little country next to Germany, where a funny dialect is spoken, but you still understand each other. There are funny misunderstandings – linguistic misunderstandings. The film shows that quite beautifully.
The script was written by Germans, but with Austrian input, right?
Yes and shooting it I was also glad that I, myself, had the freedom to say, “You wouldn’t say it like that” – it was written so well, but some things were perhaps not what a young person living in Vienna today would say. Curse words, for instance. And then it wasn’t even questioned what I said. Only at the ADR session, someone asked me about the meaning of the specific words.
It was great to be able to have this input and I hope – I mean, the film is of course interesting for people from Germany and other countries, who see Vienna through different eyes, but I also hope that my friends in Vienna can watch it and see their life reflected in it.
It definitely felt like that to me, as far as I was able to tell as a non-Viennese Austrian. I would say I am familiar with the city even if at the end of the day, I might just be another tourist.
I would say that you really get to know cities through friends living there, and most Austrians do. Everybody says they want something not touristic but then tourist places are the ones you will find yourself in, because those are the ones that welcome you as a stranger. That is where it is easy to come to. If you are unfamiliar to a place, whether there is a language barrier or not, there will be some form of barrier: it takes energy to find your spots in a new place. I am so glad that these things all exist in this film and have merit.
I was at the opera only once, with a musician friend. There were standing places or remaining tickets that could be bought for 5€ as a student and it was such a crazy experience. My grandparents were singers at the opera and operetta and, while I had little use for it, I could see that love. And to get the possibility to breathe with this music – the lung volume is incredible, it’s really something special – but it should be more accessible, because is a matter of price whether you can go.
At Café Sacher, I was there as a child, so it was great to get to know it that way. That very particular Viennese coffee house culture and these historical cafés are something special. There is something lingering – If you go to an old smokers’ bar, it’s smoke-free now, but you can still smell all of the years before, because it’s in every wooden beam. You can get a feel for a place’s history, of the people that have visited throughout time.
The film will likely function as advertisement for Café Sacher and its cake but, at the same time, it doesn’t feel like unconditional product placement. Karl’s first experience there, for instance, isn’t perhaps the most pleasant one. How did you perceive it?
You see that for Sacher it was important to show formality: there are the uniforms, the concierge with his hat. You see the way the cake is made. It was definitely special to be able to shoot there. If they hadn’t allowed us in there (and they have rejected many shootings in the past), we would have had to build a studio and recreate it all. It just wouldn’t have worked as well. It wouldn’t just have been more fuss, but also as an actor of course you have a feeling if you’re in the real space. I can only recommend a visit there to anyone – it’s a velvet-cushioned place, downright majestic. It’s truly something special.
Yeah, you can dismiss a long-established cultural asset like that – “it’s old and musty” – but there is a validity in places that help people to feel invited, to be welcome to the table and experience a piece of culture for themselves.
How did this project come to you?
The casting agent contacted my agency. I had an audition and it was immediately a live casting, not an e-casting, no tape. There were several rounds, callbacks, and in between these, the script was actually rewritten. So I got the opportunity to test with a bunch of different people and to see the character through changes and different perspectives. And at one audition I played with Max Hubacher and it was really cool, comfortable, and I think our director noticed and liked that.
Did you receive the complete scripts?
Initially, I just received two scenes – and they were not even in the final draft anymore – and a letter of intent by the director, which actually impressed me the most. I thought, “Wow! It is beautiful how she writes about romance and romantic comedies and the films she would like to reference.” I like romantic comedies, I like the feeling of experiencing those emotions. I know it is not always reflective of reality; it’s a fantasy and I wanted to be part of it.
I had the impression that you felt comfortable in this genre. Did you watch any particular films to prepare?
All of them! I really always liked watching them and I like reading cheesy novels. It’s comforting, I find it one of the most calming things you can do, because you always know they will end up together, but you want to find out, how. There will always be similar problems, obstacles in the way, but you can phase down, and I like that you can feel elated by a film. But, interestingly, we also had a discussion on how to portray a woman in this film – to pose the question, “What makes a strong woman?”. And it was clear from the get-go that Miriam is autonomous, has her own café and is a doer, but her base is optimism. In a different version of the script there was a backstory of living with an ex-boyfriend and problems, and I liked that we could see her overcome something, but at the same time it was important to the director that Miriam should be a mellow person and we had some discussions about the balance of it all. There is also strength in remaining positive and making the best out of the moments you have in front of you.
I love the detail that she’s a baker and the story centres around a cake.
Yes, Max always said that: “Actually you’re the Sacher cake!”. I liked that, too. I did ask myself briefly if there was a competition between Sacher and her little café, but then I realised that’s not important because she as a person would never see it that way. She is conscious of her abilities, she bakes different things, she’s not trying to re-create the Sacher cake. And, if I remember correctly, during the scene where Miriam comes to sit with Karl at the Sacher, I improvised her asking, “Can I try?” to show her openness. You can see competition in any line of work but, really, there is so much that co-exists parallel to each other so to try to compare yourself, it doesn’t amount to anything.
Speaking of sweets, was Miriam’s dog named Baci because of the Italian chocolates?
The dog is actually named Baci! It wasn’t easy to find the right dog. There are clearances and release forms to think of for a dog to be able to be put to work for a film. I did ask about the dog’s name, but, of course, it’s super difficult for a dog to adjust to a new name for a film, so you usually just take the real name. And it was so fitting because of the chocolate kisses, Baci Baci! And he was so charming!
Was there a chemistry test between you and the dog to find out whether you would get along?
No, not at all! It was decided: it was going to be Baci. And I had a meeting with the owners, they were lovely and Baci is a sweet, sweet dog, a little older, and we went for a walk. He is so well-bred and he listened to me without problems. But, yeah, working with animals is interesting. It’s a little like working with children, as they say, because when the dog doesn’t want to do it anymore, he doesn’t care for your “actions” or “cuts”. We tried to bribe him with treats in my pockets. And of course there are hierarchies for dogs, so the owners had to step away for the dog to see me as the one – well, to be obedient to me. But he is super professional.
The film premiered at Zurich Film Festival and really charmed audiences. It’s now released internationally on Amazon Prime, so also to people unfamiliar with any of the linguistic differences between German and Austrian.
I was wondering if the film had such a positive response because of the number of Swiss people in the audience – the appeal to make fun of Germans. I feel the reason Max and I get along so well is our sense of humour that is very much alike. I am curious to see how a through-and-through German audience will respond to it. For an entirely international audience, I could see the film speaking to them through the images – they are gorgeous. I mean Andreas Berger did a great job and we see such a beautiful side of Vienna. The film made me realise how normal this had become to me, but how beautiful this city is. I am so happy I got to enjoy the privilege of going back to the city for work and to discover it anew. And I can easily imagine people finding a way to this film, who always wanted to visit to Vienna or who have been there and can reminisce.
Lastly, did you eat Sacher cake on set?
Well luckily I never had to eat it in front of the camera so, yes, during the breaks I ate it. Karl Fischer always ordered cake and I was surprised: “Wait, you can do that?”, “Yes, would you like one as well?” – so we ordered it.
I only shot at the Sacher for two days, but I took full advantage of that!
Sachertorte is released on Amazon Prime Video on 18th November 2022.
Zurich Film Festival is on from 22nd September until 2nd October 2022. For further information visit here.
Watch the trailer for Sachertorte here: