On the occasion of the Diagonale 2021, director Sebastian Brauneis presented his feature film 1 Verabredung im Herbst. Cinema Austriaco had the opportunity to have a chat with him and learn more about his most recent film and his career. Interview by Marina Pavido.
Marina Pavido: How did the idea of shooting 1 Verabredung im Herbst originate?
Sebastian Brauneis: These are two paths that intertwined, just as various stories intertwine in the film. Regarding the first path, I happened to see many films from the 1950s and 1960s, including some Neorealism films or Hollywood classics. During Neorealism, films were made immediately after the war, they were shot in the streets, you could see, for example, the cities of Rome or Siena destroyed by bombing. The stories told are still classics: the men find themselves far from home, the women wait and in the meantime try to lead a normal life. In any case, these are very classic stories, only the sets are more ‘damaged’ because of the war. However, the roles, as well as the relationships that were staged, are the same we have seen on many other occasions.
Secondly, I was inspired by a personal story: I had made a date with a friend, but at the last minute the date was cancelled. I was in a hotel and suddenly had the night off. I saw a car full of young people across the street, I could have joined them, but then I decided to stay, started thinking about human relationships and started writing. This happened about ten years ago.
I would have liked to shoot even before the pandemic, I had just finished my film 3Freunde2Feinde, but then with the pandemic everything was more difficult and in any case in difficult times it is always more complicated to find financing. Yet despite the pandemic we then decided to shoot, the pandemic should not have stopped us and only Netflix had the upper hand in film productions. Last summer there were a lot of restrictions but also a particular freedom: having to wear masks and always having your face covered (as is also the case in some of the scenes in the film) you were paying more attention to other people’s eyes and gazes. And in the end the shooting went very well and being able to make the film was almost a liberation.
M. P.: Why is autumn mentioned in the title and why is the story set on two precise summer days (the 22nd and 23rd of August 2020)?
S. B.: As far as the two summer days are concerned, there is no particular significance. Actually, August 23rd is my birthday and I found that funny. When we shot the scenes at the petrol station and in the country church, I thought we could set the story on these two days and put the caption “Where were you on the 22nd and 23rd of August 2020?” at the beginning of the film. We all have memories, but they are not simply in our heads, we do not always remember exactly when something happened, but they are part of ourselves. Asking this question at the beginning of the film could have given rise to a very interesting reflection. Moreover, the story takes place over two days and in two days the world can totally change. This is something I find extremely fascinating.
As for autumn, for me it starts already at the end of August. It is almost no longer summer, school, university, back to work and generally after mid-August it is almost all over. Personally I love summer, I don’t like winter. However, I find autumn a very interesting season that also brings with it a strong melancholy. It is almost the season of farewells, a season in which one particularly needs security in order to be able to later face the ‘dark days’.
For example, the films The Adventure or even The Eclipse by Michelangelo Antonioni come to mind. Or in any case the idea of arranging an appointment to which no one then turns up. What will remain of that appointment? What remains in the air and in the imagination I find extremely interesting.
M. P.: The relationships between the characters in your film are quite complicated. How do they represent contemporary society?
S. B.: This is a somewhat complex question, because I myself could not say exactly what today’s society is like. Today everything happens very fast: with mobile phones or computers with a couple of clicks we can do many things, we can for example record an interview, but also do historical research. Even young people, for example, have become addicted to them, also because of social media, where we can write whatever we want about our private lives.
What the film tells is of course very topical, the characters refer to topical issues, even if the discourse is about relationships in general. Relationships themselves are not complicated, it is people who make them complicated, perhaps because they often lack courage, are too lazy or are simply insecure. In any case, I think these stories concern us all a bit. They are stories that happen out of the blue, many possible facets of love or relationships in general. And each of these facets has a particular charm.
M. P.: The pandemic somehow influenced the making of your film. Does it also have a particular significance within the film itself?
S. B.: We didn’t actually make it so that the pandemic could play a central role in the film. However we shot in the summer of 2020, there were still restrictions, but the lockdown was over and we had more freedom. We didn’t try to stage the pandemic, but we didn’t try to hide it either. You could say that it ‘unintentionally’ influenced the making of the film, it’s almost a co-author (laughs).
M. P.: What were the biggest difficulties you encountered during the making of the film?
S. B.: The most complicated aspect was the organisation itself. There were many of us, we needed a lot of materials, we had to make sure we brought enough food for everyone, etc. But luckily nothing really catastrophic happened, especially because we were able to count on the help of many people who quickly realised that we could not do everything alone. This was one of the best experiences that happened on set.
M. P.: Could you tell us some funny stories that happened on set?
S. B.: A funny story concerns my collaborator Flora Rajakowitsch, who was in charge of the sound. Flora had created a kind of Bullshit Bingo and had written down all the sentences or words that I often said on the set. Every time I said the same sentence she would tick the corresponding box. I didn’t realise this at first, but then I noticed how many times during the filming I repeated the same things (laughs).
Another very funny situation happened when we had to bring an old mattress to the set. That is the mattress that Anton (played by Lukas Watzl) was supposed to fall on, and initially we carried it around the whole town.
Even when we shot the scene at the petrol station, it happened that some people who were not initially part of the film, were so enthusiastic about the idea of being able to dance freely all together that they decided to take part in the scene, obviously with the necessary security measures.
I have a lot of good memories from the set, but I mostly remember that I was always very tired (laughs).
M. P.: You founded the production company Studio Brauneis. How difficult is it in Austria today to produce a film by yourself?
S. B.: It is important that we get funding before we shoot a film, because we can’t wait to get something from distribution anyway. We have to get funding before we even shoot the first scene. Unfortunately for this reason there are many films that cannot be made because there are too few people willing to finance them. There are many independent films for this reason, but at the same time there are many other difficulties, although with digitisation it is less expensive to make a film. As far as distribution is concerned, one could easily put a film online today, but then there would be few people willing to pay to watch it, since everything on the internet is expected to be made available for free. But I don’t feel like blaming potential viewers either. And then, at the same time, there are platforms like Amazon or Netflix that have a monopoly on everything.
Unfortunately, for various reasons there are artists who struggle to finance their works, who cannot make a living from what they do or who have to do three or four jobs at the same time, as is often the case when working in the artistic or cultural field. As for me, the most important thing is that in the end a film is made, that in the end the film can be shown on a screen. A film and cinema belong and must belong to everyone.
M. P.: Are there any films or directors in particular that have been almost a model for you?
S. B.: It’s not exactly about models, because I wouldn’t like to be like someone else anyway. Although I like a lot of films from the past, I don’t try to refer to them, because such films already exist anyway. Rather I take inspiration from episodes I have experienced, from feelings I have felt, but at the same time I like to deal with topics such as love, death, loneliness. Topics that in some way concern us all. At the same time, I have always been fascinated by the cinema of Agnès Varda, but also of Dziga Vertov, of Michelangelo Antonioni, whom I consider a great poet, or of the Nouvelle Vague. Generally speaking, I like films that are not cynical, in which it is clear that those who worked on them always put great passion into what they did and loved the film from the very first moment.
M. P.: One last question: are you currently working on any new projects?
S. B.: Yes, I currently have new projects. Before the comedy 3Freunde2Feinde , I made Zauberer, which might belong to the genre of Austrian sado-erotic cinema (laughs), but which is actually also a kind of reinterpretation of the classic melodrama, in which the theme of loneliness is dealt with anyway. However, I have always been interested in the political dimension as well and now I would like to make a kind of thriller. The story begins with a confrontation between an underground conductor and a group of Austro-fascists. I would also like to be able to make a play tomorrow, perhaps with a couple of colleagues with whom I have already had the opportunity to work. These are my concrete plans and I already hope to start shooting between August and September, although I think I won’t be able to finish everything before the Diagonale. But who knows? (laughs).