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In 1906, Josefine Mutzenbacher wrote the erotic novel “Josefine Mutzenbacher: oder Die Geschichte einer Wienerischen Dirne von ihr selbst erzählt”, which caused quite a stir at the time. Director Ruth Beckermann decided, more than a hundred years later, to see how this novel is received by people today. This is how the documentary MUTZENBACHER, awarded Best Film in the Encounters section at the Berlinale 2022 and premiered in Austria at the Viennale 2022, came to life. Cinema Austriaco had the opportunity to have a chat with her and learn more about her film. Interview by Marina Pavido.

Marina Pavido: When did you first hear about Josefine Mutzenbacher’s book?

Ruth Beckermann: I was still a child. As children we were always looking for information about sexuality and at that time we mainly read books, since the internet didn’t exist yet. And somehow one could always find this book hidden somewhere at home.

M. P.: Why did you decide to give your film this particular form?

R. B.: What particularly interested me was to see how people approach this book written in 1906 and how they react to it today. I was also interested to see what has changed and what has remained the same. I did a lot of research, both in books and newspapers, and also talked to some prostitutes. Then in the end I chose a very simple structure, I decided to publish an ad and called some of the men who had applied for an audition. I preferred this very straightforward structure, calling one man after another, making him sit on the couch, making him read a text from the book, making him talk about himself, the book itself, women, sexuality, etc. Let’s say that the book is a kind of trigger that gives rise to everything else.

M. P.: Why did you decide to use just a sofa on set?

R. B.: A sofa can be associated with many things. It can be an erotic couch, a casting couch or simply a couch for relaxing. And then I find that sofa particularly beautiful: pink, with those little flowers, not too modern. Basically, in the factory where we filmed we decided to create a particularly relaxing atmosphere for the men. And then this comfortable sofa created a strong contrast with the cold, empty walls of the factory and I particularly liked that.

M. P.: What was particularly difficult during the making of the film?

R. B.: I had decided not to meet the men in person before the shoot. I saw them directly the moment they walked in and it was particularly tiring to establish a relationship of trust with them in such a short time. On the one hand it was of course exciting and it was an approach I had chosen from the beginning, but at the same time it was also tiring.

M. P.: Josefine Mutzenbacher’s book has recently been republished and your film will soon be released. How do you think readers or viewers might react today?

R. B.: MUTZENBACHER has already been selected at many festivals and I was also present at some of them. I was also present during the premiere at the Viennale and the reaction of the audience was extraordinary: people laughed, but also talked about the film for a long time after the screening. It was a nice opportunity to discuss quite important topics as well.

M. P.: The theme dealt with in both the film and the book is also particularly topical today. Could one almost speak of a political act when making a film?

R. B.: Of course, making films is still making politics. And in this case, it is interesting not only to know the point of view of men regarding Josefine Mutzenbacher’s book, but it is also very interesting that in film, in books, but also in any other form of artistic expression, women, in turn, can create portraits of men.

M. P.: One last question: are you currently working on any new projects?

R. B.: Yes! In this case it is a classic documentary. A documentary in which I just observe people. But I won’t say anything more for the moment! (laughs)

Info: the website of Ruth Beckermann; the page of Ruth Beckermann on iMDb