Angela Schanelec is a German filmmaker and part of the so-called Berlin School group of filmmakers, including Christian Petzold and Christoph Hochhäusler. Her feature films include Passing Summer (2001), Marseille (2004), Afternoon (2007) and Orly (2010), which often complicate communication – between characters and the viewer – provoking interpretation, including the relationship between intertwining narrative strands. The Dreamed Path, her latest film, is the story of two couples’ relationships in two different time periods, presented in minimal, emotionally charged scenes that are linked intuitively – even mysteriously – across the two paths. The film had its North American premiere at TIFF 2016, where Angela discussed the production of the film with Christopher Heron.
What was the origin of The Dreamed Path (2016)? I know you had a pretty big gap between your last fiction film and this one, and I’m curious how you came up with the idea and why it took so long to get in production?
I started very soon after finishing Orly (2010), but then it came up that it was very difficult to finance based on what I had written. Also, to find a producer. I changed the producer a few times and the financing was really hard. I waited a long time, so we had these six years. We started shooting without the closed financing, which means that even after six years, it was not normal that we could shoot.
When did the idea for the story come to you?
Very early, I started really early. I had the script in my mind and I worked on it for years, and it changed and changed and changed. There were months when I would do other things, but when I started again it would change again.
The film does feel like your most dream-like, even if that’s a quality that exists in the other films. There’s an intuitive movement from scene-to-scene that’s not strictly logical. Was that the intent for this film?
Yes, yes. The expression ‘intuitive’ is important for me, it’s an intuitive work. The title was in my mind very early. I thought at once, “we’ll do a film with this title,” and there were many moments in those years that I remembered, “I already have a title.” [Laughs] This title helped me to have the feeling that there was already something. Since it finished, I also think that the word ‘dream’ is right in the sense that things happened as they have to happen – like in a dream, when you can change nothing. You just see what happens and you are involved, but you don’t feel like you’re the one who is acting – or reacting.
I also like the use of the word ‘path’ because in this film and even Marseille (2004), there’s another narrative path that cross-cuts and the story heads in another direction. It’s not just a simple path, it’s bifurcated or bisected. What is it about those types of stories that appeals to you?
I can’t say, it’s something so essential for my thinking that I don’t know how to explain it. It has something to do with the fact that I have this feeling of parallelism. When I’m concentrating a long time on one path, it gets back in my mind that there are other paths.
As a viewer it makes you think of the comparisons and contrasts. The images operate in a similar way, they provoke interpretation, but are also hard to interpret. How do you achieve this balance? How has your relationship with [your DP] Reinhold Vorschneider evolved?
In this film it was special, it was important I worked so long on this film. I was very far along when he was involved. I thought about the film and how I would make it for years. There was one moment long before we started to shoot when I mentioned that this is a film that I tell through the camera. I started to eliminate more and more dialogue – you have dialogue, but not much. I took the script and wrote it like a shot list, meaning that every line is one shot. This was long before we started shooting, but at the moment this was clear in my mind, I knew what to do and how to tell it. It’s essential how the film shows it – and I was not less interested in the camera for the other film, but because I changed the dialogue, I had much more shots and not long shots. The focus is on the body in another way than before and so on.
The bodies in your shots are never ‘perfectly’ shot, not symmetrically – they move in and out of the shot, like they’re hard to contain. What is your interest in the body?
For me, this is a film about bodies. Yes, I’m very interested in the body and more the older I get. The human body, I can easily compare it to the body of an animal, for example, or something else like an object. I can put all these things [laughs] one after another and tell something. No, I can’t [laughs], but to get farther away from psychology and just tell with the movement of the body with this consciousness. What does it mean that we move or that we don’t move? That’s something I’ve been interested in and my interest is so strong that I had the feeling that I have to leave all the other things, like words or movements of the camera or expression of the face, and so on.
Do you agree with the comparisons people make between your films and Bresson? How he directed his actors.
Yes. Bresson is so special, I’m sure there are better words, but for sure it is easy to recognize. It is impossible to frame a body without shoulders and feet and not think of Bresson [laughs]. It’s not possible. I know these films and they mean a lot to me. From the very beginning when I started to make films, he was important for me, but now with this film, I was far enough to make it by myself. I knew it was the right way to do it, I didn’t think about how this can be seen as the language of someone else.
The locations you selected are all very singular, did you know where you wanted to shoot it in advance?
No, I didn’t. It was clear to me that Kenneth is English and I don’t know England that well. It took us a long time to know where to shoot. We shot it close to London. For the German part, which is not Berlin, because the fact that we got money from Nordrhein-Westfalen, which was great. So I went there and was looking where to shoot. It took us a long time to find the locations because there are so many locations. It would have been better if I knew more before. The most difficult location was the Hauptbahnhof in Berlin, because there were so many things that had to fit at that one place. It sounds strange when I say it because now it looks so simple.
You tend to have characters who are performers or actors and I was curious what it is about the concept of acting that appeals to you?
It’s true. Maybe because I played so much by myself for so long, but when I started to make films I was deeply disinterested in acting. Not only doing it by myself, but also seeing it. I know that the ability of actors can be used, I use it myself, but it’s hard for me to find the actors with whom I can work. I really like it if I see faces that I haven’t seen before on screen. For the smaller roles, I have found people who have never acted before and this was really great. Miriam [Horwitz] is a dancer and for the role of Therese, for an actor it’s difficult what she’s done, but as a dancer she works differently with her body… and also her face. Also with the child, the adults have to be as good as the child. Sometimes that’s not so easy [laughs], because Anaïa [Zapp] just did it, she was a body that did things and her face, everything was one. She was only the things that express something. To see someone acting, I think I really know what that is and I’m really sensitive to that moment when someone starts to act – acting in the sense of knowing what you’re doing. This is very boring. You can film many hours with this, but it makes more sense in theatre than film. But this is also Bresson, but it’s a fact also.
We’ve talked about how you use space, but time is also important in your films. There will be ellipses in time, the story will jump and the viewer has to pick up on clues. How did you select the time period – the thirty year jump in this film – as well as the how you would clue in the spectator of the time period (like the reunification)?
When I started to write the script, the part in Berlin existed before and when I thought about the homeless character, I had the wish to see him when he was younger. Because he was around 50 in the present day, seeing him as a younger man put it in the 1980s. These two historical moments – in 1984, the elections in Greece was something I didn’t think of the importance it would have afterwards when I wrote it. I thought it would happen in Greece and what was happening in Greece in the 80s, I was also in Greece in the 80s. It was a time when all these backpackers in Europe went to Greece. Then I remembered the elections, it would be nice because we have young people and I wanted to tell something about them. I had them be activists, but then it came up that this was important to tell the time, where we are and what year. Now I see that viewers take it as much more important than I had when writing. The second moment, the reunification, it took me a long time to say I would do that. During the editing, I thought about other things shown on the television at this time, I was a bit ashamed to use that. There was one thing I was afraid of: that people would think Theres is from East Germany. But then I thought, no, why would they think that. I didn’t want to use something that is so obvious to tell what year it is, but then I thought why not. I tried other things: a famous football game in Britain that year where someone was hit very hard and continued playing even though there was a lot of blood [Note: Terry Butcher playing against Sweden], also Cliff Richards. In the end, I thought, why not? It’s also good, because the way Alan, the father of Kenneth, looking at a television without any interest. It was good again to make that parallel: someone who has much more important things in his life than this reunification.
Your hesitation to use it is interesting, because there are a lot of reviews of your films that see reunification as a possible theme that explains two different storylines at once, but it seems like you would never have done that.
No, I would never have done that because that’s over. I remember that, yes. It’s different in this film.
How did you approach the sound for this film?
We had a lot of work with the sound design. In Orly we started with the same sound mixer, because before that most of the time I had original sound and here we worked with the sound more in post-production. Those moments where the sound is completely artificial, like in the woods with the mother and son, it was because we had no sound there; the street was very close. This is completely artificial sound with the birds.
The song at the end is interesting, because you think it’s diegetic with the therapy session, but then there’s a cut and the sound continues.
I did it earlier, only a few seconds, with Bach. This wasn’t planned, the only thing in the script was that she puts her iPod on, but then I thought it was good when it continues. I have a good possibility to cut it at the end, so I chose that.
Have you started work on your next film?
Yeah, we’re starting to finance it now. The script is finished because I wrote it before I shot this film. The story is about a boy, he’s thirteen and the film begins when he comes back to school after disappearing for seven days. No one knew where he had been and the film starts with his arrival back and how everyone tries to find a new rhythm to get back to normal. In the class that he’s in at school, they are performing Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The story is about the two months after, the relationship between him and his mother and sister. I’m interested in the relationship between mother and child – what is it?
Is there anything from this film that you’re going to carry over, like you had from the last to this one?
Yeah, sure. I’m trying to find that out. I wanted to do this film before The Dreamed Path because I didn’t know how long it would take me to film that, so I tried to do another film before. Now it’s after and I ask myself – I don’t know yet. There is much more dialogue right now [laughs]. But some of them are from Shakespeare and they’re really great and I have to get to that level [laughs].