Stefan Ruzowitzky, who won an Oscar for “The Forgers”, is at the Locarno Film Festival on Friday for the world premiere in the iconic Piazza Grande hall of his crime thriller “Hinterland”. He talks to Variety on the film, which Beta Cinema sells worldwide.
“Hinterland” centers on a former Austrian prisoner of war, Peter Perg, who returns home to Vienna in 1920. Everything has changed. The once powerful Austro-Hungarian Empire has collapsed, the imperial dynasty has been replaced by a republic, and a myriad of artistic, political and intellectual movements question old certainties. When a serial killer begins to take down military veterans, Perg, a former detective, is brought in to investigate.
“Hinterland” was shot almost exclusively on a blue screen, with a background depicting a distorted view of Vienna inspired by the expressionist classic “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari”, reflecting Perg’s yellowish view of Austrian society. Ruzowitzky comments: “In these new times after the Great War, nothing seems right and simple for men like Perg; everything looks distorted and out of whack.
One of the things that attracted Ruzowitzky to the project was the aesthetic approach. “I was tempted to try something completely new and really use the visual effects – not to mimic reality – but to create a stylized reality,” he says.
Another factor that attracted him was the period. “If you do your research, you find that World War I was a much bigger shock to people culturally. [in Austria] than WWII. And after World War I all these new political ideas, National Socialism, Communism… came along with new ideas like Dadaism and Surrealism in art and literature. People would say, “What we have seen so far is not true. And, “We cannot trust the values and the ways before the First World War”; whereas after WWII it was the 50’s, Doris Day and Marilyn Monroe – everything was clean, and “Let’s not talk about [the war] more.’
“After World War I, it was really interesting. So much changed. And to have a protagonist who is faced with these changes, and has to deal with them, and to find out that they are not only a change in the world, but that there is also something for him, I think that was interesting to work with. “
There is renewed interest in the 1920s in Germany and Austria, Ruzowitzky says, as they are seen as an important time in terms of understanding what happened next.
“For the past 30-40 years, for good reason, we’ve been obsessed with WWII, the Nazis, and the Holocaust, because that generation was still alive, and it was absolutely necessary for society to deal with the National Socialism when those people were still there, politicians with a Nazi past, judges and artists and everything. And so it was all about that time. Because of this, World War I and the years that followed have never really been a problem here, but in a way it does come back.
Unlike Western Europe and the United States, where the 1920s are known as the Age of Jazz or the Roaring Twenties, in Austria it was more complicated and darker. “This is the most important breaking point in our history, because the House of Habsburg had been here for, what, 800 years, and Franz Joseph was Emperor for almost 70 years, so the idea never changed. .It’s like that, and there is no alternative and it is not bad, but there is no dynamic in society, and then World War I, and, boom, all s ‘collapse. We have a democracy, we have a republic, and I think in the United States or England you don’t have that. It wasn’t such a big point in history. But here, in Germany and Austria it was definitely the case, and we lost everything.
“It’s sort of the story of the film. Perg, he leaves an empire, which was one of the superpowers of the world at the turn of the century. It was Austria, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, parts of Ukraine, parts of Poland – a huge empire – and then it comes back and it’s that tiny little thing in the middle of Europe, and it was a culture shock for the German-speaking world.
Ruzowitzky sees parallels between this period of instability and confusion, and today when public discourse is marred by doubt and division. “Twenty years ago the world was a safer place, in terms of values and facts, and society sort of agreed on some things,” he says. “Today, whether it’s the fake news from Trump or all the denial of the coronavirus, we don’t agree on what has been true for the past 200 years … believing it exists scientific evidence. Nowadays, who cares? Now we have fake news, new alternatives. You can make up whatever you want, with conspiracy theories, and that’s the lizard people, and anything is possible in social media. You can say anything.
In the film, the tormented Perg, played by Murathan Muslu (recently seen on the Netflix series “Skylines”) finds an ally in the cool-headed medical examiner Theresa Körner (played by “Babylon Berlin” star Liv Lisa Fries) , with whom he shares a dark past. Körner represents a smarter and nuanced approach to the complexity of the new world, while Perg is more simplistic in his nostalgic longing for the certainties of the old world.
Ruzowitzky says, “I see him as a dominant male, deeply hurt and disappointed. He feels that all of these new developments are like an attack on him. He believed in God, the Emperor and the Fatherland, and his core values no longer exist. It’s a difficult time for him to accept that this new world is changed for the better. And that’s what Dr Körner stands for, who says, “Well, it wasn’t all good what we had before, and now things are breaking down and there are possibilities for everyone. For women, for example. I think at first he just refuses to see that… that there is something good about these changes as well. “
In the original version of the screenplay by Hanno Pinter, the story of the love affair between Perg – who finds it impossible to get back together with the woman he left behind – and Körner did not exist, but Ruzowitzky saw the need to add it, as Körner represents something much bigger than a simple lover. “His wife represents his old life and he’s not ready to face that, he’s not ready to face his wife. And then he meets this other woman, and she represents these modern times, and then I just felt it made sense that it wasn’t just a professional relationship, but also an emotional one, ”he says.
Many films have used visual effects to create new worlds, but for Ruzowitzky it created something that had never been seen in cinema before in terms of artistic expression, with a montage of images back and forth. -plan. “The guy who designed this [Oleg Prodeus] would combine images from different angles to create this unreal world. I have never seen this before. Of course what you have are movies that use visual effects to create fantastic worlds, but I think there are no real models for what we have and what we haven’t that I know.
Developing the look wasn’t easy. “We did a test shoot, only to find that our first ideas didn’t work. We have tried too hard to imitate reality. And then we realized that the whole effort only makes sense if we really create something completely new, and here we go. Recreating what you could film on location wouldn’t make sense.
The influence of early expressionist films, such as “The Cabinet of Dr Caligari”, was crucial. “The basic idea of expressionism is that there is not just one perspective on the face. You show multiple perspectives at the same time and include movement. Expressionists wanted to show something beyond what the eye can see, and this is also what we tried not to show a house as it is, but to show it as a traumatized person. would perceive it. And that’s why we have the same approach that the expressionists had. ‘Dr. Caligari ‘is famous because the sets have been styled in an expressionist way and we do a bit of the same, but with contemporary technologies.
All the scenes had to be scripted three months before filming so that the cast and crew were fully prepared. “We had to know exactly what they are getting. Because whatever physical contact the actors had physical contact with, those objects had to be on set. And we had to know where the light was coming from. So all this had to be decided from the start. In the beginning we tried to have the designs first and then move the actors in those pre-produced designs. But it didn’t work, because those designs were unreal. And so we had to go the other way. We had the basic idea for the background, then we shot the scene, and then the visual effects designers had to adapt the background to the acting.
Ruzowitzky says making the film taught him that VFX technology can be used for more artistic projects than just retouching shots or creating fantastic worlds. “It’s not a fantasy superhero movie, but an arthouse film, and we really used it to get a point across and create a very specific visual style, and this technology is also good for this, and not just for superheroes, and wire removal. “
Ruzowitzky says he would like to do another movie like “Hinterland”, and that lead producer Oliver Neumann is even considering producing a sequel.
“Yes, it was an interesting process. And, for me, the most interesting thing was learning that you usually have all of these limitations. You can not do this. You can not do this. And then you find the location, but it’s too small. While here, doing ‘Hinterland’, anything is possible. And you have to invent a whole world from scratch, and usually you have an existing location with all of its limitations. Here could say, ‘Yeah, whatever.’ I want to have two more cathedrals in the background, then click, click, here you have two more cathedrals in the background. And it’s kind of a burden, with no limits, but you are free to do whatever you want.