ADOLESCENCE AS A GLITCH: A Look at Austrian Film CHUCKS

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CHUCKS, the new Austrian film by Sabine Hiebler and Gerhard Ertl (“Coming of Age / Anfang 80) premiered in Rotterdam and at the Max Ophüls Festival in Saarbrücken. Rebelliously loud and fully of humour, CHUCKS has been invited to festivals around the world since the premiere, including SIFF later this month.

Based on the novel by Cornelia Travnicek, we see (Anna Posch) roaming the streets of Vienna as a punk in her dead brother’s Converse shoes. She lives on canned beer, sprays walls, and tries her hand at poetry slams. She’s not interested in bourgeois life but in stronger experiences.  Join the conversation with the team behind CHUCKS.

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What fascinated you about the book CHUCKS?

Hiebler and Ertl: When we first read CHUCKS by Cornelia Travnicek, we were amazed at how many parallels this novel had with our film “Coming of Age”. CHUCKS, too, is about love and death – a thematic combination we simply cannot turn down – and about the overwhelming emotions involved.

Adolescents these days are under enormous pressure. We asked ourselves: How does it feel as a teenager growing up today and trying to find your place in society? What is it like when social acceleration doesn’t leave time for personal crises? When there is virtually no place anymore for “non-profit-oriented” values? When just functioning in society’s treadmill becomes the ultimate goal – and youth, puberty, adolescence a glitch?

Had you already read Cornelia Travnicek’s novel?

Anna Posch: At the time I thought the book was fantastic, and when I found out I was invited to audition, I was very, very nervous. I also thought about not doing it because I just wasn’t sure if this was the right thing for me even though the book had really moved me. My friends all encouraged me and said I should do it. I went to the audition with absolutely no expectations. When I got the part, I was totally excited and quickly became very engrossed – I immediately immersed myself in my role.

Were you (Markus Subramaniam “Paul” in the film) familiar with the novel and how was it for you? Which world did it present to you?

Markus Subramaniam: Above all Mae’s world. A girl who has gone slightly astray, has stress at home, and is looking for her place in the world.

How would you describe your process of writing a screenplay?

Hiebler and Ertl: Very discursive, first we work out the structure and sequence of scenes and in doing so define quite precisely what each individual scene should achieve in respect to the theme, story, and characters. That is the arduous part of the job, once that is done we start writing. That’s the more fun part: harvest time.

Is there a key scene where the fundamental conflict thickens both in the book and the film?

Cornelia Travnicek: There are several small key scenes and I think they are what really make the book and the film. There are a lot of books that work up to the climax for 200 pages and once you reach it, there is a denouement. With CHUCKS it’s different and I like that. It consists of many little bright moments between the individual characters. In the book there is a key scene in which it becomes clear that something isn’t right between the parents as seen from the child’s perspective. Or the scene in the film between Mae and her mother with this slight hesitation, where they stand in the doorway and can’t be close with each other even though you know that they both want to. And this is expressed by the little awkward hug.

In the movie a young woman (Mae played by Anna Posch) falls in love with someone who is terminally ill. Can you relate to this aspect?

Anna Posch: I consider it irrelevant that this person dies in the end. If you allow yourself to fall in love, there is always the possibility of loss. I don’t even need to know, for example, that my partner has AIDS and is going to die. He might have an accident or something else could happen, or he might simply fall in love with someone else despite all the effort you invest in trusting a person. With Mae this is even harder because she has already had to deal with losing her brother. I think that’s why she is not all that keen on letting herself become emotionally involved, trusting someone or yielding certain things to another person. That is why she tests Paul in certain places to see how he reacts. It is not until she starts to see how he ticks that she is able to open up to him. The film urges us to live in the here and now and – especially when it comes to love – not to discriminate: If you are lucky enough to love someone, you shouldn’t get caught up in agreements about things that don’t even exist or that never will because often things can change so quickly.

Was there a kind of visual concept you wanted to realize?

Hiebler and Ertl:  “Hoveringly told – at times cocky, at times poetic“ – that’s how the novel was described and that’s how we wanted to direct the movie. For us it was fantastic that we were able to work with Wolfgang Thaler again. In “Coming of Age” Wolfgang’s hand-held camera had allowed us to develop a very direct, emotional bond to the characters and always be very close to the protagonists and the action. We wanted to establish the same sort of intimacy in CHUCKS, only – in keeping with the young setting – with a more fast-paced, “livelier” visual language.

What was it like working with Sabine Hiebler and Gerhard Ertl?

Markus Subramaniam: Very intensive. It was my first movie. I had had very little shooting experience and had previously only done stage acting. In a way working with Sabine and Gerhard was a crash course. Making movies is much more intimate. It focuses more strongly on what is going on inside a person, about feeling things. Sure you have to think and feel on the stage too, but there you also need “momentum” to turn everything inside out. When you’re making a movie, you are acting for a smaller radius.

Did you plan all along to use already existing music? What were your selection criteria?

Hiebler and Ertl:  The idea to use already existing music for CHUCKS emerged gradually over time. In Austria the music scene is currently incredibly alive and diverse. From the beginning our idea was to associate strong female voices with the strong female figure of the main character. And we found these voices in Anja Plaschg, Clara Luzia, Monsterheart, and Propella. Since CHUCKS is set in the young scene and a lot of the action takes place in clubs or shared apartments, there is plenty of room and lots of opportunities for music. In the end we were able to present a fantastic sample of the current Austrian music scene. In addition to the abovementioned artists the sound track also spans the spectrum from Bilderbuch to Julian & der Fux and Hella Comet to Camo & Krooked.

A nice coincidence Cornelia, parallel to the theater release of the film your new novel “Junge Hunde” (Young Dogs) is also coming out this fall. Is this book a consequence of your experiences with CHUCKS?

Cornelia Travnicek: Actually, no. If you do something that is very successful, you want to prove to yourself and other people that you can do other things too and don’t want to pin yourself down. Here, too, I see two possibilities: Either you churn out more of the same and milk the formula for all it’s got, or you prove your versatility. But the theme of my new novel is also the family – family constellations, what a family actually is, and that it doesn’t just mean blood relationships in a narrow sense.

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CHUCKS, the Austrian film directed by Sabine Hiebler and Gerhard Ertl, will be screened  at SEATTLE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2016
Tuesday May 24th at 8:45 PM Lincoln Square | Monday May 30th at 9:30 PM SIFF Cinema Uptown Theater

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