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Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz • Directors

"Cinema has the power to make people stop thinking and start shivering"


- Cineuropa spoke to Austrian filmmaking duo Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz, who won the Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival's Silver Raven with their disturbing Goodnight Mommy

Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz  • Directors
Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala

Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz have teamed up for a second time (after the documentary Kern) for Goodnight Mommy [+see also:
film review
interview: Severin Fiala and Veronika …
film profile
, a psychological horror film produced by Ulrich Seidl and screened at the 33rd edition of the Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival, which ended on Sunday 19 April. The directors went home from the gathering clutching the Silver Raven Award.

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Cineuropa: The premise of the film is really interesting and quickly attracts the audience’s attention. How did it come about?
Severin Fiala
: The idea was actually born from watching television. On German television, there are these docushows in which some women are separated from their families for three months in order to change their looks in a radical way, including through plastic surgery. These women are usually not considered pretty according to society’s standards, so the purpose of the show is to make them more beautiful. When they come back after those three months, there is this moment at which they get to show their new physical appearance to their relatives and friends. It’s supposed to be like a big red-carpet television moment, a very happy moment. However, if you look closely at the children, if there are any, you can always see some kind of uneasiness or distress in their faces. Even after we had already shot the film, there was an episode in which a child said, “That is not my mum.” He was really scared. So that is where we got the idea from.

The little boys both give wonderful performances in the film. How was the process of finding them and working with them?
Veronika Franz:
We looked for twin boys in Austria and found more than 130 pairs. During the casting process, we were looking for beautiful, fragile boys on the surface who hid some sort of abysses behind that pleasant surface. At the end of the process, we did one last audition with the three best twin couples. There was a woman tied to a chair, and we told them that she had kidnapped their mother and asked them to find out where she was, by doing whatever came to their minds. Two of the pairs circled around this woman and just shouted, asking where their mother was. The chosen couple shouted as well, but they also took a pencil and started sticking it into this woman’s arm. At that moment we knew it had to be them.

SF: Before we started shooting, we tried to think about which would be the best way to work with children and came to one conclusion: to keep them interested in the story. We first explained to them the starting point of the story, and from that situation on, we shot the whole film chronologically. In the end, they just wanted to find out how the film would end. We also played children’s games with them as a way to keep them as fresh as possible in front of the camera. What’s more, in order to lower the negative effect that repeating scenes could have on their performances, we made them switch roles. This was extremely helpful because for them it meant something new to try, and it finally helped them to understand the scene much better.

What was Ulrich Seidl's role as a producer, and how did he influence the film?
VF: Every producer makes a difference in a movie. It is a different input for the film, so it can help or hurt the movie. We were very lucky with Ulrich Seidl because he is an artist himself, and therefore, he gave us complete freedom. As a producer, he puts the artistic vision first, and money comes afterwards. But at the same time, you have to convince him. You have to give him good reasons for each of your choices.

Having presented this film at such genre-focused film festivals as Sitges and this edition of the BIFFF, what is your vision of the situation of European genre films today?
VF: I think there is no European genre film, because it differs too much from country to country. In Austria, there are very few genre films, as opposed to auteur films. So in a way, our film is an unusual Austrian film, even if at the same time, it probably has a typical Austrian atmosphere. Moreover, culturally speaking, Austria has a very strong tradition of theatre and opera. These arthouse films very often require an audience that just sits and spends the whole film thinking it through, especially thinking if the film is good or not. But what we personally like about cinema is that it really has the power to make people stop thinking and start shivering. Hopefully, after shivering, you can also think that there is probably more to it than that first impression. But first of all, we want to get to the audience in a physical way.

SF: Genre films have certain rules - like, for instance, our film had to be suspenseful. With some arthouse films, many people get bored watching it, but they try to think that it may mean something while, in reality, they don’t actually dare to say that it’s a bad film. In horror films, everybody says that if it’s boring, it’s not good. And that’s something we like as directors - that freedom that people have to speak their minds truthfully.

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