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Jan Gassmann • Director

"We turned up in the various cities with a real traveller's spirit"


- BERLIN 2016: Cineuropa met up with young Swiss director Jan Gassmann to talk about his latest film, Europe, She Loves, which opened the Panorama Dokumente section of the Berlinale

Jan Gassmann  • Director

Following Chrigu [+see also:
film profile
and Off Beat [+see also:
film profile
, Jan Gassmann is back at the Berlinale with his latest documentary, Europe, She Loves [+see also:
film review
interview: Jan Gassmann
film profile
, which portrays the day-to-day lives of four couples living on the very boundaries of Europe. Europe, She Loves is a road trip that whisks us away from Seville to Tallinn, and from Thessaloniki to Dublin, eventually leading us to a shared reality that is admittedly unstable, but which also, and above all, is bound together by love and everyday life.

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Cineuropa: How did you choose your couples, and why did you favour these four cities (Tallinn, Dublin, Seville and Thessaloniki)?
Jan Gassmann:
It was important for me to go to the very boundaries of Europe. From this point of view, Thessaloniki and also Dublin and Tallinn were cities of great interest. In addition, on a cinematic level, I thought it was important to find certain images for each city. There are cities such as Paris or Barcelona that are constructed by the history of film to a great extent… I found it important to find new voices, new images. Then I tackled the casting, which was a bit like an adventure for me. We turned up in each city with three or four contacts given to me by people I knew. We tried to meet people via Facebook, and we even put little adverts in the newspapers, but it was difficult to explain the project in an abstract way, through a synopsis. Once we had arrived, it became a lot easier – we started to speak with people face to face. And the number of people gradually went up and up. In each city, we met around 20 couples – quite a lot, really. But at a certain point, the magic moment happened. As the project took shape, I realised that I wasn't interested in having characters who were coping with huge crises. Unfortunately, I didn't have enough room in the film to delve into this type of story.

How did you manage to strike up such a high degree of intimacy with the couples that you chose to film?
I think there are a lot of things that linked us. The couples we chose belong to more or less the same generation as we do. That created a genuine and very immediate bond between us. I was always very clear with them in terms of what I wanted – that is, getting a glimpse into their private lives. It was important for me that they didn't have any problems with nudity or sexuality. That helped us to strike up a true relationship revolving around trust. They knew that I wanted something very honest. At the same time, we, the members of the crew, headed off on a proper tour of Europe by bus, a very long road trip. So we turned up in the various cities with a real traveller's spirit, a sense of complete openness and a desire to take things as they come.

Speaking of sexuality, did you set yourself any limits in this regard?
For me, sexuality is part of life, of love, of your relationship as a couple, and it was clear from the outset that I wanted to use sexuality as a means of communication. Filming love and sexuality often seems to be reserved solely for fiction films. It has such a strong connotation with fiction that one almost forgets that it's part of our daily lives. I wanted to go in a different direction: sexuality is life; it's part of our everyday life.We spoke a lot about the way in which we would film that. Then, during the edit, we did actually realise that the film contained a lot of sex scenes – it was interesting. Everything finds its place when it comes to editing the film. Once these scenes had been shot, it was easier to talk about their relationships – it created a real bond between us, and it opened doors.

What are your expectations with regard to your participation in the Berlinale, especially as a Swiss director?
This is my third time at the Berlinale, and I love this festival. I was over the moon when I received the invitation! I'm very happy as a Swiss person to be presenting a film about Europe. We Swiss people are as European as anybody else. That's why it was important for me to show my own point of view on the topic and perhaps also to separate Switzerland from its stereotypical image, to show that we're not just a people shut away among the mountains – there's a lot more to us than that.

(Translated from French)

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