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Valentin Hitz • Director

"I wanted to give a certain impact to thinking about life and death"


- Cineuropa talked to Valentin Hitz about his second feature, Hidden Reserves, which was screened at the Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival

Valentin Hitz  • Director
(© BIFFF/Vernaeve Philippe)

Almost 15 years on from his debut feature, Cold Front, Austrian director Valentin Hitz, who has been fascinated by immortality since he was a child, or rather by the idea of not having the right to die, planted this idea at the heart of his latest feature. The film leads us into a dystopian society in which you must insure your death; otherwise, you are kept alive. But at what cost? Cineuropa met Hitz at the BIFFF to talk about Hidden Reserves [+see also:
film review
interview: Valentin Hitz
film profile

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Cineuropa: How did you come up with this idea of a dystopian world? What were your intentions with this movie?
Valentin Hitz:
There is a thought that I have never been able to get rid of since my childhood: it is the idea of not being permitted to die. This idea fascinated me but also shocked me in a certain sense, because there are two aspects to it. One is this dream that mankind has of eternal life, which is somehow included in this idea, but from a negative perspective. Not being allowed to die means eternal life - but under what circumstances? On the other hand, it describes a condition according to which a natural process is interrupted, somehow cut off by this thought of not being allowed to die anymore, so there is something that hinders the natural flow of life, of dying. Both aspects are connected to an authority, which has the power to decide over life and death. That is something I think is quite frightening because at other times, this authority was God or the gods - they were the ones deciding on life and death, but today, or in the near future, who or what is it, or could it be? Is it the state, the government, or a group of people with financial or economic interests who decide whether you’re allowed to live longer or not? Is it still a person? Maybe it will just be an algorithm or a computer calculating and deciding whether you are profitable enough to stay alive or if you can die. By making Hidden Reserves, I somehow wanted to confront the audience with these questions, or give a certain impact to thinking about life and death.

In your film, more than death, even sexuality is controlled. Do you think our lives could be monitored in such a way? Is that the image you have of our society or what you imagine is likely to happen in the near future?
I think we are already involved in such a process right now. Some people wear watches that are constantly recording information about their health. I’ve heard that there is a system through which the watch is combined with your mobile phone and sends the information directly to your insurance company, so that they know about the health of their clients.

What was it like working with the actors when there are almost no emotions in the world you depict?
It was fairly similar to any other type of movie. But of course, I think it is quite hard for Vincent (Clemens Schick) to adopt this robot-like attitude and to have these subtle cracks show through at a certain moment. It was hard to fill the character with emotions but not be allowed to show them.

Did you have any difficulties finding the funding for your movie? When inventing a whole new world like this, do you have to bear the budget in mind while writing the script?
If you are used to the context of Austrian film, like me, then you know what is possible or not. During the writing process, I first tried to rid myself of budget-related thoughts and just write the story I wanted to tell. Then comes the process of financing, and of course, as a parallel part of this process, there is some rewriting to do. That’s when you start to think about how you could maybe make things easier, smaller or more intimate. In Austria, they're trying to somehow finance genre film more than they did in the past, but there are still only one or two films every five years. The funding institutions are a little afraid of genre film and especially of movies set in the future. When they read it, you have to help them along with their imaginations and the mental imagery, and show them how you could turn that content into pictures that are neither at the Hollywood level nor unaffordable, but which are financially realistic. In Austria, you need three institutions to make a film: there is the state funding (ÖFI), the Vienna Film Fund (FFW) and the main broadcast company, ORF. They decide according to different time frames, and that makes it quite a long process. With Hidden Reserves, it was a bit different because it is also a co-production with Switzerland and Germany, but I did get funding from these three institutions. As soon as you have a certain budget or amount to ensure that you can make the movie, then you start to really think about the way you are going to work with the team on the challenges of bringing it to fruition. And then again, you are looking for solutions regarding how to make it possible.

Are you already working on your next project?
Yes, I’m writing another project that has again somehow ended up having something to do with dying and the company to which you could give a dying person. Maybe it will also be set in the future - I’ll see, but if so, then only slightly in the future, much like Hidden Reserves.

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