Eileen Byrne • Director of Touch Me
“I was absolutely amazed by the connection my actors had and the emotions that were already palpable”
- As her short film Touch Me prepared to screen at EFP’s Future Frames at Karlovy Vary, we caught up with Luxembourg-born filmmaker Eileen Byrne to talk about it
As her final year project, Luxembourgish director Eileen Byrne from the University of Television and Film (HFF) in Munich had crafted an intense and precise examination of a relationship in crisis. Touch Me centres on Alice, who is undergoing treatment for breast cancer. With the both physical and mental scars, Alice is finding it difficult to cope and needs the support of her boyfriend Moritz. But can he provide what she needs?
Cineuropa: Touch Me seems a very personal film to you. Would I be correct?
Eileen Byrne: Yes. Breast cancer has been a strong theme in my life for the last few years because one of my oldest friends received the diagnosis a few years ago. This affected me deeply. At that time we had already developed two screenplays together and it was her idea that we should write a story about this topic. By reading autobiographies and talking to other affected women I realised how strongly this illness not only attacks the self-perception and the femininity of a woman but also the relationship with her partner. While writing I realised that my own experiences as a woman with sexuality and with my relationship to my own body helped me to comprehend the female character. That is why I hope that women who (luckily) haven’t had to experience breast cancer will still be able to connect with the main character.
When you’re making a film such as this, how important was the research you undertook beforehand?
My research was, above all, to talk with my co-author and other affected women. I also read some autobiographies and researched how treatment takes place in German hospitals. I shared this research with my two actors and when we started rehearsing I asked them to meet a gynaecologist who is a friend of mine and also works as an actress. She led them through a realistic first diagnostic consultation which was very moving for them and helped them build up an inner world of the characters.
Kristin Suckow and Max Bretschneider have a believable and strong connection as the couple at the heart of the film. Did you work with them a lot or was their chemistry quite natural as well?
When I asked them both to act in my film, I didn’t know that they already knew each other from an improvisation lab in Berlin. It was definitely a fortunate coincidence that they knew and liked each other from the start. I still remember our first read through in a friend’s kitchen in Berlin: I was absolutely amazed by the connection they had and the emotions that were already palpable. I knew then that they were the right choice for this film.
Is it difficult to keep the balance of the film? I admire the fact that it has such an emotional weight but it never falls into the likes of melodrama.
Yes, it is a difficult task to keep the balance. I am still not sure I got it right. I like to tell emotional stories. Emotions are what push me tell them and it is my deepest wish to pass them on to the audience through my films. But of course there is always the fear of tilting into melodrama. Especially in a country like Germany where there is a general fear of big emotions.
What has the reaction been so far to the film?
The reactions have been very different, to be honest. I have received feedback from women who had to go through the illness and the treatments or from husbands, brothers and sons. I hadn’t realised before just how widespread this illness is. And it gets to many young women as well, who are still planning to have a family. The reactions of those people were always very positive and touching. It is good to hear that the film gives them hope.
What are you looking forward to about Karlovy Vary and Future Frames?
First of all I am really excited to meet the other nine filmmakers from all over Europe. I already know Anna Roller, who will be representing Germany, as we studied at the same film school in Munich (and sing in the filmmaker’s choir). But I am also really looking forward to the whole experience of being at the renowned Karlovy Vary Film Festival and getting to meet so many interesting people and taking part in workshops.
What will be your next film?
I am currently working on a couple of stories, one of them being a children’s movie, another one being a dramedy about my generation and their struggles between childhood and adulthood (which I am developing with the great screenwriter Evi Prince). I am also working on a road movie which I hope will star my two main actors Kristin Suckow and Max Bretschneider. I was so inspired by the work we did together on Touch Me that I really want to repeat this experience in a feature film.
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