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LOCARNO 2022 Competition

Ann Oren • Director of Piaffe

"I was very much interested in the psychology of dressage, in the relationship between rider and horse"

by 

- The Israeli-born, Berlin-based filmmaker discusses her formally ambitious first feature film

Ann Oren • Director of Piaffe
(© Bjørn Melhus)

At this year's Locarno Film Festival, in the international competition section, premiered Piaffe [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Ann Oren
film profile
]
by artist and filmmaker Ann Oren. Oren was born in Israel, studied in New York and is now based in Berlin. We talked to her about her fascination with horses and the work of foley artists.

Cineuropa: Could you tell us more about the special device thanks to which the female protagonist meets the botanist?
Ann Oren: It's a photoplasticon I saw in Warsaw. It's a pre-cinematic device, on which you can watch a slide show. The original has pictures of the history of Warsaw on it. I immediately thought the device had something cinematographic to it, and also the whole mechanism behind it. There are people who sit in the dark, just in a normal cinema. If they want, they can have a secret affair without anybody noticing. The scene with the photoplasticon is one of the first scenes of the script I wrote. The foley artist, towards the end of the film, goes inside the construction and becomes the film for the others outside to see. We played it with the sound of a film projector to reinforce this meaning.

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Where does the idea for the film come from?
I always wanted to make a film about a foley artist. I am fascinated by this profession. It has something crazy about it, losing oneself in a dark room, committed to imitating what is on the screen. And nobody knows you exist. I think it's a contemporary idea of working. A lot of professionals work alone, detached from the world. A foley artist once told me that it is very strange to work in a completely silent room, building every layer of sound yourself, and then, you step out on the street and everything is too much. This was an inspiration for the commercial in the centre of the story, for the breakdown of Zara, as well as for the borderline experience of the protagonist.

Why did you choose the horse motif?
Horses also have a connection to the history of film. Eva is confronted with the animal for the first time and a whole world of imagination opens up. With the tail that grows on her, she gains new intuition, one she didn't allow herself to listen to in the beginning. I was very much interested in the psychology of dressage, in the relationship between rider and horse. Everything seems effortless, it looks like a dance, and needs the submission of the horse. There is a play of submission and consent. When you go to the horse stables, you see almost only women. I read a book about the horse-women relationship, the so-called horsey girls. But by riding, women also get more powerful, stronger and can feel like bigger women.

Did you do a lot of research for the film?
Yes, we had much background for all the characters. This is also the case for the botanist. I studied ferns, for example. They reminded me of a horse head. I was also fascinated by the fact that the plants have both genitals, and that the plant has a cult character, a lot of people are obsessed with them.

Where does your cinematic inspiration come from? 
As an inspiration, I would cite Jacques Rivette's Céline et Julie vont en bateau. It's not a direct influence but I like the intuitive relationship between the two characters. I think it's magic, not entirely logical. The actresses are captivating.

Why was actress Simone Bucio the best one for the role?
While writing I didn't have a particular actress in mind, it was difficult to find someone I could feel in the role. I met Simone and found her to be like an old soul, which I liked very much since the story should be timeless. With her, it felt magnetic. When we discussed the story, she totally connected with it, I was completely charmed by her and could see the character while looking at her. She is Mexican, she doesn't speak German and had to learn the dialogues for the film.

What were the most important aspects for the visual concept of the film?
I chose the colours very carefully. There is a lot of blue and red. Moreover, I chose to film on 16mm because I wanted that grainy image and for it to have a certain visceral character. A film has to captivate, you have to go through a bodily experience – and the sound work supports it, sound and visuals are two parts of the same thing. And finally, I wanted to treat the horses and plants, all species, like characters.

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