The director of our closing night film, Susanne Heinrich, chats to us about what it’s like to have her first feature film Aren’t You Happy? as Closing Night Film for the 27th Raindance Film Festival.
This is a fantastic debut film. Congratulations! Could you tell us how the idea for your first feature came about?
Thank you. I didn’t have this one idea. I have wanted to find a language for the discomfort I felt in society for a long time. People kept talking about the great freedom that reigned here in the western liberal societies – but I just didn’t feel it. I had my first marriage and my career as a writer behind me and felt blocked, disconnected, paralysed. I was diagnosed with depression – like so many other young women around me. At about the same time, I got involved in student’s protests at my university against the neoliberalisation of our film school, started reading theory and felt the urge to get engaged with feminism after a seminar on the unequal opportunities in film business and the frightening reaction of female students to these facts („Maybe we just have to make better movies“). Reading about us being „entrepreneurs of our self“ in „emotional capitalism“ made sense of my feeling of non-agency and fatigue. Stumbling across a queer theorist that tried to write about the social and political dimensions of depression instead of regarding it as a private issue, a personal failure or a „disease as every other“ that can be cured with medicine, made me shiver of excitement. I would frame this phase as the time I learned to recognise structures and systematics. Strangely enough, it didn’t solely lead to desperation. Quite the contrary: I no longer saw the oh-so-individual stories. Instead, things took on a model-like, serial and comparable form. With this perspective came humour. At a certain point it suddenly was there, the voice I had been looking for for years, and I was able to write the script within a few days.
In the film you talk about gender, social roles, feminism in a very ironic and absurd way giving the audience your judgement on these matters. Can you outline the message you are conveying to the viewers?
How difficult was it to make a first film as a female director nowadays? Do you think it is getting easier for female directors or is it still a struggle – bigger than a struggle a debut male director would have to go through?
Could you tell us a bit of your method of working with actors and directing them to achieve the hilarious yet dramatic deadpan performances in Aren’t You Happy?
I don’t know for sure. I take in all sorts of things, but I can’t say where that will continue to have an effect. Of course I love Godard’s films, but I also love Jacques Demy. I especially love the films of the new women’s movement, Uli Stöckl and Helke Sander, and so many others. Farocki, Straub-Huillet, but also Chantal Ackerman. But even if the aesthetics of the melancholic girl are comparable in the end, they are not oriented towards role models, but are developed strictly from the text. For example, we took this sentence: “If this were a film …”, and considered how we could make the breaking of the 4th wall clear on all levels of the film. So we let her look straight into the camera and address the audience, for instance. The sets we designed anti-naturalistic, not like authentic inhabited environments but rather like artificial theme rooms. On the sound level we dubbed everything and worked with a foley artist. When a character leaves the frame, you don’t hear her steps continuing endlessly. Instead, you hear an actress going three more steps and stopping close to the camera. We wanted to produce the feeling that the filmic world does not continue outside of the frame. By that, we establish a distance between the audience and the screen that enables a critical way of watching and relating to the shown situations in different ways than in classical narrative film.