An Austrian filmmaker working in Argentine, Lukas Valenta Rinner has been on the festival circuit with his sophomore feature A Decent Woman (read the review) and had a stop-over at Rotterdam where he previously competed with his first feature outing Parabellum (read the review) in 2015.
ScreenAnarchy caught up with the filmmaker to talk more about his latest effort.
ScreenAnarchy: Why did you decide to pursue filmmaking career in Argentina?
Lukas V. Rinner: I actually ended up in Argentina by chance. I grew up in Salzburg and after high school, I decided to start studying at a film school in Barcelona. And there, with a few filmmaking colleagues, we started working on our first short films. Together, we have decided to move to Buenos Aires since a professor highly recommended us the local film school “Universidad del Cine”. It proved to be an excellent choice regarding the possibilities offered to students in terms of working and producing. Last year, the school was ranked amidst the best ten film schools from around the world. But to be completely honest, we had no idea about that back then and we just embarked on a journey as we were sure it would prove to be an adventure.
A Decent Woman originated in the Jeonju Digital Project which has saved Gyorgi Pálfi´s project Free Fall two years ago. How did you become a part of the initiative?
My first feature Parabellum received the Jury´s Prize at Jeonju in 2015. A few months later, the festival approached me and asked me if I had an idea for a new film. I knew I wanted to start a project in a nudist swinger club in the province of Buenos Aires I had scouted a few months before, so I sent them a concept and a week later, I knew I had a premiere date but not even a single page of the script. So we ended up writing, shooting and post-producing the film in basically six months.
Similarly to your recent film A Decent Woman, Parabellum centers on a secluded community – doomsday preppers. What was the impetus and conceiving idea behind Parabellum?
The idea, very similar to A Decent Woman, started with an almost documentarian approach. I heard rumors about survival camps in the province of Buenos Aires and started attending a few. I felt that the idea behind these camps brought to light a social tension that was present in Argentina as a whole. The film therefore explores a latent tension and violence that I felt was present underneath a pseudo pacifistic discourse of the middle-class.
While Parabellum does not have a clear protagonist, A Decent Woman has Belén. What led to this transition narrative-wise?
I think in comparison to Parabellum, we needed to focus on one particular character in order to mark a clear passage between the two opposing spaces. Like Alice going through the rabbit hole, Belén enters an unknown world and through her eyes, we explore the two opposing worlds.
Did you employ a different approach to the storytelling in A Decent Woman compared to Parabellum?
The main difference was that the story revolves around one main character. This gave us the possibility to concentrate on Belén’s personal development as events unfold. In Parabellum – with its multiple characters – the plot was definitely more fractured. As a result, it was more difficult for the audience to connect with a character. During the writing of the script, we definitely enjoyed the possibility to "crash" scenes jumping from one world to another. This led to comic moments in the film.
Both of your films are characteristic of having a very little dialogue. Why do you prefer visual over verbal in storytelling?
I definitely try to start my stories from images and spaces. What I feel is happening in a lot of films is an overload of dialogue. I like the idea that we cannot really anticipate what is going on inside Belén, and that - which is for me a much more basic approach - we are just confronted with the character’s actions without literally knowing all “psychological“ motivations behind them.
There seems to be a sort of a semantic shift in different language titles: Spanish Los Decentes, English title A Decent Woman and German title The Mistress. Why did you go with three different titles adhering to the same story?
There is actually one more title. "A Peek Into A Bare World" which would be the Korean version of the film. The Spanish title was quite clear from the beginning. The "real" gated community started sending emails from @losdecentes account threatening to shut down the club, so we always wanted to use that as the Spanish title. We actually decided very late on the German and English titles while finishing the film. In both cases, we felt that the literal translation for one or other reason did not work, so we went with the titles that could transmit a certain feel for the film.
You have established your own auteur, so to speak, signature style in Parabellum based on deadpan, droll, subtle approach and minimalism which is also utilized in A Decent Woman. What led to this combination of elements?
I think I am a result of a strange mix of European and Latin-American influences. I grew up in Austria with Thomas Bernhard, Haneke, Schnitzler, so this is the European heritage I grew up in. During my studies, I got stirred up with Latin-American influences such as Reygadas, Bolaño, Borges and Alonso.
A Decent Woman´s style diverts from Parabellum in use of tracking shots. Why did you make the film more “kinetic”?
We started trying out tracking shots in order to maintain a special unity between the gated community and the club as Belén passes from one space to another. As those spaces are really neighboring in the “reality“, we wanted to maintain this proximity in one long shot. We soon felt that those shots had a special flow to them that could help to build up the tension as it rises in the film. So during the shooting, we started incorporating those techniques in the key scenes.
The scenes in nudist swinger club seem to draw composition from classical paintings. Is that so?
In the preparation for the film, we tried to find references on nudity and had a really hard time to found that in films. We ended up doing a lot of research throughout classical paintings to think about the relation of nude bodies to nature. When we finally ended up shooting in the club, these paintings suddenly "emerged" again as we started filming the naked bodies in a natural environment.
What influenced the rich community scenes?
I remember we talked a lot about the particular framing in Joel Sternfelds "American Prospects" with my DoP Roman Kasseroller. In his pictures, there is a particularly melancholic mood in those contemporary American landscapes. I felt that was quite similar to the gated communities. Even though we don’t purposefully try to recreate images or paintings, we worked with them as references. They become looks and frames that accompany you while you are on set.
In both cases, are you shooting at authentic locations or the art department had created them?
In both cases, we were shooting in real locations. In the gated community, the art department did design the color palettes of objects. In the nudist club, we tried to establish a “retro look” through details like towels and chairs we brought to the location. The club was actually active while we were shooting there, so it could easily happen that you pass by an orgy while working in there.
The juxtaposition of both communities, the luxurious one brimming with materialism and stress and the serene one, even utopia-like and freed of any possessions including clothes is a statement. How much is A Decent Woman social critique/satire?
There is definitely a political underlayer in the film. If you live in Argentina, you can feel social tensions have been rising in the last years. Especially the province of Buenos Aires is one of the most populated areas in Argentina and you find more and more luxurious gated communities surrounded by extreme poverty. And then, there is the fact that nudity is still a big taboo in Argentina. The nudist sex club we shot in is extremely secretive and just last month, there was a big police operation because three women went to a beach topless. The group was forced to leave the beach and they almost ended up in jail because of “improper behavior".
In the light of the violent events in Europe, the finale of A Decent Woman may have gained a different meaning.
Living in Buenos Aires, you sometimes have the sensation that on a social level, things could explode any minute. I think we are coming to a point when social conditions around the world are more and more unjust and eventually structures start to crumble and people begin to resist. So, I guess even though the film refers to very local political matters, there is a wider significance thinking about social injustice and the division of wealth on a global scale.