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Katharina Mückstein • Director of L’Animale

"We allow society to put pressure on us"


- Austrian filmmaker Katharina Mückstein talks about L'Animale, discovered at Berlin and competing at Les Arcs Film Festival

Katharina Mückstein • Director of L’Animale
(© Elsa Okazaki)

Garnering attention in 2013 with her debut feature, Talea [+see also:
interview: Katharina Mückstein
film profile
, the Austrian filmmaker Katharina Mückstein unveiled her latest film, L’Animale [+see also:
film review
interview: Katharina Mückstein
film profile
, in the Panorama section at the 2018 Berlinale. Cineuropa chatted to her at the 10th Les Arcs Film Festival, where her film was presented in competition.

Cineuropa: Where did the idea for L'Animale come from?
Katharina Mückstein: I made my first feature, Talea, starring Sophie Stockinger in the lead role when she was just 14 years old. I wanted to write another screenplay featuring Sophie, so I always knew that L'Animale would be about a young girl and I also wanted to talk about the conflict we face between rationality and passion. I knew that it would be a feminist film that dealt with gender and gender identity, because I studied gender before going to film school. I worked on the screenplay for two years, and the story underwent a lot of changes before reaching its final form.

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Why did you decide to set the film in a town that borders the big city and the countryside?
I was interested in nature as a theme. Talking about identity also involves referring to nature. What we consider natural largely depends on our culture. Our definition of nature is linked to our cultural history and not to our authentic being, so I wanted the film to take place somewhere where nature and civilisation cross paths, which is often the case in the suburbs, where you feel somewhat urban without actually living in a city. Cities always represent an object of desire, somewhere we want to go, a place we pin all our hopes on, but at the same time, we are constantly confronted by nature and the question of knowing what it means to incorporate nature in our lives.

Why did you choose to include motocross in the story?
It's mainly because I like movement in films. Filming action scenes interests me a lot as a filmmaker. I also found it interesting to place this girl in the middle of a group of boys and give her a motorcycle to ride, an activity that is seen as very masculine. And she’s really good at it. Sophie had to learn to ride a bike and trained a lot, just like the boys in the film. Technically, it was pretty tricky to film, but it was so exciting to do. I really hope I can shoot action scenes again in my upcoming films.

The characters in the film seem to be torn between who they really are and what society wants them to be.
We live in a time where people are talking a lot about freedom. Individual freedom seems to be the ultimate life goal. But at the same time, we allow society to put pressure on us to want what society wants. Sometimes we think we want something, but that's actually just what we've been taught to want. I think free will is a difficult concept and I wanted to show that, whatever your age and regardless of whether you’re a man or a woman, social pressure is always present.

The issue of blurred sexual identity boundaries is also at the heart of your film.
A more traditional way of thinking is to only think in terms of gender categories. Obviously, if we do that, we will always be stuck thinking "women are like this, and men are like that." In my opinion, the most interesting way to approach it is to accept all people as they are and let them accomplish what they can accomplish, beyond their biology. I think we are moving towards that, but it’s a difficult process. We need to work on it both on a personal and a political level. It's not an easy subject matter, because you have to talk about hidden feelings, hidden desires, but also privileges that are given to some people and ultimately will be taken away, which hurts. It is a painful process that can sometimes take the form of a war, but if you look at it from a broader perspective, it will give more freedom to everyone. I also wanted to show in the film that it is not only women who suffer from sexual inequality, but also men, who don’t always notice because they are in a privileged position. The character of the father shows us that we have a very narrow concept of masculinity and put a lot of pressure on men, which I don’t like either. I think we need to all begin to free ourselves from the chains we find ourselves in.

(Translated from French)

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