A man – a woman – the night & an old crime

Caspar is a courier. He returns lost luggage to the owners. Unexpectedly,
a woman joins him. It is this night's luck and pain to manifest Caspar's
injury that has branded him for a long time.

Michael Kamper: What can we expect from your second cinema movie ‘venez avec moi’?

Armin Biehler: Honestly, it took me long two years to figure this out.
That is from the idea, the shooting and the montage until today.
On meandering ways I slowly forged ahead to the core of ‘venez avec moi’.
My inspiration for the movie lay in an intricate relationship with a woman.
Additionally, unavoidable questions of my own life put themselves
to the fore. I simply could not avoid making this film. In retrospective,
it was a healthy must with all its inconveniences. Now, I hope that this
unavoidability’s honesty helps the spark to transmit on to the audience.

MK: So what is the core of the film?

AB: The two characters meeting in ‘venez avec moi’ are both on their own.
Their seemingly accidental meeting mobilizes unimagined forces. Their wish
for all-embracing love grapples with their emotional certainty that they
cannot allow themselves to it. On the contrary, this kind of love is
devastating. But, why?

In their accidental encounter lies their fate.
Now, when hazard tears down its mask and the fate becomes obvious –
both are traumatized and fight for their ability to love – the core
of the film is laid bare: two people devour each other and experience
in their counterpart the injury they received themselves. As they look
into the gaping and ulcerous wound it hurts excruciatingly.
How to deal with this pain?

MK: What triggered your project?

AB: I was delivering suitcases myself and took the photos of the people
with their bags, which document mostly happy encounters. There is a lot
of time in between the various stations where one can deal with oneself.
Parts of my own experience mark the beginning. A woman I desired very
much put her cigarette butt out on her forearm. Added to that, there was
the certainty of being held under water by my mother until I could not
breathe. Thus, I was pressed into the scheme where, in the most beautiful
moment of satisfaction, the all-destroying hammer must come to whack it all.
In this scheme I reproduced myself. And therefore, I was sympathetic to
the self-destruction of my beloved. Well, or not so well, this loosing
oneself in the other's pain, or even to blame me for her pain, is what
the protagonist Caspar and I share. Both of us struggle with this.

MK: Your perception of the nature of ‘venez avec moi’,
how did it develop during your filmic working process?

AB: The film was shot linearly. Caspar delivers. She gets in his car.
They deliver together and then they love each other. We improvised on
the basis of scene sheets on which I had noted the characters’ rough
mindsets and some key sentences. With Cyrill as our peer, we discussed
these mindsets intensively. And then go! For instance, there was the
scene called ‘la mode’ where I had had the idea of a fictitious catwalk
on a dirt track in the spotlight of the car. I love to stage theatrically
together with a camera. The characters were supposed to dress up and
dance several times. Unexpectedly and as a matter of course, though,
we only used one dress each.

The pink tutu and Caspar's black suit and bowler hat. Already as we acted,
I became aware of something unexpected expressing itself. It became serious.
The encounter of the two made clear that an abuse is at work. More precisely
speaking, the projection of an abuse was happening. In this scene, there is
an awfully violent tension present that does not manifest itself physically.
Both of us were drifting and in the end Caspar being bent on his knees vomits.
The cameraman, Cyrill, noted succinctly that this must have been the orgasm,
somehow. The three of us were not looking for a specific creative form but
– Anna and I by acting and Cyrill with his camera – we reached this state
by being completely absorbed by the mindset we discussed earlier. It was
fundamental that both actors knew deep inside them what abuse signifies.
That is how the planned scene 'la mode' became 'la violance' - which is
a key scene of the film. I was deeply moved by this and I assume this was
the turning point of the shooting.

MK: In the movie, the filmic expatiated sexuality leads,
to the above described scene of violence. Why?

AB: I asked myself what may happen in the moment where
the naked character is literally thrown back to itself.
In a sexual act, an openness may evolve when both of
the characters devote themselves unconditionally to it.
This is what I assumed. But how to represent such a
sexuality in its physical form?

I considered a lot in this respect. I remember, for instance, how Ang Lee
in referring to his film 'Lust, Caution' from 2007 and nurtured by his
experience at the set enthused about his actors dedication. In a sense,
he said that there was sexuality in fact. To me as an observer, the scene
in the bed was disappointing, I was not stimulated. Two copulating bodies
were shown in a long shot. I, thus, realized that the camera had to become
part of the fondling. The spectator must not just watch from a secure
distance. Everything should happen nearby, almost along with him or her.

That is why I oriented myself rather at Pipi Lotti Rist's 'Pickelporno'
from 1992. My requirement was a fulfilling and equitable sexual act and
to perform proliferation through the dancing and loving bodies which is
more than the fact of a penetration. Hence, we filmed the scene in a totally
discharged manner. The space is the darkness around the bright bodies.
In terms of a 'ménage à trois', even the camera found itself involved as
an agile actor. We actually shot the act in a single and 43 minutes lasting
sequence. Sigur Ros' music, which appears in an other scene in the film,
was playing. The loving sounds were inserted as post scoring. At the beginning
of the scene, Anna said that I should not act a sportsperson. I think we dived
into 'l'acte' with the appropriate mutual respect. It was amusing and the three
of us were very close.

MK: But you break the beauty with your scene 'la violence'...

AB: Yes, in the montage, its a parallel-montage. Simultaneously, both
aspects – 'l'acte' and 'la violence' – make their way to the climax.
The scenes are intertwined. In Claire's head an amalgamation happens
– that is her projection – which the audience may witness on the screen.
Her lover Caspar becomes a possible perpetrator and he accepts this role.
It brings him to his knees, though, until he has to puke. The meta-level,
the trauma takes the reins. But, after that, how should fulfilling love
develop and persist?

MK: According to statistics, every fourth girl and every eighth boy up
until the age of 12 years become victims of sexual assault. Do you put
your overall-question about how your protagonists love in relation to
these statistics?

AB: I do not open a social dimension from outside. But, yes, 'venez avec moi'
clearly deals with the impact of abuse on individuals. Both of my characters
are adults of a middle age. Unconciously, both lives have been shaped by the
destructive experience of their childhoods. Thus, their conception of love
orient themselves on this. Still, they have survived. Now, it is mean that
Claire cannot tell what that 'merde' is but it stands between her and Caspar.
At the same time, he is convinced to bear the blame. Good enough, the
rejection comes to the fore.

This is where the film hooks in as it displays this breakup. The nothingness,
the eradication of the child's personality, the central moment of abuse
finally all get concretely expressed decades later. The pendulum swings forth
and back between Clair's desire for Caspar's love – as she mounts into his car
voluntarily after all – and total rejection because love bears the danger of
destruction. The pain becomes obvious. Caspar virtually absorbs it until he
breaks and has to create a distance in order to survive. He gets to see himself.
To this experience, to this growing distress but also to the chance to identify
and disentangle the past I expose the audience. If commiseration develops, I
will have done a good job and contributed to an understanding of abuse from
an inner perspective.

Actually, 'venez avec moi' is life-affirming.

MK: Your male protagonist is acted by yourself. How was it for you?

AB: As a producer, I would say Biehler is the most beneficial solution. But this
is coquetry. And I have never thought of having someone else acting Caspar. I would
like to answer your question from the point of view of my colleague Anna Deherse.
We have known each other for twenty years now. We had casted female actors before
we had the idea to ask Anna but there was always something deliberate.

Our friendship is very deep and I also noticed her conflict with her childhood and
her survival. The longer, the more this was familiar to me as well as the fact that
the two of us have children the same age. After a few rehearsals, it became clear
that Anna knew very well upon which ground 'venez avec moi' should grow. She benefits
from her expressiveness she gained in her education as a dancer as well as from her
down-to-earth job as a nurse. In other words, we were like amateur actor and layman.
To act with her was very demanding. She always sought precision in my – or the
director's – specifications. In any case, to switch from directing to acting was
far from simple. It had to be performed with utmost precision. Anyhow, I was able
to trust the situation as Cyrill was a wonderful warrantor.

MK: Then you took the filmic material to your studio for the montage.
How did you proceed? What has happened in the two years?

AB: First of all, I had to gain a new stance over the material. A linear rough
cut of about 124 minutes was quickly established and its length passable. What
it lacked, though, was charm. The linearity was the obstacle to overcome. How
to dramatize the shooting? Quite a basic question: From which perspective was
the filmed material to be narrated? It took a lot of courage to put Caspar in
the center and, thus, to focus on myself and my reasons why I had to do this
film. To find myself in the mental center of the montage required me to expose
myself radically to the material. This rather psychoanalytical approach, where
scenes become effective, submerge and reappear in order to comment on and bring
about other scenes is a room that had to be opened and kept open time again.

MK: Could you specify with an example how you dealt
with the material and how it dealt with you?

AB: Well, 'l'act' and the scene where Caspar sits naked at the fire, 'le feu'.
Here, he thinks about the past and may warm up for what will come. What is old
burns. 'Le feu' was intended to be the epilogue, the quintessence at the end.
But then, I realized that this is the position from where I narrate 'venez avec moi'.
Hence, I wanted to define this position already at the beginning of the film.
So there it begins, submerges and shows itself twice in the course of the film,
whereas it also manifests the end, Caspar's departure. The question is how the
three parts of 'le feu' are connected. What about the narrator when he is not seen?
He reflects and versifies, verbalizes the visible or anticipates.

It was therefore consequential to write an interior monologue emanating from 'le feu'
and to wave it into the plot. That is the text 'Thoughts on a bare ground' and it,
too, appears time and again in parts. It is somehow the lyrical backbone of the film.
How to place 'l'acte' and its immediate physicality towards it? This scene being very
present, urged itself in front of the narrator's position which is why the film starts
with a cut of the love act. On the other side, there is also a hint at the rupture
picked up by the narrator. The depicted sexuality swashes towards the surface again
and again until it finds a conclusion in Clair's projection.

MK: I imagine your orientation on the material quite demanding.
Were there moments of being at a loss?

AB: Yes. Quite often I thought it was all clear. But that was wishful thinking that did
not withstand the examination of people who had a look at my work. To trust the material
fundamentally was right in principle but the form of expression lacked finality. I had
to take my time. Then I cut a version of the length of 33 minutes and re-extended it.
Let us take the scene 'la salle de bains'. Caspar and Claire sit in the tub and fool
around. I could not use this scene as it was too similar to the drinking scene. It
was to familiarly naïve in order to use it after Claire had had her first breakup.
All this is considering linearly.

But the scene never left me. Until, quite at the end of the montage – the meta-level
was already established via double exposure – the appropriate place for 'la salle de bains'
emerged. Clair told me about her family and how she cavorted with her brothers. Caspar
remembers the situation in the tub with Clair as they spent the night in the 'Hotel du Parc'
as frolic. Until he dunks into the water and I stop the image. A distorted face remains on
the screen. There I knew Caspar would be washed over by his trauma. Personally, I know the
situation of being held under water and unable to breathe due to family reasons. It is
astonishing how all came together.

MK: I think 'venez avec moi' is built around three narrative strands.
Is that correct?

AB: Well, I have to think about this. So, first Caspar's narration at the fire and
his interior monologue. Secondly, the discussion of the two about their histories
while sitting on the wheelbarrow. Thirdly, the linear process wherein Caspar moves.
He delivers alone, they deliver together, spend the night in the hotel, she does
not get into his car anymore, they get drunk. The things they do together. That
makes three levels. Okay then, but I would like to mention the sex act and the
projections interspersed again and again. These are anchored in the linear procession.
And there is the still picture, the photographically recorded situation. This is the
author's standpoint detached from his characters.
Hence, we may have four narrative strands.

MK: We talked about inspiration, the shooting and the montage but never
about the production. Who has financed 'venez avec moi'?

AB: Yes, I had to provide my debt recovery officer information about
this aspect, too. With a budget of 360'000 Francs we started with
about 6'500 Francs that my TV-Documentary 'Laura D'Oriano' brought in.
Private grants of 8'000 may be added. Of course, I have applied for
financial support at several institutions. But my problem was how to
express myself when I had not been able to know what I finally wanted.
The film promotion by commission orients itself rather at the result,
a product for the market. 'Venez avec moi', though, insists on support
for an individual artistic process. These approaches are radically
different. That is why I have born the costs myself.

Translation by Oliver Braams