The underwater sequences, especially towards the end of the film, are the instances that feel the most detached from reality, like we are truly in another realm. Is that how you interpret them?
I’ve had a wish for a long time to shoot underwater sequences. I saw Brian Eno, the musician, had worked on an installation were there were TV sets with their screens pointing to the roof and under the glass of the TV sets there was water flowing. For me, water and TV and movies relate with each other. So when the camera goes underwater we have no dialogue. We are going back to the origins of our life, fish. And the movement of our bodies is so graceful. I had a very old desire to go underwater. But I also can’t dive and I have a big fear to going underwater. So I stayed outside the whole time, and watched the underwater sequences on the monitor. But for me being underwater is a fantastic world. It’s like the space outside our planet or as if we returning to our origin.
Looking at those underwater sequences, and in general the symbolic nature of water in “Undine,” I was reminded of one of your previous films, “Yella,” where water is also a crucial part of the female protagonist’s journey. Both of these films, as well as most of your works, have been shot by Hans Fromm. Was it an interesting change of pace for him to shoot underwater?
For Hans, the DP, I think it was a good time being underwater, because now he had a friend, the other cameraman who was going with his camera underwater. Two guys, male technicians, they were happy, like two men barbecuing on a grill. They were talking about cameras and lenses. I was totally outside of that conversation. They never talked to me. So, for him it was good. But thinking about the water in “Yella,” there was this river Elbe, a really big German river. On one side there was East Germany and on the other side there was West Germany. Back then it was a border between communism and capitalism. Yella tried to go over this river to reach capitalism because she’s coming out of communism. But she drowned in this border river and as she dies she can see a life she never had. She sees the life she wanted to have. This was the idea of the water there. The water is a border, but she didn’t have the chance to come out of this water to the desired land, to the capitalistic neoliberal world.
Another aspect of your movies that I find fascinating is you always play with your characters’ identities, including Undine in this one. Most of the women in your stories are hiding who they really are or pretending to be something they’re not.
My friend Harun Farocki and I worked many years together. We wrote 15 scripts together and we talked so much about cinema. We always thought that a wrong identity is a fantastic element in cinema. The bad thing about a wrong identity is that if you want to change your identity—you go out for cigarettes and never come back. You leave your family, kids, or woman and go into a new life—actually what you do is rebuild the life you left again. You can’t actually get out of your skin. You are still you. But the desire to get out of your skin, this is cinema, not what happens in the end, but just the desire to change your identity, to have another life. This is the thing I like to see very much.
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