Katharina Mueckstein : “Society always pressures us to opt for reason”
Austrian director Katharina Mueckstein, has selected a 1985 song by Franco Battiato to give title to her second film, L’Animale. It is a song that speaks about primary desires and instincts. Her film, an adolescent drama, is defined by the director as addressing the “social conventions that constraint us, and asks whether we can get rid of them an how.”
Her proposal exhibits the individual resistance against gender roles and traditional sexual norms. In Mueckstein’s opinion, the revolutionary potential of our times resides, precisely, in the bravery of being able to free one’s identity from social norms.
The main character, Sophie Stockinger, debuted in Mueckstein’s first film, Talea, and has become a rising star in the film industry of her country, with six films shot at her young age of 20. In L’Animale she portrays a girl that is part of a motorcycle gang and that intimidates an Austrian village.
Did you know the Franco Battiato the film is named after?
Unfortunately, I didn’t. It is an important part of the film and we all had to learn the lyrics for the filming, because we had to sing it. We commented with the director the meaning of the song in the context of the story. It is a central element, they are the subtitles I give my character when I am not sure about my behaviors, because Battiato speaks about the animal inside of him, about how he acts guided by his inner instincts. Franco says we all have to listen to our animal side. And it is something my character has to confront, because she is trapped in her role in the group of boys. She has to free her inner animal. Since the gang rides motorbikes, Katharina had the idea of including a wolf that accompany them when they were hunting. If it were another film, we would be riding some grandiouse animal. So throughout the film there is a connection with Battiato’s song.
The film’s opening titles, the location of the quarry that looks like a desert, and the motocross riders with their harassing and aggressive behavior, evoke the Western genre. Did you have any reference in mind when shooting the film?
When we were filming we didn’t speak about it, but several journalist have through the same. The gang of boys is like the outlaws that take over a city. When we arrive to the disco, we show our strength to transmit our ownership of the place and we terrorize the poor girls. Sebastian is the leader and he takes over Mati in a certain way, so there is an element of the Western film in that fight for power.
Lately, there have been numerous series and films that have dignified the LGTBI community, like Orange is The New Black, Transparent, Sheor About Ray. How do you think popular culture is helping people with an identity or a sexuality that is outside the conventions?
It is always a good time to speak about these topics. When we filmed the movie, the #metoo movement didn’t exist, but Katharina had focused on Gender Studies in Philosophy and she has always been interested in these topics. I am very happy that I have been really informed about these social issues. As an actress, it is a privilege to make the audience reflect on Mati’s doubts, as maybe among the audience there are also kids that are having this inner conflict. My character doesn’t know if she is or isn’t a lesbian. It is important to debate these topics, as a society we don’t have to put people in boxes and classify them in blacks or whites; it’s great to be able to talk about those middle colors. We live in dangerous times for democracy. In Austria there is an far right government and it is relevant that people become aware that we have to evolve, not to go back to the Middle Ages.
To what extent do you identify yourself with the dilemmas of your generation?
My generation is under a lot of pressure. In the economical aspect, we are required to be at the same level as our parents. All of the people my age are trying to find a way to make a lot of money and have a career focused on professional goals. There is less and less space to think about what you want to be. I have been very lucky as I always knew what I wanted to be so, after graduation, I started acting, but my friends, who have a vast array of possibilities, don’t know what to do because nothing really motivates them. I’ afraid there is no passion left in the world. Everybody just wants to be rich an unhappy, so I hope people actually start considering their vocations. Only that way will they start doing what they really like.
How does the poem you analyze in the film, Goethe’s Blissful Yearning, resonate with you?
Goethe speaks about people that don’t listen to their passions and then others who act like moths attracted to the light, and they end up getting burnt. That is the dilemma today. And that is the same thing Battiato’s song is about, about following your instincts and, maybe end up getting burnt, would be worth it, although I hope it’s not like that (laughs). Goethe’s poem also speaks about rationality and emotions. And Mati has to decide whether she stays with the guys or she breaks away from them and searches for her own happiness. Society always pressures us to opt for reason. Our parents are an example, when they tell us what to do. Mati’s mother takes for granted that her daughter will take up her job at the vet clinic. It would be a very rational decision, but maybe Mati doesn’t agree and would like to spend her life doing something else.
Your debut film was Talea, also by Katharina, and now you’ve become a rising start in your country, having had six different roles in different projects. To what extent do you think she is responsible for the sweet moment you are living?
I owe her a lot, because Talea was my first film and my first casting. It was my entry door to the film industry in Austria, and, since them, I have done many TV productions. But these two films together with Katharina have been the most interesting, the ones that have been a bigger challenge. For L’animale she had a larger budget and it was a larger project than her debut film, and it has been my best role with a difference, because it introduced a long preparation process. I am very grateful for the opportunity. We were present at the Special Panorama of the Berlinale, which meant visibility to many people of the international film industry, and that is very relevant for my career.
Would you like to repeat this collaboration?
Of course I would like to work with her again, but I am currently attending an acting school in Germany. We’ll see what the future brings. I also think it is good that we both follow our paths and then we can meet again in the future with more experience.