“… A person deprived of legal status is further denied his voice and image”: Philipp Scheffner and Merle Krager at the debut Berlinale in Europe

Europe (Photo: Zohra Traumwohnung, © Grandfilm)

World premiere in the Forum section (February 13) this year BerlinalePhilip Shefner Europe this work is both simple and complex, as its title might suggest. “Europe” is the name of a bus stop in Europe (particularly in the small French town of Chatellerault), where the main character Zohra, an Algerian citizen, travels from her home to work on sorting used clothes in NGOs – running to the warehouse, as well as to various doctor’s appointments and physiotherapy receptions – first of all the reason of her arrival to France.

Fortunately, many surgeries and treatments for her debilitating scoliosis have now paid off, as she can finally stand up straight and painlessly. Fortunately, as a result of “healing” Zohra no longer has the right to stay, she was coldly and bureaucratically denied an extension of residence permit. And that’s despite her legitimate work, the many family members living nearby, and the family reunification visa she was waiting for to bring her husband Hosin to join her.

And the fact that she is not there, she becomes an invisible state – as well as a director who ingeniously cuts Zohra out of the frame for most of the film, if she loses the right to be recognized. But even here the abstract metaphor meets a harsh reality; Zohru is played by Rome Ibrir, whose own life story is almost identical to the story of her character. Indeed, what began as a documentary ended in a disturbing work of “state fiction.”

That’s why Director especially sought to catch up with the German director (whose Talk also played at the Berlinale in 2016) and his co-author Merle Krager to learn all about work in a genre provoked by a government they were never going to create.

Director: So how exactly did “state fiction” affect the composition of the film? Why did you manage to make a short story and not a publicist film?

Scheffner and Krager: In 1999, we created a themed evening for ARTE called “Kein Mensch ist illegal”. Since then, we have been constantly working with the idea that a person deprived of legal status is even more denied in voice and image. It has very limited freedom of representation. Very few people in this position can take open action.

For most, like Zohri, fiction or a fictional future becomes a space of sustainability. In a journalistic film, we would be forced to bypass this situation of invisibility, constantly facing the risk of being “revealed”. Thus, we, like Zohra, felt that fiction was a way to focus on the key points of the situation faced by Rome Ibr.

Director: Shortly after we encountered Zohra, she literally disappears from the frame, which made me wonder if Rome was deported and so you had to shoot around her. But then suddenly Zohra appears again, and the others disappear. So was this (almost theatrically staged) design an aesthetic decision or a circumstantial one?

Scheffner and Krager: For us, a random decision always causes or provokes any aesthetic decision. Political cinema is not just about working on a specific topic, but also finding the only cinematic language that is suitable for that particular film.

The main team of Europe, including Rome Ibri, worked together to create this language. Philip wanted to create a screen reality in which the cinematic space reflects the political reality: the camera watches as Zohra is literally deviated from his place in society. Boundaries have been drawn that massively limit the scope of action of interested people and place them in the space of social fiction. In the third part, Zohra conquers this cinematic space – which is certainly similar to the theater stage – and turns the angle, so that viewers are left with questions of what is real and what is fiction. Therefore, as in all our films, we try to use the cinematic space between the screen and the audience as a place of negotiation, a proposal to question our own position as a spectator.

Director: To what extent did Rome participate in the production? Did she really help develop the script? And was it convenient for her to watch real situations in front of the camera? How much “reality” was there for her too?

Scheffner and Krager: Rhim was involved in all stages of production. From a previous movie Talk we had documentaries with Rome. Conversations in the park, situations in the kitchen, walks around the neighborhood. In the process, Philip learned a lot about her biography – the place in France where she lives, her friends and family. It was a very tense meeting.

We were fascinated by her presence in front of the camera. So after the release we asked her if she would like to work together on another film based on her story. We all went to Chatellerault many times to work on the script; and get to know the suburb of Ozone, which stretches from the residential area of ​​”Europe”, where the Roman family lives.

Gradually, when we started working with Rome, other people from the community joined the project. So the script moved on with research and rehearsals. Before filming we had three intense rehearsals, rewriting the script at night. Thus, Rome step by step began to grow into the role of Zohra. Rome appropriated this space of fiction, conquered it. She filled him with new facets of herself. Rome became Zohra, and both influenced and changed each other – the transitions between film and reality blurred.

For example, Rome describes the scene in which she goes to the prefecture, and realizes that she has actually lost her legal status as the biggest problem. This scene – which she went through and went through as if you were slowly climbing a very high mountain and suddenly found yourself thrown to the ground – she wanted to perform as convincingly as possible. So she forced herself to return emotionally to this traumatic situation.

Director: What impact did the film have on Rome’s life, including its legal status in Europe?

Scheffner and Krager: The fact that Rome can come to Berlin today to present its film at the Berlinale shows one difference. The film officially creates a working relationship, and the work creates a different status regarding your residence permit in Europe.

But in reality the impact is much more elementary. As Rome explains, through the film she had a chance to return to the life described in the first part – the part that seems to us the most “naturalistic”. Before and during the filming of the “artificial” reality, as shown in later parts of the film, very much describes the reality she was experiencing.

Director: There is a strong irony in the fact that Zohra overcomes physical pain through French medical intervention – and thus loses the right to stay in France, which in turn causes her emotional trauma. The state gives and takes away. So you look Europe as a concrete activist film – a call to change certain government policies?

Scheffner and Krager: Yes, of course. There is a clear requirement in the film: this is what “give and take” Europe must rethink. The right to “give and take” has been the rule of the ruler for centuries. This is colonial thinking that we still cannot or do not want to give up. If decolonization is a serious political affair, it should start here. And, by the way, this is relevant for film production – and “give and take” cultural production.

“… A person deprived of legal status is further denied his voice and image”: Philipp Scheffner and Merle Krager at the debut Berlinale in Europe

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