KONIGSBERG – Interview with Philipp Mayrhofer – “It’s not about giving the right answers but certainly about asking the right questions.”

Imagine

Esthetically enchanting, with a great appetite for retro-pastoral colors and dream-like settings, KONIGSBERG is a charming „existentialist” tragicomedy, reminding of the absurd humor, the melancholic reflexivity and the painterly aesthetics of Roy Anderson’s cinema, however remaining innerly personal, fresh and provoking. Deeply poetized, KONIGSBERG is daringly worth-watching film, with a rare dry humor: a swirling vertigo of the self. Philipp Mayrhofer, the director of the film, was born in South Tyrol, Italy, but is currently based in Vienna and Paris and this is a brief journey into his beliefs, paths and aspirations as a filmmaker.

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Ioana Mischie: You studied philosophy in Vienna and Paris. What motivated you to approach filmmaking? And moreover, how does your philosophic background influence the type of cinema you believe in?

Philipp Mayrhofer: During my studies I was offered to work as an interpreter on a documentary film, this was the first time I came in touch with an actual film crew. I saw the director working and was surprised how easy it looked. After the shooting, I was convinced that I had seen enough to direct my own film and I invested my pay in a video camera. I even managed to get a research grant to visit Papua New Guinea, where I shot my first footage for a documentary about Bronislaw Malinowski’s Diaries. Back in Europe and in the screening room, it was a catastrophe: my images where useless, none lasted longer than a couple of seconds, and there was no way to create a sequence out of the random shots and interviews. Witnessing the editors despair with my footage was my first lesson in filmmaking but it was an even bigger one in humility. It took me a couple of years and journeys to finish the film and I learnt a lot in the process. It was a rather inglorious adventure but still, it was fun and a lot more fun then my work at the university. I understood that it was a more social and interesting way to express myself than in texts that only a handful of people would read. Having studied philosophy this certainly influences the way I approach cinema, but I would rather say that it was similar questions that led me to studying philosophy and that now motivate my filmmaking: questions surrounding biographical and psychological ideas, about the constitution of experience and the influence of the past and future expectations to an individual’s present consciousness. Filmmaking and philosophy have at least one thing in common: it’s not about giving the right answers but certainly about asking the right questions.

Ioana Mischie: Mr. Konigsberg is a protagonist who seems to have it all, but in fact he has only his mysterious conscience. What was your inspiration in choosing and developing this specific character?

Philipp Mayrhofer: The basis for the script started with the idea of this character. It was about a man who lost his faith in life, who fills his days with mundane tasks and routines and confuses, as any good neurotic, important things and banalities.  Since he does not take his life seriously anymore, he can’t take his death seriously either. The chance of a unique hunting success is enough to stop or maybe postpone his suicidal plan. I tried to imagine where this person would work, how he lives, how his family would look etc. and slowly this strange nostalgic universe came into life. I am a big fan of Blake Edward’s art direction and it was an inspiration for these widescreen shots, where the things surrounding the character permanently over challenge him.

Ioana Mischie: How did you work with the main actor in order to achieve a performance which combines both drama and humor?

Philipp Mayrhofer: I knew that it would be easier to get a comedian to play seriously than a dramatic actor to become funny. Paul Bandey is an extremely talented actor and he understood that the more seriously he acted the funnier it would be. We had a few repetitions to find the right “Königsberg” attitude but I could trust Paul’s great sense of timing. I knew that in the context of the movie even him doing nothing, just starring into the forest would have a comical force.

Ioana Mischie: In this realistic fairytale, the superlatives lead to unexpected consequences: happiness and fulfillment are just an early stage of melancholy, hunting is more a therapy than a hobby, and family means rather solitude, than togetherness. You seem to rather play with contrasts a lot, without giving any axiomatic answer, although this second option is much harder to achieve. What was the most difficult challenge that you witnessed while shooting this short film?

Philipp Mayrhofer: Thank you for these kind words. As simple as it sounds, it was the lack of time. We had 6 days of shooting and our locations were quite distant. I realized that in a feature film, time is the most precious thing. My ambitions where far bigger then my experience and getting a satisfactory shot, was not something I could achieve quickly. My Director of Photography, the very talented Marc Gomez del Moral works extremely precisely. Together we made my first AD very nervous because of the overtime we inflicted on everybody. Thankfully the team was very patient and tolerant and, as they told me at the end, even willing to work with me again.

Ioana Mischie: “Metti una sera a cena” performed by Florinda Bolkan remained in my mind as remarkable leitmotif,  it seemed the pulse of the character himself. What is the story of the music of the film? How did you choose it, what input did it bring to the already established structure of the film?

Philipp Mayrhofer: My producer is a big vinyl collector. I told him what type of music I was looking for and he came up with a long list of sad songs with female voices that Königsberg could have listened to and that would link him somehow to his past. Together with the dedication on the vinyl I wanted to give a hint to the viewer regarding the possibility that Königsberg once had another life, maybe not  a better, but a different one. A part from his obvious nostalgic mood and melancholic, introspective lyrics, Florinda Balkan sings Italian with a Brazilian accent. Königsberg speaks French with an English accent and it indicates that both, metaphorically speaking, do not totally belong to where they are. In addition to the fact that it is a Morricone Cover, it became a perfect match! I used the other song, a track of Fleetwood mac, for a similar purpose. I liked the idea of using music that could be very illustrative for the mood but that finally does not match the character: “Man of the world” is a melancholic but very cool song. Königsberg might be as melancholic as the singer but he’s everything else but a cool rock-star. Adding this song to his character opens a comical gap that I found at the same time charming and ironic.

Ioana Mischie: Konigsberg was your first short fiction film, after directing two documentaries. How did this experience change your experience towards filmmaking and with which type of filmmaking you are feeling more comfortable?

Philipp Mayrhofer: As a documentary filmmaker I was used to being in charge of almost everything and it was difficult to give up my reflexes. When I tried to figure out the available voltage on a new set, I had to be told off and sent back to the actors, saying that three electricians and their interns are sufficient to do the job. At the beginning, I was really scared to let things go: the set design, the props and the costumes. But soon, I realized that the propositions of my collaborators where much better then my own and that their work was an essential contribution to the success of the film. At the end, this type of collaborative work was the best experience I ever had and now I’m worried imagining my next documentary project and the “loneliness in the field” that goes with it.

More about KONIGSBERG.

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