Andreas and Stefan lead a happy and passionate life: Together with their beloved tomcat Moses, they live in a beautiful old house in Vienna’s vineyards. They work as a musician and as a scheduler in the same orchestra and they love their large circle of friends. An unexpected and inexplicable outburst of violence suddenly shakes up the relationship and calls everything into question – the blind spot that resides in all of us.
You did not aspire to such a bond. But then, a stray cat comes your way, and it just hap pens. Suddenly, you communicate with a sensitive, wilful creature, whose nature is “alien” to you, who certainly experiences the world differently than you do, with needs mostly unknown to you, who speaks to you primarily through its behaviour – it is al ways touching, thrilling, often challenging too. How and what does an animal feel, dream, expect, think… fear, scent, know, re member, guess? After caressing its soft and comforting fur, a strange look appears on the animal’s face.
ADAM UND ADAM
The sense of the unexplainable that appeared between Andreas and Stefan – Stefan’s action, which is unfathomable to himself – will not simply dissipate. In such a case, psychotherapists talk of impulse control dis order – but where do impulses come from?
A blind spot, remnants of an unspeakable un predictability lurk inside of me, an exiguous black hole without morals, without con science, without sympathy, without mercy – the possibility of a brutality that can break loose under certain circumstances. And still our lives also depend upon decisions. Then one moment leads to reconciliation, and a bad tree is cut down for firewood.
WITH KARIN SCHIEFER, AFC
KARIN SCHIEFER: The film opens with a series of paintings from the 1930s, which are today in the ORF Funkhaus in Vienna. What was the appeal of these pictures as the opening sequence for TOMCAT? Were the density contained in the momentary image of a painting and the contemplation that can be associated with it in some ways program- matic for the narrative and visual language of this film?
HÄNDL KLAUS: These wall paintings are in the orchestra rehearsal room there, which
is an important place for the main characters. When we first went to view the location it was as though we had been invited into their world, because unexpectedly we discovered several scenes from the screenplay there, a series of small, idyllic views: the ballgame, the dance, two innocent, naked boys at a lake with a sailing boat, and even a group of deer… As well as that, these paintings in earthy colors are associated with our main location, a beautiful house in Hernals that was designed by an American architect of that period. So we used four sections from the paintings as a kind of overture, interwoven with pieces of music that are important later in the film for carrying the action, when the orchestra is rehearsing Ravel and Schubert, or when Stephan listens to Bach in a desperate mood and Andreas listens to the Intimate Letters by Janáček.
When we look for thematic links with your first full-length feature film, MARCH, as well
as the sensations of loss and mourning there is also something unexplained and inexplic- able in TOMCAT, a huge question mark, an unsolved puzzle beneath the surface. Does that get to the heart of the subjects that preoccupy you?
Yes, I think I just have to keep on pounding away at that. Because I can’t explain our existence – and I don’t have the comfort of a religion. But this being together, which you can’t actually escape from, whether you want to or not… that’s basically all we have, a blessing and a curse. I just sense how pre carious it all is. How little it really takes to shatter everything. And that you always look for something to hold on to – even if it is only, for example, when Stefan asks about the grave. Not knowing the place where you can grieve – which makes everything a possible place for grieving, the whole house – that’s the worst punishment possible for him. That is why the dead fawn in the forest was so important, which he covers with a branch as if finding some consolation there.
The themes addressed within in a village community and a family in MARCH are focused on an intimate relationship between two people in TOMCAT. As if another layer or level had been removed in your explora- tion of what it is that brings two people together and keeps them there.
That really is the driving force with me. I’m surrounded by so much that’s threatening. It’s inside me as well: what exactly is lurking in there? Why do I so often feel ashamed? What is the origin of my shame? I have brought down mountains of guilt
“I was looking for something gentle and warm, which is why
I wrote the dialogue in Viennese dialect.”
upon myself. Is that what makes me so distrustful? Although sometimes it’s transformed into the complete opposite. That’s what’s so amazing. That I suddenly experience unspeak able tenderness for people I felt uneasy about for a long time. Like a sudden under standing, a liberating sense of indulgence. All this preoccupies me a lot. And the way I myself am changing. What happens to me over the years. In terms of my sexuality alone, it seems to me that I have experienced at least four great metamorphoses. How it’s all so fluid.
The tomcat, Moses, is a channel of communication between these two men: they’re both devoted to it with the same intensity. I believe you yourself are very close to a tomcat. Could you say something about the bond that can arise with an animal? What strength and what significance it can have.
The point is that you never know with com plete certainty where you are – how that other being really feels; after all, it can’t ar ticulate itself in my language, even though it’s skilled at imitation and employing sound patterns, so it can “speak” in a complaining or demanding way. I have to develop a dif ferent way of being attentive, I’m constantly in the process of interpreting the situation – but there’s a huge opportunity for misun derstanding, and a whole host of things are accepted because of our mutual relation ship, although in fact it’s more “alien” than I would like. Nevertheless, there is a bond of trust between us: this tomcat seeks me out, and I’m clearly the being he most closely relates to.
Stefan and Andreas are united by music but also by the natural world, the garden, food. They appear to be anchored to the world by basic elements?
Yes that’s right, fundamental things. The things you reach for, that link you to life in the sense of being alive but also signify life themselves and provide comfort in the state of having been thrown into the world. Music above all. Because it’s the language of things that cannot be spoken, it can approach these things most closely, and for Andreas and Stefan it’s also literally work: a life with music is hard. It’s also associated with nakedness. Physical proximity as well – and with Andreas and Stefan sex is only ever ini tiated after contact with the “outside world”, which apparently functions as a catalyst: after having lasagna with friends from the orchestra, after the summer party, after the concert… And literature is important, the wide variety of voices in the bookshelf. While we were filming we often deliberately placed books out of the shot, under the bed. It seemed to me that would have some sort of effect; for example, Der nackte Soldat by Belmen O, or Jacques Derrida’s animal book L’animal que donc je suis. And Angelika Reitzer’s novel Unter uns established a link back to MARCH; that was also a tribute to Angelika. In a longer version there’s also a poem by Lorca, about a cry that cracks the wind like a viola bow, and the two of them also share an interest in Spanish, in the rich ness of a foreign language.
The relationship between the two men is contrasted with the orchestra, as a powerful collective force. And whether it’s the cat or the orchestra, it seems that the internal com- ponent of the relationship between two people can’t exist and be maintained without an external component. What role do you assign the orchestra?
It’s a special place with rules of its own, which is familiar to me from writing libretti; I have several musicians among my close friends. I’m fascinated by how hard this work is – and it carries on at home; they all practice for several hours even in their “spare time”, because there is so much pressure to play as well as possible. It’s also interesting as a community with so many fine dis tinctions between the individuals, subgroups and networks, and sometimes – if the con ductor is difficult and the program is hard – it feels like a group of people subjected to the same fate. On the other hand, there’s a relaxed and playful attitude, and people really do play football together; everybody lets their hair down after the concert. And you get all sorts of nationalities: with us there were Japanese, Dutch, German people; our friends included Aileen from Ireland, Anaïs and Violaine from France, Anders from Sweden, even Johannes from Tyrol, and of course there was the Russian Vladimir; he and Lorenz form the second couple in the film, who keep their relationship secret at first. They are like a mirror image of Andreas and Stefan, because in their case too one of them stands by the other even though it’s difficult or almost impossible in a way. But love is stronger, even though that’s only touched upon in a few scenes; at the crucial moment it’s something Andreas and Stefan also realize. That was very important to me; I certainly didn’t want to lose it. Apart from that, the orchestra can also provide a supportive environment; when the adren aline level rises before the concert, and outside on the football pitch, there’s an at mosphere of affection that not only com forts Stefan but really strengthens him. When he experiences this support I think it genu inely changes his image of himself: it gives him something, belief in himself, and it comes from this group. Although nobody would even mention it. We were so lucky with the weather: we were praying for rain, and it rained! There we were, standing in the Schutzhaus in the light of dawn, with the cold bowling alley as a dressing room, and then we went out into the clearing… We were incredibly lucky with the RSO, the Radio Symphony Orchestra, in general. Firstly, we were able to use a gap in their schedule, which we called the “Chinese window”, be cause a tour of China had been cancelled. Otherwise it would never have worked out with the time! I was really worried about the huge machinery of the orchestra, but from the very start everybody was open, trusting and accommodating. And working with the individual musicians who played the friends of the main characters was wonderful. They were musical in every sense of the word.
“Nevertheless, there is a bond of trust between us.”
In the first section the film takes the time to depict the main characters at home, in a safe atmosphere, with intimacy and sexuality slowly mounting. It does this in a long series of relaxed shots leading to a dance of love where bodies, music, movement and painting merge into a whole. What issues are you together with Gerald Kerkletz addressing here in terms of the total composition?
We wanted to “breathe” with the three of them, the two people and the cat, wanted them to have as much space as possible for themselves but at the same time also be close. Gerald, who was at all the rehearsals with the actors from the very beginning – and was also at my side whenever it came to dramaturgic issues – showed me some re hearsal footage in 2.39:1 Cinemascope. It’s a format I’d never thought of, because I didn’t associate it with closeness, which Gerald created in any case. It also gave us the op portunity to be close to the people in all the group scenes with their friends, without the need for a number of shots with differ ent focal length, and to see the people and the cat together. Later, during the period when Stefan and Andreas are hardly seen together, this also “gave voice” to the emptiness in the garden, and the house, with all the white ness. In the first part we were consciously placing slightly exaggerated emphasis on everyday life so that the catastrophe would really break through when you weren’t expecting it because you had become familiar with the everyday situation. And we wanted a sort of mature closeness to be present in everyday life, also as a result of the naked ness that is possible in the first part, before the two of them are expelled from Paradise. That was a big question: how should we depict that nakedness? We certainly didn’t want to exhibit it: we wanted it just to be there. So first we looked for well crafted examples from films we liked – as well as bad examples – and we showed them to the actors, who would have to trust us, to see where that journey could end up. The import ant thing was this gift from Gerald, his sensitivity and instinctive certainty that make him not just a cameraman but a director of photography.
“It’s inside me as well: what exactly is lurking in there? Why do I so often feel ashamed? What is the origin of my shame? I have brought down mountains of guilt upon myself.”
In the second part you find an incredibly intense language of mourning, to capture the pain at the loss of someone beloved and the question of guilt which, in the final analysis, remains one of the great mysteries of this film. To what extent was working with the two leading actors – Lukas Turtur and Philipp Hochmair – also part of this creative process?
Time was everything. Of course I prepare down to the smallest detail, but something unexpected always develops from the en counter itself, the performance by the actors is exciting, and I go into search mode. Then I just keep calm for a while and lose myself a little, get into a state of less selfcontrol – but in a protected sphere – just as the actors do. And you need time so as to stay patient. It was the first leading role that Lukas had played; I knew him from the stage, where he’d acted in a play I wrote, and there he had a sort of profound vulnerability which is what I was looking for in Stefan. In front of the camera he has the curious gift of tipping over into a transparently concentrated state – and on top of that, he’s very musical and even plays the horn. Clearly it helped that he had played the clarinet since he was 15, but the lip position, the fingering, the stance, the breathing – that was all new territory. We had Christoph Walder as our coach, which was another stroke of luck. And I had been friends with Philipp for almost exactly the same length of time, since I saw him in Sarah Kane’s Cleansed, which was brilliant. We’d always wanted to do something together, and we’d been thinking of a play until suddenly TOMCAT came up. Philipp’s instinct is in credible, and he can also be transparent in his acting. During the casting sessions the two of them were a thrilling couple from the very start, and they made me think: “I’d like to see these two working together more closely”. I was really keen to discover how it would be. It was like a release, because the casting procedure was long and fairly complex, since the famous chemistry had to be just right.
What were the crucial criteria during the auditions for the leading actors?
Above all the speaking voice: I was looking for something gentle and warm, which is why I wrote the dialogue in Viennese dialect: I also felt Bavarian could be appropriate, and that’s how it worked out, with Lukas Turtur from Munich. But unfortunately a stipulation like that severely restricts the potential field; I did try with great actors from Cologne and Berlin, but each time it sounded off the mark, out of tune, fundamen tally wrong. And then the first question I had to ask was whether the actor could handle being naked. Actually I really underesti mated this point, because an astonishing number of people are afraid of that – even actors, who surely work with their bodies as if they were instruments, which made me think it must be easier for them than it turned out in fact. But there was no way around it: Adam and Adam had to be naked in the Garden of Eden, and later the pain and alienation showed itself partly in the fact that this nakedness and intimacy was no longer possible.
“We wanted to ‘breathe’ with the three of them, the two people and the cat.”
What was it like working on the set with the four-legged protagonist?
We were like hunters or collectors. In other words: patience, patience, patience. And when we had run out, we had to have a little bit more patience. And again, and again. Of course, I love Toni, so my patience with him is endless. But for the rest of the team I’m afraid it really was extremely exhausting. After all, we had to make concrete decisions about each scene: do we stage the scene and establish a framework for Toni to behave, or do we run after him? Running after him definitely didn’t work. So we just had to be patient. But of course we were rewarded for this again and again – partly because Toni is a sociable chap at home, and he blossomed with the team. And weeks before we started filming I moved out to Hernals with him, to live in the house, and once we finished film ing each day his brother Tino was there for him to play with. I got both of them from an animal shelter, and now they live with me – and that’s a real stroke of luck. And together with Andi Winter and Gerald we had some Universum days: we called them that, because it was like filming an animal documentary with Toni as the protagonist, watching his life in the house and the garden, the way he marked out his territory, ate grass, caught mice, played and slept. There was a huge amount of material, and we only used a small part of it. Afterwards our Klaus Kellermann would come along with his boom and do the same thing for the sound, for days on end. We had to separate sound and picture, be cause Toni was so fascinated by the sound boom – it distracted him too much when he was out on his forays.
“With the couple dancing in silence, this creaking
is their accompaniment, their music.”
TOMCAT makes it very clear that a deep, emotional pain seizes hold of the body and permeates it. Filming the body – the bodies – seems to have been one of the major tasks in the camerawork here.
That’s something I find hard to describe; it was the same with Gerald when we filmed MARCH. It’s a matter of closeness at particu lar moments – feeling with the characters, breathing, living with them. I remember I was so grateful after the first take of All Blues, the love dance, for the way Gerald moved around with them – uncut it lasted almost 30 minutes – that I said I would like to take it all just the way it was. And he said, joking, he wasn’t doing anything:
the actors were panning towards him, not the other way around. Maybe that’s the best way of describing it: seen from the outside, it was three people dancing together at the same level, without any hierarchy, for themselves and for each other – and one of them hap pened to be holding a camera. The three of them were also alone in the room; the rest of the team, including the assistant camera man with the focus remote, were sitting in the next room with me in front of the monitor. But on top of the actual filming he has the complete ability to throw himself into a project right from the start – from a much earlier stage than usual, I think. We began to talk about TOMCAT right back when we were driving home from Tyrol, after the last day of filming MARCH. During the preparatory phases we spend days and weeks in intense conversation, and there are lists of books and films we work through together. And then we end up talking less and less, and on the set we hardly have to say anything; very often everything just feels right be tween us without needing to put it into words.
The film is clearly characterized by its rhythm and the music. A rhythm that’s not only dictated by ellipsis and omission but at other times by taking a great deal of time for cer- tain moments. How did the film develop, in editing and with the music, into an entirety?
Working with Joana was once again very fine; we are so much in synch – and after our experience on MARCH, there’s a confidence about what is being omitted. At some places in the script jump cuts had been specified, and with the four plates at the beginning and their music, which is cut drastically, you can hear that too. On the other hand there were islands, distinct in terms of resolution, when the decision was made to use uncut “real time”, for example at the turning points, and here the acting alone determines the rhythm of the film. And the sequences with Moses were quite an adventure in the editing room. We really had to take our time, trying some thing out, looking at it, losing track, getting back on track – all thanks to Joana’s in stinct. Then there was the separate world of the background sounds, which is crucial. We brought some touches of contamination to the house in Paradise and shifted it closer to the city with street noise that doesn’t actually exist up there. But the most impor tant sounds were in the house itself, the creaking of the old parquet floor. With the couple dancing in silence, this creaking is their accompaniment, their music.
“When he experiences this support I think it genuinely changes his image of himself.”
There is clearly biblical symbolism in the snake that destroys the two people’s innocent existence, and the tomcat as the “foundling” Moses in his basket. We’re dealing with expulsion from Paradise, but there is also the implication that Moses is a possible rescuer or savior.
Although it is Moses himself who brings the snake into the house – and Stefan, of all people, who makes a home for it from stones! The really biblical aspect of Moses is his nakedness – he does have his fur, but that’s his nature – and that corresponds to the people walking around the house naked in a state of innocence. But Moses has a mind of his own, and his own life.
The question of whether there can be recon- ciliation or healing is left open in TOMCAT. It becomes clear in one conversation towards the end of the film what it means to accept an- other person in his entirety. In that sense, more than MARCH, TOMCAT goes beyond the subject of grief and loss to become a film about love between two people since we also have references to various relationships within the orchestra.
That conversation is like a reorganization, a turning point. It’s when you face up to the situation and look at it together, deliberately discussing something that’s been bothering you and oppressing you for a long time – something that is crucial if you’re going to carry on living together. For a long time everyday matters just take precedence, and you go through the motions, but then it really does come down to decisive moments like that. And they just stop. The silhouette in the bath is one such moment, before glancing in the mirror – and on the grass in the garden, when Stefan comes back from the animal shelter. And there are external actions that can heal something: when the “wicked tree” is cut into little pieces for firewood I sigh with relief.