Regie, Regie-Assistenz, Drehbuch, Kostümbild, Schnitt, Sonstiges
Johannesburg, Südafrika

Ways to Freedom

Portrait of director Pia Marais, German Films Quarterly 3/2011

It’s her characters’ disquiet and irritation that interest  Pia Marais – she has no desire to actually cure them.

Stevie is a "little girl lost" in the middle of Germany. She may be only 14, but she needs to find her own way, as her parents are no help whatsoever. Pia Marais’ full-length film debut "Die Unerzogenen" ("The Unpolished") is a strange story: a coming-of-age tale set between drugs and parties, sex and a society based on egoism; a sensitive and subtle film about the daughter of late hippies who still refuse to settle in the petit-bourgeois establishment. "To some extent, I suppose my film is autobiographical," she remarked at that time. "The basic idea was to describe the conditions of my earlier life, a day in my childhood. It could have become a comedy, but I wanted to express seriousness with my images as well."

Pia Marais is a very unusual director. She does not present bourgeois conditions like many of her contemporaries, but portrays a dangerous life with no firm foundation; women who are seeking to find themselves either because they have lost that foundation or have never known it. And it is always a matter of what society does to people: in "Die Unerzogenen"  Stevie encounters curiosity and fascination, but they soon turn to the disgust of a child’s instinctive narrow-mindedness.

"Die Unerzogenen" is an extremely intense work, filmed with a feverish camera, panning in a searching, hesitant and nonetheless highly confident way through Stevie’s life, almost like a collector. The colors are reminiscent of old photographs, and although the action takes place in the present day, one repeatedly feels oneself transported back to the unfamiliar territory of the past. It is an unpolished film in the very best sense: unrefined, sometimes rough, always intense. And at the same time, this is a very mature work, which won the Tiger Award in Rotterdam.

Her second feature film, "Im Alter von Ellen" ("At Ellen’s Age"), was a psycho-thriller of a very different kind – about liberation that went along with abandonment of the bourgeois, even a turn to the wild. From one minute to the next, Ellen leaves her former life behind her and travels on a journey through modern life, armed with only one suitcase and her flight attendant’s uniform. She moves as if in a trance – first through the professional world of traveling businessmen who have suddenly got lost between meetings and hope to find themselves again at depressing parties in hotel rooms. Then she meets up with a group of left-wing activists, opponents of globalism and animal experimentation, and tries out new ways of life with them, but she is equally unsuccessful there. In the end, Ellen lands in Africa, and so the whole film can be interpreted as a modern fairy-tale about a woman who has been put under a spell. "'Im Alter von Ellen' could be the continuation of 'Die Unerzogenen', featuring Stevie 30 years later," Marais suggests. To date, she has written both of her own screenplays in cooperation with Horst Markgraf.

In all this, it is also possible to discern signs of a movement away from the bourgeois, a search for the forgotten hopes and dreams of our civilization, and an equally sad and mildly ironic swan song to the decline of the West, which betrayed all its promises of freedom and happiness long ago. And there is a Rousseau-inspired grand tour of alienation, which leads to the same "Heart of Darkness" in the end as Coppola’s "Apocalypse Now", albeit in a very different way.

Everything is open at the end, but it could also be interpreted as emptiness. This outstanding film is a philosophical work, certainly, but it is also an ill-bred, anti-academic film that remains permanently unpredictable, very bold and experimental, and again includes great scenes with animals – an ape, hundreds of hens, cats and dogs – which seem most full of life, most free; their behavior seems to mirror that of the human beings. It is a film of great openness with dry humor and dialogue, full of minor dirty moments and considerable magic. Pia Marais examines possible ways of living and seems to be more interested in her characters’ disquiet and irritation than in treating or even curing them.

In the meantime, Marais has started work on the screenplay for a new project: "It is about fear and paranoia, about the privatization of security, which I think is terrible. I wanted to look at this theme years ago, but I had a feeling that it was the wrong time to do it. The film is very different from the first two, insofar as this one is a genre film which is primarily about the tension before the truth comes out."

Author: Rüdiger Suchsland

Source: German Films Service & Marketing GmbH