In German filmmaker AKIZ’s coming-of-age horror film, a teenage girl makes a tangible connection with a strange creature from her dreams, awakening her true identity. AFI FEST presented by Audi spoke with AKIZ about the film.
AFI: Were there any films or filmmakers that inspired DER NACHTMAHR?
AKIZ: There are plenty of filmmakers I truly adore. But none of their films have been a direct influence on DER NACHTMAHR. At least I was not aware of that while I was working on this film. Looking back at DER NACHTMAHR, I can see some influences from E.T., which was a film I saw when I was a kid. Some say DER NACHTMAHR is like E.T. on acid. SPRING BREAKERS and IT FOLLOWS came out when we already had picture lock in the editing room, and I haven’t even seen IT FOLLOWS yet.
My greatest filmmaker role models are David Lynch, Gaspar Noé, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Werner Herzog, Chris Cunningham and Stanley Kubrick.
Not to give too much away, but there’s an element of “creature design” in this film.
The creature was basically the first idea I had for this project. The idea was to build a mixture between a very old man and a fetus. In the beginning, I did not want to do a feature film but just a solid statue in concrete. I thought if you consider life as a circle, you just have to connect the beginning (the fetus) to the end (the old man). The result is this strange creature — a mixture of both, old and young. Later on I thought it would be just great to put this creature into a film.
There is a lot of guessing and discussing what the creature stands for, or what it symbolizes. Some say it’s an incarnation of a symbol of bulimia (fat belly, Tina throws up, it is constantly eating, Tina is feeding him junk food, etc.); some others see the fear of an abortion or an involuntary pregnancy. Some think it represents Hades, the god who guides the living to the realm of the dead.
It was always important to me to keep the interpretation open to the audience so everybody could come up with their own interpretation. For me, the creature was always something that appears between two different worlds. He is like a doorman, like a Fata Morgana that appears in the space between the ground and hot air. He never sleeps but at the same time he never seems to be really awake.
Tell us about the intense audio and visual elements to your film.
Well, that’s just the music these kids are listening to today in Berlin. Also there are frequencies and sounds that put you in a transcendent state of mind as a viewer. It was important to me to get the audience into a mood that opens them up to a story that can be explored intuitively instead of rationally. These electronic frequencies helped a lot to guide the audience through this surreal inner landscape of [main character] Tina.
People always talk about the heavy impact of this soundtrack — I guess because a warning in the beginning of the film is pointing to it. But unfortunately they forget the subtle and sensitive ambient score that can be heard throughout the whole film. It was very important to me to have these soft and tender elements in this film, in the story as well as in the music.
What was the shooting experience like for your incredible leading lady?
Caro [Carolyn Genzkow] is just amazing. It was her first appearance on the big screen. Even though she has been in the film business for quite some time she never played a leading part in a feature. Nobody knows why, because she is a natural. We never really did excessive rehearsals or discussions about her character. She read it and instantly picked up what it’s about, whereas other actresses simply tried to pull off this quite boring scream-queen thing. Which was nothing that interested me at all. I was always looking for some kind of acting that was truthful and authentic — which is extremely hard to achieve when you deal as an actor with a gargoyle-like creature made out of rubber foam.
DER NACHTMAHR screens at AFI FEST 2015 on November 8 and 10.