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Jaume Claret Muxart

A young man writes in a notebook on the riverbank as we hear a voiceover of phrases recited by his inner voice. The waters of the Danube flow majestically, like the words of Claudio Magris, whose alter ego the young man represents. The story begins when the wandering author decides to turn back and follow the river upstream to its mythical source, a tap left running in a house somewhere. The landscapes come one after another as we travel upstream, magnificent views made sensual by the use of 16mm. Everything, from Magris’ Danube to Die Donau, from text to image, seems to flow from the same source in the same wide, slow stream of beauty and intelligence. But the film quickly overflows these familiar banks to forge other, more singular relationships between the written word and the image. As though called by the writer’s voice, a young fugitive comes to meet him. First to himself, then facing the camera, he tells the story of his escape in a hallucinatory monologue, full of flashes and ellipses as if a film were being made in his head. It’s at the end of the story, when the book finds itself in the young runaway’s hands, that the movie reveals its true and enigmatic depths. Who writes, who speaks, who dictates and who listens? Is it possible, in contrast to the laziness of adaptation, to set off towards an older, more secret source, a source common to literature and film? With this deceptively wise film that shifts and shimmers like the surface of the river, Jaume Claret Muxart has set out on a journey.

Cyril Neyrat

Die Donau is a very original cinematic transposition of Claude Magris’ book Danube into the landscapes of southern Germany. 

What was the film’s starting point? The book? The landscapes?  

My writing often starts out from places; they inspire me to imagine the film’s structure and its tone. I’ve had a close relationship with the Danube ever since my childhood and a bicycle trip along the river with my family. It’s the subject of my first feature film, Strange River, which I’m currently organising the funding for. While I was writing the feature, one of my mentors from EQZE, Michel Gaztambide, recommended Magris’ book. I was captivated, fascinated, particularly by its density. The bits I liked the most were where Magris talks about his daily life when travelling, especially the myth of the griffon. There was a film there, very subtly inspired by these little fragments.  

Claudio Magris’ essay travels down the Danube, from its source to the sea. In your film, it’s the journey of the Fugitive character. The writer’s character makes the journey in the opposite direction, on a quest for the river’s mythical sources. Why the inversion? 

The Young Fugitive is a teenager emerging from his shell to discover a wider world, one that’s expanding and dizzying, like the Danube growing larger. What interested me was not for the two characters’ journeys to be parallel but rather that they meet at a certain point, they cross paths. This is where Magris’ myth about the Danube being born from a tap left running in a house comes in. But then the writer’s objective, this obsession that drives him to walk, would stem from the source of the river. So he has to walk upstream. 

In the middle of the story, the film suddenly changes in nature, shifting from a voiceover to a direct address from the Fugitive character, facing the camera. 

What motivated the choice of this cinematic register, to include a performance like that? 

On one hand, after my previous short, Ella i jo, which was very quiet with a few voiceovers, and the beginning of Die Donau in a voiceover, I wanted to work in-depth with an actor, on such a long and complex monologue. On the other hand, I thought that if a Fugitive is brave enough to talk to a stranger, it’s because he needs to express a lot of things he’s been keeping inside for a long time. So the words come out like disjointed images, snatches of words and incongruent memories without much linearity. In a poetic key, in perfect harmony with the monologue in front of the camera, influenced by Fassbinder.  

The writer’s character is played by Mario Sanz, the filmmaker (Zehn Minuten vor Mitternacht, FID 2022), and also Die Donau’s co-producer and sound engineer. What can you tell us about your relationship, and more generally, how the film was produced and how the crew came together? 

I’ve known Mario since the first year at EQZE. He and I changed a lot there, both personally and physically. One day, when Mario shaved his head, we were all amazed: a face emerged that the camera desired. Together with casting director Clara Rus, who is also assistant director, assistant sound engineer, colour corrector and Mario’s partner, we thought he was the perfect person for the role. Like Magris, Mario wants to learn about everything and gets enthusiastic about what he sees and doesn’t know. We had to have a very small film crew, which also influenced the decision to get Mario to do the sound recording. As Clara said, it was a good balance, with the actor being the one who demands and gets the most attention on a shoot, and the recordist, unfortunately, being the one who gets the least. Mario was also very much part of all the post-production aspects, and he has a relatively new company, Orna Cine. So it was a great opportunity for him to become co-producer. During the shoot in Germany, we were five in the car. For me, it’s very important that everyone is busy on set and that each person knows how to do several different things.  

Can you tell us about the other character, the Fugitive?

How did you develop the character? How did you choose the actor who plays him? 

We met Kevin during an audition organised in a German high school in San Sebastian. He was the first person we saw. Clara was astounded, but I had a few doubts. He was brilliant but we had to keep looking to explore other options. In the end, we saw thirteen other youngsters. One day, I began capturing images of Kevin’s audition video, trying to grasp all his facial gestures and reactions. I noticed that he naturally had a wide range of acting registers, and he looked straight into the camera. I don’t speak German so it was Kevin who translated the whole text in his own words. Our relationship was based on trust. I trusted his words, his rhythm, etc. I adjusted the details. And he improved everything right from the start.  

One thing both characters have in common is not being fluent in German, speaking with a strong accent. This altering of the language, which gives it a unique flavour, seems to be central to the film. What can you tell us about this approach? 

It’s a reaction to the encounter with Kevin. If we’d found an actor who spoke perfect German, it would have been different. But it suited the story – it’s logical that a young runaway speaks a language badly, and we don’t know where he’s from. It reinforces the impression of disorientation. And the writer, obviously, isn’t from there; he could be from Italy, Spain or Norway. There’s something beautiful about the fact that they don’t speak English when they meet, but instead this language they’re both learning. 

Interview by Cyril Neyrat.

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Technical sheet

Spain / 2022 / 18’

Original version: German
Subtitles: English
Script: Jaume Claret Muxart
Photography: Pablo Paloma
Editing: Maria Castan de Manuel
Sound: Mario Sanz, Oriol Campi
Cast: Mario Sanz, Kevin Espinosa

Production: Jaume Claret Muxart (Jaume Claret Muxart), Mario Sanz Fernández (Orna Cine), EQZE Elías Querejeta Zine Eskola (Elías Querejeta Zine Eskola), Nova Poc de Molt – (Nova Poc de Molt), Xavi Font Pijuan (F.Xavier Font Pijuan)
Contact: Pablo Menéndez (Marvin&Wayne Short Films)

Ella i jo (Her and I) / 2020 / 20 min (San Sebastian Film Festival, Rotterdam International Film Festival, FICUNAM, DocumentaMadrid…)