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Amina Handke

An old woman fumbles for words, and endlessly repeats the same sentences: she has lost the ability to speak. Amina Handke adapts Kaspar, a play written by her father in 1967, on the well-known case of Kaspar Hauser, a wild child who had to learn how to speak. What differs though is that here the child has been replaced by the director’s mother, through a gender and age-group switch. Another twist is that instead of being embodied on stage, the voice is now recorded and edited to the shots. Amina Handke accumulates situations: a forest stroll with a donkey evocative of Balthazar, the play captured anew on stage… At the core of all this lies a pivotal question: what are the links between language and society, language and identity?

Nathan Letoré

Supported by the Austrian Cultural Forum

Your film is an adaptation, or maybe rather a transposition, of your father’s play Kaspar, which is concerned with language. How did this project originate ? 

In the nineties I was working on a set design for the play — which dates from 1967 — and during rehearsals I had the thought that my mother would be perfect for the main character. At some other point I thought it would be a great idea to unite my parents’ artistic work with mine. Since many years I’ve been working on topics of (shared) authorship and the myth of the artist: this construction of the solitary genius creating art works (almost) without influences or support. I grew up with two artist parents and it seemed to me that artists’ children mostly emancipate by taking pseudonyms and simultaneously should do something artistic themselves. I want to debunk the ideology that creativity originates from the individual: art and creativity (and everything else) are essentially based on the inspiration and influence of others, the world around and before us, be it good or bad. Only later did I realize that there is a relation to the main character of Kaspar Hauser, a legendary « enfant sauvage » who seemed to have appeared out of nowhere, without any relatives. 

You also decided to change the main role from a young man to an older woman, played by your mother. Why this modification ? How did you work with your actress ? 

That’s because I had the aforementioned idea and wanted the script to fit my mother, but simultaneously show a main character representing a general human being. In the past, this general person used to be a man, so why not an older woman for a change? They still are condemned to invisibility. As I knew that my mother is a pro and how she works, I wanted to give her the best possible working conditions: as little pressure and as much freedom as possible. Which of course is not so easy with a small budget, but a big advantage with a small and great team. 

Without revealing too much, you decide to suddenly have your opening credits in the middle of the film, which then opens subtly new directions for it. Why this structure ? What role did the editing play in structuring the film, with regards to the images and the text ? 

There are many thoughts behind the editing, maybe too many at times. I wanted the titles to seem random, as a surprise. Like when (older) people get confused about the perception of time. It just happened randomly to be in the middle of the movie, too, as it was one of several moments that the main character might die. The is how the play is built: you think it’s over at least three times, and then it begins anew at some other point. 

Your character is shown addressing her musings about language on stage, in private settings, in clinical settings, in the wilderness to a donkey… Why this multiplication of settings and contexts ? What role did settings play in the way you conceived and planned the shooting ? 

An important point for me was to « translate » the ideas of the play into cinema, one of which was to question and negate the illusion of naturalistic setting and storytelling. The play uses many quotes and references and does not follow any obvious narrative. So I decided to leave the play’s text in its original chronology, even though I shortened it extremely. And to combine it with my own imaginary odyssey through an imagery of quotations (e.g. the donkey as one of the most symbolic creatures of non-human language in a film about language “ not only Balthasar, but all those before him or her“ or the costume as reference to King Kong, King Lear or Marlene Dietrich). All the settings and persons can be interpreted in multiple ways – memories, dreams or whatever you like. I wanted the spectators to have enough room to follow their own thoughts and memories. That’s also why the movie seems so long at times – and of course because the play fiddles with that edge as well. 

Interview by Nathan Letoré

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Technical sheet

Austria / 2022 / 85’

Music: Sabine Marte, Oliver Stotz
Casting: Libgart Schwarz, Helga Illich, Caroline Peters

Production: Amina Handke (FAD)