• GNCR Award  
  • International Competition


Ted Fendt

Back from a trip to New York City, Daniela pays a visit to her friend Mia in Berlin. Jetlag makes her insomnia even worse. Mia also has trouble sleeping, she is tired of “these empty days where nothing happens”. A few months later, Mia and Natasha go spend a few idle days at Daniela’s apartment in Vienna.
Their unproductive spleen is at odds with the Dantean passion that drove the characters of Classical Period (FID 2019). Outside Noise is the reverse shot of that film. What may seem like a careless stroll at first is in fact dark and anxious underneath. Actually, that very tension between latent anxiety and plain casualness is what makes this Stimmungfilm beautiful. The dialogues, written by the director and her actresses, spin the tight web of self fiction on which the three young women get trapped. Deciding whether to have some tea or not, to finish a Master dissertation or not, to visit such-and-such museum in cities that blend into the same dreariness – in this sad comedy of equivalence, existence itself seems to come down to playing tourist in limbo, and going in circles to the sound of outside noise. Through the mesh of the character study emerges a portrait of our times, a “deferred time”, after the title of a poem by Ingeborg Bachmann that Daniela might read next autumn; right now, it just feels beyond her. As the poem says, it is time for us to act, to shake ourselves up, because “harder days are coming”. But the women are tired, and the men are either obnoxious or annoying. Mischievously disguised as a cosmopolitan and multilingual tourist guide, Ted Fendt teaches Mia the Charleston, but it probably won’t solve the problem. Admittedly, it is not a
tragedy, but in the beautiful epilogue to the film, a question arises, punctuating this tender slide and allowing a sense of bitter nostalgia to linger – is a fantastic, heroic life even possible in an uneventful Europe?

(Cyril Neyrat)

Interview with Ted Fendt

Your previous films take place in the American suburban milieu, particularly in Philadelphia where you grew up, while Outside Noise, after a brief opening sequence shot in New York, takes us to the cities of Berlin and Vienna. Why this choice? And more generally, could you tell us how did the idea for the film come about?
Initially, I was thinking of only making a short film in Berlin with Daniela’s character visiting Mia. Daniela happened to visit New York and we shot that scene kind of as a test but also with the idea that her character would be traveling back to Europe from New York and make a stop in Berlin to extend the trip.
It was 2016 and I hadn’t known Mia or Daniela very long when they each separately said something that I immediately identified with and thought they would be great to make a movie with.

Although the film navigates between the German and Austrian capitals, the places maintain a certain degree of abstraction, almost anonymity. This seems to resonate with the statement expressed a couple of times by the protagonists that they do not want to appear as tourists. What led you to adopt this treatment of locations?
I just wanted to let the places and their presences speak for themselves as projected images and continue trying to avoid a novelistic grammar. I’ve also always found it condescending when a film shot in some city in Europe begins with an identifiable landmark to help the audience orient itself. Or worse, a title card with the name of the place. I tried to film the people this way too!

In its constant wandering, the film creates a dialectic between exteriors and interiors, which in a kind of way is already present in the title itself. What does the “outside noise” represent for you?
I think the title is some kind of a clue for the audience, and I’d rather keep the text open, so to speak. This probably is more pretentious than relevant, but I would add that the title comes from the chapter on insomnia in Levinas’ first book De l’existence à l’existant, which is also the unidentified book Daniela’s character is seen reading in Berlin.

On the occasion of the presentation of your previous film, Classical Period, here at FIDMarseille in 2019, you said that in order to choose your actors, you have to notice that a personality trait of someone you know corresponds to a thought, often quite undefined in your head. What were the thoughts that led you to choose the actors for Outside Noise?
Some remarks by Mia about doing a master’s degree spontaneously and some remarks by Daniela about insomnia. Their words and how they spoke them. I related and was intrigued and wanted to make a film with them where these statements would serve as the basis of fictional characters.

Daniela Zahlner and Mia Sellmann co-wrote the script with you. Could you tell us how you worked together? And more generally, how did you work with the actors, who all keep their real names?
Initially, I kept the actors’ real names because it seemed clear to me that they were all playing fictional roles, even if I was stressing the documentary element a lot by filming in real locations in these areas I knew well. But it has seemed to cause some confusion, with people sometimes thinking they are playing versions of themselves, which is not really the case. Sorry!
The conceiving and writing of this film was a much closer collaboration than on my previous films, though I think Classical Period built in this direction. First, I wrote a script, which they then critiqued. Then I worked on another draft, which they still thought was both too full of details from their own lives and full of lots of weak scenes. So, I tried reworking it again, and then in the weeks leading up to shooting, we got together in Vienna and went through each scene, eventually coming up with a list of themes and topics that would be discussed in each one. On set, they would then come up with their own dialogue and find their way from topic to topic, while I worked more on the staging and framing with the camera team.

Among the various characters who appear in the film, we find you as well. How did you come up with the idea of including your presence in the film?
The party scene was a not so great, eleventh hour decision. Our gallant production manager, Isabella, did a heroic job organizing the scene with little time and resources, but most of it had to be cut. I couldn’t think of anyone to play the part of an annoying male partygoer, but in the back of my mind I knew I have been that person before and could do it again.

Towards the end, in the scene in which Mia talks to Daniela about her thesis, French ethnologist Arnold van Gennep’s theory on rites of passage and the liminal phase is evoked, which seems to perfectly summarize the state in which the various characters find themselves and which echoes in a particular way with the insomnia that afflicts some of them. Did his work accompany or influence the making of the film in any way?
We wanted a scene of Mia talking about the thesis that is mentioned in the beginning, and I had also cut out a Berlin scene where it was discussed. I think we had a conversation about the scene, but exactly what details she would say was up to her. So, it is nice you find this connection in the scene because it was not specifically planned but found its own place in the structure of the film and I think it is a lot stronger for that.

In addition to Arnold van Gennep, two other literary references are explicitly mentioned in the film: Ingeborg Bachmann’s Die gestundete Zeit and Sascha Sokolow’s Die Schule der Dummen, with which the film closes. Could you comment on this choice?
I remember having read a short story by Bachmann, which might have led to Daniela’s suggestion to include the poem. I was often trying to figure out ways to integrate other interests of the actresses into their roles, which they sometimes rejected (rightly!) and sometimes allowed.
The story Stefanie tells in the final scene is a true story: she knows Sokolow’s ex-wife and the ex-wife happens to live in Favoriten, the neighborhood where we shot most of the film. The day before, we had discussed two possible stories she might tell and she decided this was the appropriate one.

Interview by Marco Cipollini

  • GNCR Award  
  • International Competition

Technical sheet

Germany, South Korea, Austria / 2020 / 61’

Original Version : German.
Subtitles : English, French.
Script : Daniela Zahlner, Mia Sellmann, Ted Fendt.
Photography : Sage Einarsen, Britni West, Jenny Lou Ziegel.
Editing : Ted Fendt.
Sound : Johannes Schmelzer-Ziringer, Melissa Dullius, Sean Dunn, Daniel D‘Errico.
Casting : Daniela Zahlner, Mia Sellmann, Natascha Manthe, Genevieve Havemeyer-King.
Production : Zsuzsanna Kiràly (Flaneur Films).
International sellings : Egle Cepaite (Shellac).
Filmography : Classical Period, 2018. Short Stay, 2016.