Local Release

(cineuropa) Lorenz Merz • Director of Soul of a Beast -Interview

by Giorgia Del Don

06/08/2021 - The young Swiss director talks to us about his second feature, which is competing in the Locarno Film Festival’s International Competition

Eight years after his first film, Cherry Pie [+], which was nominated for the Best Cinematography trophy at the Swiss Film Award, Lorenz Merz has put together an intriguing new feature film, Soul of a Beast [+], telling a visually powerful story which blends the wisdom of the Japanese samurai and the challenges of becoming a teenage father. The movie has screened in competition at the Locarno Film Festival.

Cineuropa: Where did the idea for this intriguing and unusual movie come from? I’ve read that this is a subject close to your heart; could you explain what you mean by that?
Lorenzo Merz:
The idea came to me a long time ago, when I was roughly 27 and had started researching my past. I also became a father very young, at the age of 18, and while I was going through the overwhelming experience of the birth of my child, my closest friend died. These kinds of mixed feelings, dealing with the loss of my best friend and becoming a father, caused me to look at the world and my life differently. It was a very strange and paradoxical thing to experience such powerful events so close-up. I developed a new way of seeing things; I wouldn’t call it spiritual; it was more of a glimpse behind the scenes of these things. In such rough and intense times in our lives, it’s difficult to pretend you’re still in control of your existence. These were the real feelings and ideas that made me want to make a movie. To begin with, the story developed much more around the notions of birth and death, and then matters relating to freedom and liberty, and what they really mean, came out. My personal experience was deeply linked to the realisation that true freedom can only be experienced in the context of inner freedom. No matter what happens in life, what helps you to survive is inner freedom; it’s your escape. This is the crux of the movie, I suppose: what freedom means in a world where you think you can decide everything when, in fact, you can’t.

What made you want to mix so many genres together in a single movie? Where does this desire to go off the beaten track stem from?
I developed the first script very early on, and it was totally different from the final version. To begin with, there were the subjects of birth, death and freedom but, in the end, the film turned out to be a love story, a simple love story, a visual representation of the experience of falling in love. It’s the story of a young man falling in love and all the feelings that you experience within your body, how your imagination and perception change your life, how love exaggerates everything; it’s like a spell has been cast on you. That brought me closer to the kind of inner experience lived through by the main character. I wanted to make this inner experience visible, to show how he experiences things; I wanted to expose his feelings, which were invisible to the audience. And I think that the mix of genres came from that, but it wasn’t really a conscious decision. The visual form of the movie really came out of the main character’s inner world.

Why did you blend so many different languages together and how did you develop the soundtrack, which sometimes seems to replace the already sparse dialogue?
Making the film in Switzerland, in the Swiss German language, was always going to be a challenge, I suppose. My goal was to make an authentic movie coming from Switzerland and my neighbourhood in Zurich, which is quite mixed. I wanted to give the audience an inside view of what I experienced in Switzerland, the mix of languages that’s part and parcel of the area I grew up in, and to convey the idea that it’s completely natural to put so many different people and cultures together. But the Japanese segment is a completely different thing. I wanted to give a voice to the main character’s inner world. I think you can interpret it in many ways. There’s a sort of irony in the movie, but there’s also poetry. It’s serious but not too serious.

Where does your interest in Japanese culture come from, and why did you decide to include it in your movie?
Basically, I think almost everything I do is slightly influenced by Japanese culture. Ever since my childhood, I’ve been deeply affected by its history and aesthetics, the way Japanese culture approaches certain issues, how it looks at certain things. That was my general inspiration. The movie is also very loosely inspired by the Japanese Lone Wolf and Club manga series from the 1970s, which is very bloody and violent but also extremely poetic. In some respect, I wanted to draw a parallel between the relationship between the kids who observe their rather violent environment from a very pure viewpoint, and the young, urban skater scene. A skateboard park has something of the dojo about it, where you practice, rehearse, meditate in some sense. It harks back to martial arts. Samurai stories are like an ancient call to the main character. You could also say that he has a Japanese soul, which grows and gives him the air of a samurai. It’s like an association of thoughts, and everyone can interpret it differently.

It’s also very important to say that the movie doesn’t only function on an intellectual level, a level which you have to interpret. Without becoming too random, I try to do things as if I were a painter who only paints very beautiful flowers; their beauty has no logic. My movies don’t only work on an intellectual level.

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