Swiss filmmaker Simon Jacquemet directed _Chrieg, _which premiered in San Sebastian's New Directors competition.
In Chrieg, a twisted coming of age story and a bold, confrontational debut, violence is a rite of passage. Sixteen year old Matteo (Benjamin Lutzke) extracts a very personal revenge on the world after his parents send him to a boot camp that is meant to reform him, but instead awakens him to a world full of chaotic potential.\
Director Simon Jaquemet talks about the making of his long in gestation first feature, and about violent upheaval amongst a Swiss youth that struggles to perceive a concrete future.
The film’s title Chrieg means war, yes? What is the war of the film?
I think it is all sorts of war. The most obvious one is this kind of small war that teenagers have with all almost everyone else. They don’t have a really clear enemy but they exist in a kind of state of being at war with everyone, more or less. But also it means an internal war. It is mainly a war between teenagers and adults.
Regarding the films production. When I saw the cast at the premiere, they looked quite a bit older. How long did it take to get made?
The film was shot a year ago actually. They are one year older now but they have changed. They change constantly. The main actor was sixteen when we were shooting and now he’s seventeen.and he is going to be eighteen soon. Probably it is just that when you see them on a stage, better dressed, they look older.
Did you change their look for a reason? To help them get into character?
I would say apart from Ali (Ella Rumpf), they are very much how they are in reality, with the clothes that they wear, which is often even their own clothes. Of course now they have changed a little bit. The main character, (Benjamin Lutzke), actually had the look that his character Matteo has at the start of the film, with the long green coloured hair and those clothes. With Ali, who is a very nice girl and very feminine usually, she had to change herself entirely for the role.
*How did you go about casting for the film? *
Only Ali was found through a casting agent. The others we found them through street casting and research, or through contact with institutions that deal with teenagers that gave us recommendations. It was a long casting process. I think we looked at over one thousand teenagers across the casting process.
What made you decide on the ones you picked. What were you looking for?
I think in the end it just became clear. It was funny that Benji was the first person we spoke to on the street. Then we were casting a lot of other different people and then he didn't come to the castings anymore, and then at the end he came again and I think we went to his home where he lived, and we went to the forest with him and had a walk and he told us about his own life and his struggles. It was clear it would be. For the others also. For the others, it was clear when we met them that they were the most interesting. We just had to find out that they could act. Then we knew these are the guys.
With Benji, a lot of it is about his expressions and less about the dialogue?
Yes he has a very interesting face. Something he is good at is doing a lot whilst not doing much. For him all the scenes were reality. You can see when looking at him that he is really thinking about all that is going on in the scene.
A lot of the film is about violence. Do you think violence is present in all of us naturally. and that it will eventually come out?
Yes, I think so. There are two approaches in the film. There is one approach that violence is imposed on us from pressure coming in, and that at some point when you’re confronted with a lot of violence you also react. Its the other side where you can say that is a part of everyone, that if you arrive at the right or wrong situation the monster will come out. This is maybe more what I think is true. Maybe a bit more for men. but also for women. it is a part of us.
Do you think this is particularly true in Switzerland, or just generally?
I think it is general. What is interesting in Switzerland is that on the surface level it is a very peaceful country, but I think something is boiling in a lot of people. It is a repressed society and there are a lot of social rules on hot to behave. We see a lot of angry faces in the street. There is a Swiss expression, ‘to make a fist in the pocket.’ Sometimes there are outbursts of violence.
In the film, the characters realise that are no rules, that they won’t get punished and you can do these things and get away it. In a riot, people start to realise the same thing. people start to realise they can do anything. Once that happens it is just chaos.
Yes, it is also maybe a bit of a Swiss thing, because the rules are so tight. Once you step out the rules you have a great sense of freedom.
About the Swiss film industry, how welcoming is it to new directors?
I think it is not bad. The funding situation is not that bad in Switzerland. The production costs are very high which makes it difficult. In general, on one side we have money. If you have a good script, you will get the money. Of course, the more established directors may get the funds as we all compete for the same funds. Some filmmakers try to defend their share of the money. For me it took a long time to make this first feature after film school, but maybe that is also my own fault because maybe I wasn’t good enough.
*What was your greatest challenge? Which scene was the hardest to shoot? *
One scene that was very hard was the scene in the disco. We had used an extra agency which had promised us four hundred extras. The plan was to shoot just before the club opened and maybe shoot documentary scenes later when the club was full with real party people. Then the people arrived and they were only twenty extras. We couldn't shoot like this. We decided to shoot when the club was open, with real people. This was very hard. The crew had to wait very long so we were all a bit drunk. The club was full of drunk people. We had to throw a smoke grenade into a club of real people. They were pushing us away and pouring drinks on the cameras. There were a lot of fights within the crew. It was really super aggressive. Everyone was screaming at each other.
So you had the violence right there in the filming.
Yeah it really burst out. Another scene that was very hard was the scene with the rock. It is really a very dangerous location. If something came loose it would have been very dangerous. Ten of us standing amongst these real rocks.
How did you choose the locations?
I had started scouting for the mountain area very early, even when I was writing the script. I would go for a walk around the mountains and do a search. Quite early, I was very sure this was the place to shoot because it is very nice. I was searching for 3 years whilst writing, always going on hikes.
Why did you choose the dance music?
Most of it came from the actors suggestions. It was stuff they were into. They searched on youtube for things they liked.
I know you wrote the script? Was it autobiographical at all? Was it your story?
No, not really. Everything is inspired by things I have heard or lived, but it is of course much more extreme.
Chrieg played in the New Directors section at the 62nd San Sebastian International Film Festival. This interview was published in abridged form in NISI MASA’s San Sebastian Nisimazine.