Interview with “Unveiled” Director Angelina Maccaron

 
 

Angelina Maccarone
German
director Angelina Maccarone recently took some time to speak
with AfterEllen.com via email about her latest film, Unveiled,
about an Iranian woman who flees to Germany to escape persecution
for being a lesbian. Fariba (Jasmine Tabatabai) assumes a
male identity in order to gain asylum, and takes a strenuous
job at a sauerkraut factory in a rural German town. Soon Fariba’s
freedom is in jeopardy again and she must protect her new
identity—at the risk of not only deportation but possible
rejection by a woman she is falling for.

AfterEllen.com:
How long were you writing and developing Unveiled?
How did it change and evolve from your original vision to
its eventual translation to the screen?
Angelina Maccarone:
Judith Kaufmann (DP) and I had
the first idea for the story in 1998. We worked on the script
on and off until 2004, when we finally made the film. The
script underwent many serious changes, as characters that
were important in the beginning became less so or vanished,
and new characters came to life. But the core remained untouched.
We wanted to tell Fariba’s story, and in the process of doing
so we tried to invent the most precise circumstances to mirror
her emotional journey.

AE:
You’ve said that you collaborated with Jasmin Tabatabai (who
plays Fariba) on reworking the script. What kinds of changes
did you two come up with together?
AM:
In 2002, after working on the script for four
years, I sent Jasmin a copy. We met several times to talk
about it and she told me her opinion. Since she knows so much
more about Iran than we do, her insights were very helpful
for Judith and me for our rewriting. Basically the character
became more subtle, not as outspoken as she had been. We had
a long time of rehearsals as well, which helped to get to
the core of the emotions within scenes and sequences of the
story.

AE:
What was the biggest challenge for you in making this film?
In what ways has it been rewarding?
AM
:
The biggest challenge was to tell a story that takes place
in very real circumstances of German society. I wanted to
be totally exact when it came to political facts to make it
a story that matters on this level as well. To have an actress
disguise herself as a man is another big challenge. To me
Jasmin did a great job and I am especially happy that we succeeded,
I think, with creating a "male" character that is
not based on typical cliches.

AE:
How did you come by the English title and how do you think
it frames the film differently than the original title, Fremde
Haut
?
AM:

Wolfe, our U.S. distributor, came up with the English title
Unveiled. I like it a lot since it touches upon different
levels of the story. Fariba does not have to wear the veil
anymore when she arrives in Germany but she has to hide her
true self behind a male disguise. She longs to get rid of
this new veil and at the same time fears to be unveiled as
a woman by others.

Fremde
Haut
could be translated as "a stranger’s skin."
On the one hand it means to wear another person’s personality,
and on the other it has an erotic notion to it.

AE: Your film delves deeply into issues of identity,
roots and belonging, and what happens when someone loses those things—homeland,
culture, gender, name—that seemingly define them. What sparked your interest
in exploring these themes; what draws you to them?
AM: As you said in your question: I believe
that identity is to a great extent defined by where we live, what we do,
whom we love, etc. My interest in writing a story about a woman who has
to leave all of that behind is to ask: Who are we when all of these self-defining
elements are gone? What is at the core of a human being and of being human?
This is exactly what we tried to do in the story. So your question is
already the answer.

Unveiled
AE: Your film portrays parallel universes of freedom/opportunity
and confinement/hopelessness. What did you base these portraits
on?
AM:
I think one of the main problems is our thinking within constricted
concepts like polarities. There is good or evil, the "free
world" or suppression. I believe the world, the human,
is more complex than that. The simple solutions that are suggested
by polarities are dangerous. Thinking like
"we are good, they are evil" has existed for a long
time and justified a lot of horrible things people do to each
other. I wanted to show that on either side there are humans.
If the "bad guys" are human too they do have a bigger
responsibility for their decisions.

AE:
I read that you said “The very idea that people somehow have
to explain their private life is absurd in itself.” Can you
explain what you mean by this, and how it relates to your
film?
AM:
Everything that deviates from what is considered "normal"
has to be explained since it is considered a threat. The majority
has the power to decide to be "tolerant" or not
to be. Heterosexuals never have to explain their difficulties
with their own gender. To them it would seem totally ridiculous
to write a letter to their parents, explaining why they only
love people of the opposite sex.

My
first film for German TV was a coming-out comedy dealing with
the absurdity of this act. In Unveiled there are several
standards and majorities that define what is "normal":
being German instead of a "stranger," being a "real
man" instead of a "sissy," being heterosexual
instead of a "homo."

AE:
What made you decide to make your protagonist Iranian?
AM:
Iran is one of four countries in the world where homosexuality
stands under death penalty. It is at the same time a non-European
country with a very "modern" standard of living
and allows the main character to be an educated middle-class
person form a huge city like Teheran whose expectations and
visions of the "free world" are turned upside down
in rural Germany.

AE:
Did you learn more about asylum seeking in Germany through
making this film? Have you gotten feedback about the film
from any women who have sought asylum in Germany for similar
reasons?

AM:
Yes, I learned a lot about it. I had read a lot about it beforehand.
But talking to people and actually being in a fugitive camp
within Germany or visiting "fugitive homes" was
a different experience. Feedback from people who feel that
their story of asylum seeking in Germany is told in the film
is very touching. It happened several times.

AE:
I’ve read one criticism that you downplayed the moment when
Fariba assumes Siamak’s identity as well as the moment when
Anne learns Fariba’s “true” identity. To me there is much
to be said about keeping those moments understated. What is
your response?
AM:
Of course, it was a conscious decision to not
show these moments as dramatic plot points with a lot of music
and other cinematographic devices. One reason is that I wanted
to avoid the cliche of such scenes. They always stay on the
surface and put a distance between the character and the spectator
by watching from the outside. To be with Fariba when she has
to succeed in her Siamak identity or fails allows us to be
emotionally closer to her. Anne falls in love with Siamak/Fariba.
Her hesitation due to the fact that she learns she actually
fell in love with a woman seems petty when she is faced with
the threat of Fariba’s deportation.

AE:
Have you been writing lyrics longer than you’ve been writing
screenplays or other fiction? What do you get out of each
of the different forms?

AM: I have been writing lyrics for songs since I
was 14 years old. Writing other fiction was later. Writing
screenplays started in 1992. I like the different forms. A
screenplay is much more complex on the one hand. You have
to create a whole world. But in lyrics, on the other hand,
you have to be down to the point with the one emotion you
explore.

AE:
What have the challenges been in making your new film, Verfolgt
(Hounded), and what further challenges do you anticipate?
AM:
My new film Verfolgt is the first one that i did not
write. It is a challenge to make the story my own story in
order to tell it from the inside. Susanne Billig’s script
is emotionally very deep. It is a challenge to find an adequate
visual form and to explore the emotional depth with the actors.
The story is a psychodrama about a fifty-year-old woman who
starts an S/M affair with a young boy. It deals with vulnerability.
The woman gets in touch with her own pain by giving pain to
the boy. To avoid voyeurism and yet concentrate on their sexual
journey was an exciting experience for
me as a director. I want to grow with my work and challenge
myself to cross borders and expand my restrictions.

AE:
Is there a film that you have yet to make that you dream of
someday making?
AM:
There are several projects that I wish to make. Next year
I would like to make a road movie I have been working on for
10 years now. Susanne Billig wrote another wonderful script
that I hopefully will direct in 2007. It is a psychological
thriller set in Northern Scandinavia. There is an absurd pop
opera about an aging diva I am writing. There I could connect
my songwriting with filmmaking. But there is one actress I
adore and with whom I would really like to work: Gena Rowlands.

Unveiled
opens in limited release in U.S. theaters on Friday, November
18th; visit the official
site
for more information.

 
 

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