Interview with “Unveiled” Director Angelina Maccaron

on

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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