‘Europe, She Loves’’ Jan Gassmann Readies Love-Themed ‘Fedora’

A ‘Wonderland’ co-originator, the young Swiss director describes ’Fedora’ as a ‘dark, impossible love story’

Jan Gassmann
Courtesy of Jan Gassmann

Having seen “Europe, She Loves” selected for this year’s Berlin Panorama and then hit the fest circuit, Swiss director Jan Gassmann is preparing his next film, and second fiction feature, “Fedora.” It is co-produced by his production label 2:1 Film, and Lucerne-based Zodiac Pictures, the Swiss producer of  Studiocanal-sold “Heidi,” a blockbuster in German-speaking Switzerland.

The helmer describes “Fedora” as a “dark, impossible love story,” based on his own short story.

“Fedora” will be a fiction film, for which he is considering working with non-professionals, but keeping to a strict shooting script. The underlying theme is love.

“I believe in the dark powers of love,” he says. “It moves people. Maybe not a romanticized love. Perhaps bittersweet. But it gives people hope and drives them to do crazy things.”

Gassmann sees himself as part of the new generation of Swiss filmmakers, 10 of whom collaborated on the 2015 omnibus pic, “Wonderland,” co-initiated by Gassmann and Michael Krummenacher.

In some ways, however, “Europe, She Loves,” could not be more singular. The 32-year old director is a major fan of ‘60s and ‘70s direct cinema; he likes to work with non-professional actors, leaving considerable space for improvisation. For “Europe,” he cast four couples living in four corners of Europe – Ireland, Spain, Greece and Estonia – and spent nine days with each, filming their every movement and discussion, in an intimate portrait of the crisis-ridden continent , where Gassman suggests that love, despite all its pitfalls, is one of the last bastions of hope.

Casting “Europe,” he shared a short text with the potential candidates: “This movie will be an emotional exploration. Without commentary or interviews it will document five places and ten people. The movie will be honest and without taboos. It will embrace nakedness because there is nothing to lose. We don’t pretend. We are. We fight, love, cook and make love.”

Involving nudity and love-making, the film;s most intimate scenes afford genuine insights into the relationships.

“The moment that the couples agreed to share these moments with us, the normal mental frontiers were broken down,” said Gassman.

He added: “Lots of things they would normally have kept hidden were revealed. The truly intimate aspects weren’t when they had sex, but the associated moments.”

He says that when he cast the couples he felt that something interesting might happen, because there was already a hint of crisis in their relationships.

He used these fracture lines to explore the challenges that he believes face contemporary Europe, especially young people, in which people are losing hope, creating space for right wing nationalist movements.

After lensing in 2013, Gassmann spent two years in post-production in which he trawled through the many hours of footage, together with hundreds of hours of radio recordings that provide a political backdrop to the personal dramas shown on the screen.

Post-production funding from ARTE enabled him to invest more resources on the pic’s sound design with foley artist, Julien Naudin (“Melancolia”) and on the soundtrack with Swedish band, Library Tapes.

The highly personal insights offered by “Europe” are the result of Gassmann’s innovative exploration of the documentary genre, mixed with his own auteur vision.

“When you make a documentary, people talk about so many rules: Don’t use slow motion, Don’t add emotionally-charged music. Don’t make films about love. Don’t try to capture such private emotions. I transgress all such taboos.”