“Freud,” Netflix’s upcoming mystery thriller from director by Marvin Kren, places a young Sigmund, before his establishment as a worldwide medical icon, in the middle of a brutal 19th century murder case in Vienna.
A Vienna native himself, Kren won numerous awards for his work in TV (“Four Blocks”) and film (“Rammbock,” “Blood Glacier”). In addition to directing and producing the series, he also co-wrote with Stefan Brunner (“Tatort”) and previous collaborator Benjamin Hessler (“4 Blocks”).
Robert Finster plays the cocaine-addicted outsider responsible for founding psychoanalysis, 2020 Berlin Shooting Star Ella Rumpf mysterious medium Fleur Salomé, and 2017 Berlin Best Actor winner Georg Friedrich (“Bright Nights”) has the role of inspector Alfred Kiss.
“Freud” is produced by Netflix, Austrian public broadcaster ORF, Bavaria Fiction and Satel Film with the support of Vienna’s Filmfonds Wien and Media. Screening at Berlinale Series from Feb. 24, “Freud” releases on Netflix worldwide and ORF in Austria on March 23.
Kren spoke to Variety during Berlin about his first time working for a global digital platform, reconstructing historical Vienna – by shooting entirely in Prague – and re-introducing the world to one of its most famous yet enigmatic historical figures.
How did this production differ from other series work you’ve done in the past?
This is my first work of any kind done for Netflix, plus it is a co-production with Austrian public broadcaster ORF. Some national broadcasters tend to influence the work of the writers and directors. I think they trusted my concept, they both liked my previous series “4 Blocks,” and they gave me complete freedom, which meant this was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.
Do you do direct differently for a series that will go directly to a global audience the size of Netflix’s?
Not at all. I have worked in TV and film for 10 years, so I try to figure out what I like and what the audience expects from me. I try to stay truthful to my personal approach. If I like it, others will like it as well.
The series has a clear visual aesthetic, and I wonder what some of your visual influences were when planning to shoot?
The show takes place in Vienna, but we shot the whole thing in Prague. The architecture of the cities is similar, but the great thing about Prague, and I am thrilled we shot there, is that unlike Vienna, which has been massively renovated over the years, it still has a historical patina to it. Vienna, however, was my main visual influence. I grew up in the city and I’m proud to say it’s one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It has a certain appeal that in daylight the architecture is beautiful, but at night it has a certain feeling of uncanniness. It is sinister and dark, and I am influenced by that.
How authentic were you in the visual recreation, and what kind of liberties did you take to make sure the series looks and feels current at the same time?
When you do period dramas or thrillers, you must be very careful they don’t look too historical. We want to appeal to young and modern audiences, so we try to subvert their expectations from time to time. We try to reward those who enjoy the unexpected and watching the show you will see modern and provocative elements mixed in with the historical.
It seems the series proposes that Freud needed to be an outsider, needed to be impervious – to some degree at least – to what others thought of him, because people inside the established medical hierarchy weren’t pushing for the change he brought about. Is that fair?
That’s exactly how I would explain it. He started with hypnosis as his first focus, which was unpopular with his contemporaries. The famous image of him sitting with a patient lying beside him, he developed that methodology out of hypnosis. He changed the way rooms are situated for psychologists and how psychologists talk with their patients.
Although he was notoriously controlling with how his own story and biography were presented, we do know that in his private life he was heavily into cocaine and that he was a very ambitious, highly intellectual Jewish doctor who did not come from a wealthy family. Anti-Semitism in Vienna was growing, and he was obsessed with the idea of the subconscious. Those are the important elements about him. We created this extraordinary young man who wants to find his place in society.
Ella Rumpf, also in Berlin’s as one of this year’s Shooting Star selections, acts in one of the series’ main roles. Can you talk about what it was like working with her?
Ella is such a hard working actress. She prefers to be criticized rather than getting compliments – which is so rare among actors. She has the ability to be very courageous. I remember that there was nearly nothing she wouldn’t do if it was right for the series. She was sick during some of the shoot for example, and even though she was sick she kept working, sitting on a horse outside in the cold for hours. I was so happy to have her in the series. I think she has a very bright future.