About to celebrate the world premiere of “Roof of Leaves,” chosen for Ji.hlava Intl. Documentary Film Festival’s Testimonies section, German director Anna Caroline Arndt is readying her next projects. These include a feminist revenge film “Over” – “It’s not going to be ‘Bandidas,’ ” she jokes, promising a more realistic take than the Salma Hayek and Penélope Cruz starrer – and another documentary, “This Is Our House,” in which she will go up close and personal, talking about her upbringing in a Berlin commune in the 1980s.
“I grew up with 27 different people. It’s basically my story, so this time, I will have to be in the film,” she tells Variety. “It’s going to be an intense process, going back to where I came from, meeting all these people who often lead completely different lives. What we have experienced was really extraordinary in a way.”
Arndt also turned to her family in “Roof of Leaves,” in which she explores the polyamorous relationships of her cousin Constantin. While he pursues romantic entanglements with other women, his girlfriend Sarah meets Gregor and the three start to form an unconventional family unit.
“I was thinking about the whole subject of non-monogamous relationships for a long time. Then I found out about Christian’s story,” says Arndt, calling the film her “most intimate” work to date.
“They found a way to communicate, find new structures and basically free themselves. We all have certain concepts in our heads about how to live and work, about what family is. They turned that thing upside down. It was interesting, [seeing] how they do it and how they are so open to every feeling and thought.”
In her film, produced by Gregor Matuschek and lensed by Anselm Belser, they find refuge in nature. “It’s protecting them but it’s also constantly changing, like their relationship,” she says. They also open up about their trials, as their new way of life doesn’t come easy. Especially to Sarah, struggling with jealousy.
“You could make a film where everyone goes, ‘It’s the greatest concept ever!’ They say they are happy, but it’s a struggle and you can feel it,” she notes, pointing out that each of the characters deals with the situation in a completely different way.
“It’s a process. Sarah is struggling and yet she is still willing to go to those lengths and be open. She works hard to keep that whole system going. When it comes to romantic relationships, we always think of exclusiveness, which is really limiting. We have different kinds of feelings for different people.”
Admitting the concept of the film proves intriguing to many, Arndt wanted to make sure her protagonists felt “represented and seen,” letting them address her directly in the movie.
“There is a reason why there is a couch on the poster – it felt like group therapy! After shooting, we would always discuss what had happened and how everyone felt about it. I was aware it’s a very sensitive situation. I had to be careful and take care of them too,” she says, although combining the roles of a director and a cousin brought its own challenges.
“It was hard to keep my distance. I am always coming from an emotional connection and when you talk about relationships and love, you can’t just look at them from the outside,” she says.
While the three still live together, their relationship has changed over time. They are fine with going public with it, however, argues the director.
“They are just a little afraid of what the people they know are going to say. Some don’t know how they live and not everybody loves it of course. For some, it’s ‘disgusting.’ That being said, as a society, we are thinking about what we have learnt and what we can unlearn. We are all trying to find new ways and that’s what they do.”