Following their collaboration on short “When the Hurlyburly’s Done” and “Killing All the Flies,” Alex Eslam and Hanna Maria Heidrich share directorial duties on eight-episode German Sky Atlantic series “Souls,” which competed at Canneseries this week, winning awards for both screenplay and music.
Produced by Geißendörfer Pictures and Sky Deutschland, its complex plot combines the concept of reincarnation, the kind of love that cheats death and even sees one of its characters, played by Julia Koschitz, caught in a time loop à la Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day.”
“It was always clear to me that this topic was way too big to focus on just one storyline,” explains Eslam, who created the series.
His protagonists, who seemingly have nothing in common, represent the past, present and the future connected to one tragic event: a passenger plane accident that left many questions unanswered. Until teenage boy Jacob, fresh off a traumatic incident of his own, announces that in a previous life, he was actually the plane’s pilot.
“As a society, we don’t really accept things we can’t explain. But all these characters need to face something similar at one point in the show,” says Heidrich.
“Take Jacob and his mother. Her son says he has lived before. What the fuck?! It can’t be true, there is no way. This series asks if we can leave some space in our life for something we can’t understand.”
Despite such revelations, Eslam and Heidrich, a couple also in their personal life, wanted to make sure that each of the people they show had a personality of their own, their own struggles and particularities.
“All the decisions are rooted in the characters, because that’s what I miss the most when I watch other series. I need to be touched by these people,” he says.
“We share the same household, so I remember reading what Alex has written and feeling so excited. I was so fascinated by the female characters he has developed,” adds Heidrich, calling them “fresh and unexpected.”
Alongside Koschitz’s Allie, Brigitte Hobmeier was cast as Jacob’s mother, recovering victim of domestic violence, with Lili Epply as a girl who joins a mysterious cult.
“I was so drawn to them and it became clear that I wanted to get involved. What I love about Allie for example, is that she’s so tough and yet so heartbroken. I was moved to tears, seeing our first episode again in Cannes, seeing her grief and her attempts to move on without the love of her life.”
Still, Koschitz’s storyline, as Allie tries her best to prevent her husband – and a pilot – from taking his scheduled flight, is also comedic at times.
“I really don’t like it when you know too much in the beginning,” says Eslam.
“I wanted to let these characters do things rather than explain too much. I have seen this ‘time loop idea’ before, sure, but with Allie, you don’t immediately know why she is behaving like that. You think: ‘She is so rude.’ But no – she is doing all this because she really loves someone. And she is terrified of losing him.”
In spite of its ambitious structure, twists and multiple interweaving threads, ‘Souls’ will offer a satisfying denouement, he states.
“Here is the thing – for me, it has always been a miniseries. It’s not like with ‘Lost,’ which left so many things open, although I have a huge respect for what they created at that time. Here, nothing is unresolved.”
While tackling some metaphysical, or maybe even religious subjects, Eslam still wants his viewers to focus on what’s here and now, he says, as that’s when they truly have time to connect. Heidrich adds:
“If there is another life, is this one worth fighting for? Is it worth going through all these struggles, worth fighting for love or for good relationships with everyone around you? [Our characters] will have to consider it too.”
“It’s a drama series and you have all these Shakespearean conflicts playing out. But there are lighter touches, because otherwise, people would go: ‘Do we really have to keep watching that?’,” mentions Eslam.
“The world is already so dark, so let’s keep up hope, because life is good in the end.”