The underwater sequences, especially towards the end of the film, are the instances that feel most detached from reality, as if we are truly in another realm. Is that how you interpret them?
I had wanted to shoot underwater footage for a long time. I saw Brian Eno, the musician, working on a setup where there were televisions with their screens facing up to the roof and under the glass of the televisions there was water running. For me, water, television and movies are linked to each other. So when the camera goes underwater, we don’t have any dialogue. We go back to the origins of our life, the fish. And the movement of our bodies is so graceful. I had a very old desire to go underwater. But I don’t know how to dive either and I am very afraid of going underwater. So I stayed outside the entire time, and watched the underwater footage on the monitor. But for me being underwater is a fantastic world. It is like the space outside our planet or like returning to our origin.
As I watched these underwater footage, and the symbolic nature of water in general in “Undine”, I remembered one of your previous films, “Yella”, where water is also a crucial part of it. journey of the female protagonist. These two films, as well as most of your work, were shot by Hans Fromm. Was it an interesting change of pace for him to shoot underwater?
For Hans, the DP, I think it was a good time underwater, because now he had a friend, the other cameraman who went with his camera underwater. Two guys, male technicians, they were happy, like two men barbecuing on a grill. They were talking about cameras and lenses. I was totally out of this conversation. They never spoke to me. So for him it was good. But thinking of the water of “Yella”, there was this Elbe river, a very big German river. On the one hand, there was East Germany and on the other, West Germany. At the time, it was a border between communism and capitalism. Yella tried to cross this river to reach capitalism because she is coming out of communism. But she drowned in this border river and as she dies she can see a life she never had. She sees the life she wanted to have. It was the idea of the water there. Water is a border, but it has not had the chance to come out of this water to the desired land, to the neoliberal capitalist world.
Another aspect of your films that I find fascinating is that you always play with the identity of your characters, including Ondine in this one. Most of the women in your stories hide who they really are or pretend to be something they are not.
My friend Harun Farocki and I have worked together for many years. We wrote 15 scripts together and talked a lot about cinema. We have always believed that a false identity is a fantastic element in cinema. The bad thing about a fake identity is that if you want to change your identity you go out and smoke cigarettes and never come back. You leave your family, your children or your wife and you enter a new life. In effect, you are rebuilding the life you left behind. You can’t really get out of your skin. You are still you. But the desire to get out of his skin is cinema, not what happens at the end, but just the desire to change identity, to have another life. This is what I really like to see.