An unusual road trip

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An unexpected friendship, the language of grief, and a multilingual production trip: TAKE had the opportunity to visit the set of the novel adaptation Marianengraben, a production involving several countries.

Luna Wedler and Edgar Selge, who play the roles of Paula and Helmut, are waiting in front of a little farmhouse—dark and rustic, perfectly capturing the typical Alpine flair characteristic of South Tyrol. The young Swiss actress carries a black umbrella and wears oversized men’s clothes. “Quiet on set!” a voice shouts from further up, and everyone turns quiet. The only noise still to be heard is the ringing of the cowbells from the meadows. Cameras are now rolling. Helmut’s old friend, Martin Maria Abram, sporting a long, grey beard, opens the door, meets them with a heartfelt hug, and asks them in. Cut. And repeat.

Luxembourg–South Tyrol–Austria

The story of Paula and Helmut was first told on paper in Jasmin Schreiber’s novel “Marianengraben” (2020). When Paula’s younger brother Tim drowns in an accident in Trieste, Italy, she decides to travel to the place where he died and take her own life. She then meets Helmut, an older man who stole the urn of his ex-wife and is now on his way to South Tyrol, and Paula decides to set off with Helmut. The two of them become friends, and when Paula learns that Helmut is sick, she has a change of heart.

Unlike the main character’s life, the film shoot at Oberniederhof farm in Unser Frau im Schnalstal/Madonna di Senales unfolds precisely as planned. Four scenes are completed on this day. The farmstead is a well-known film location; the composition of the production team is brand new: Marianengraben is a trilateral co-production. SAMSA, the main production company from Luxembourg; Albolina Film, a production company from South Tyrol; and Film AG from Austria have joined forces and quickly established a highly effective synergy. “After the first couple of days, everyone had effortlessly blended their different work styles. A change of location always adds a bit of rock ‘n’ roll to the party, because it means packing up our stuff and getting it transported to our next set”, reveals Brigitte Kerger, Line Producer (SAMSA). Marianengraben is a road movie and features plenty of on-the-road scenes, which poses various challenges for the crew of 50, such as organising roadblocks, procuring special vehicles including a flatbed truck used to shoot the scenes of Helmut’s campervan on the road, and adapting to many different locations. Filming for the movie is scheduled to conclude in mid-November and will include further locations in South Tyrol, Trieste, Austria, and Luxembourg. An adventurous trip, and a heartfelt embrace—this is not just the story of the movie, but the vibe behind the scenes. “I truly tip my—imaginary—hat to the professionalism of SAMSA. We have learned so much from them”, says Matthias Keitsch, Production Manager at Albolina Film.

What matters most

Having various languages on set—South Tyrolean dialect, German, French, English, and Italian—turns the production into a multilingual project. “I really enjoy multilingualism, which also fosters unity among us”, adds Ildiko Okolicsanyi. Okolicsanyi, a costume designer originally from Berlin but now living in Bolzano/Bozen, is responsible for adapting the colour palettes of the costumes to the sets they are used on: subtle and natural hues, far from flashy and flamboyant. The story mirrors life, both in thematic and visual narrative. Production designer Martin Reiter is also a big fan of authenticity: “I asked the owners of the farm to leave the kitchen just as it is—I think there is no better way to make a scene typical for South Tyrol than simply leaving everything in place as it has been for decades.”

The traditional little kitchen is where the next scene is set. Luna Wedler closes her eyes, readying herself for the task ahead. “We need the dog, please!”, somebody shouts outside, in English. The screen in the director’s tent offers a glimpse of the scene they are working on. A conversation at the kitchen table. “Thanks, that was awesome!” Director Eileen Byrne stops the take and smiles happily. Marianengraben is Byrne’s first time in the director’s chair, but she seems totally relaxed and well-practised. “My team is fabulous. Their fantastic support gives me the freedom to completely focus on my job”, she asserts. All things visual lie in the hands of internationally acclaimed cinematographer Petra Korner from Austria, for example. She is the road movie’s Director of Photography.

The language of grief

The director from Luxembourg and producer Bernard Michaux discovered the novel the movie is based on at the Berlinale festival. It first had to be adapted to become a screenplay, though—key storytelling elements such as internal monologues, feelings, and flashbacks had to be modified, and certain dramaturgical elements had to be added. Three years and several screenplay drafts later, Eileen Byrnes now finds herself on a farm in South Tyrol to do “what she loves”. She is intrigued by the different facets of the story, which, as is inherent to a tragicomedy, is sometimes funny, sometimes sad. “Jasmin’s book uses a language that is very similar to my own.” And Paula also finds someone who speaks her language—the language of grief. The death of another person thus turns into a journey of self-discovery for protagonist Paula.

Text Sarah Meraner
Foto (c) Oliver Oppitz
Published on 28.12.2023

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