An interview with Percy Adlon and Felix Adlon

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You co-wrote and co-directed. How do you divide up each task?

Felix: The story is so strong, the characters so rich, there's so much conflict, it was like a gift for us. We decided that I study Freud and he studies the Mahlers.

Percy: We work very differently. I dig into the material and throw out a lot of stuff quickly. He sits and waits until I get nervous or even angry. Suddenly he grabs his keyboard and starts changing my stuff and comes up with beautiful ideas.

Felix: Co-directing was a clear divide between him next to the camera, directing the actors, and me in front of the monitor working with Benedict, our DP, on the look, the style, the angles, and constantly reminding my father that we need more then just "a master" from one point of view.

A title card at the beginning of the movie states: "That it happened is fact. How it happened is fiction." Please explain.

Percy: That Mahler and Freud met in Leiden, Holland, for one afternoon in August 1910, is fact. The "letter" and Alma's affair is fact. But what they spoke, and how the whole drama played out is fiction.

Felix: We also found out that at that certain afternoon in Leiden, the last train had left and that Freud and Mahler may have stayed at the same small hotel together.

Percy: So we added a night of analysis to the afternoon, and this is when Mahler finally lays down on the couch...or the roll-in bed.

Did you do a lot of research before you wrote the script in order to give freer rein to your imagination afterwards?

Percy: We read a lot, but very selectively. Most fascinating for me were Alma's diaries from the time when she was still a teenager. It's so spontaneous, improvised, more spoken than written, "modern". She writes about fashion, opera, her compositions, the men she has a crush on, petting with her music teacher, how much she wants to have real sex but must stay a virgin until she meets the ultimate man.

Felix: And this was Gustav Mahler.

We read biographies of course, Alma's and Gustav's letters, but also a lot of eye witness accounts from people who knew Alma and Mahler. There is so much of gossip around this prominent Viennese couple. They where like Brad and Angelina. We created a whole layer of "eyewitnesses" who speak into the camera.

Percy: And Felix had his Freud thing going. He concentrated on Freud's writings before the meeting with Mahler. For example: Beiträge zur Psychologie des Liebeslebens.

Barbara Romaner, who plays Alma Mahler, will be a new face to many people. How did you come to choose her?

Percy: We have excellent, well-known young actresses in Germany now. Obviously we should have chosen one of them. But there is something about Alma...I don't know.  The intelligence, the sensuality, the music, the fire, the power, the independence. We went to see a play at the Volkstheater in Munich. She was in it. There was a scene where she spoke in an invented language and moved to it in a hilariously abstract way. And we knew, it's Alma. We met. She was Alma. We made Photos. She was Alma. She put on a big hat. She was Alma, ten years later.

Thank you, Barbara. Yes you will be the new face for many people.

Tell us about her husband in the movie, Johannes Silberschneider.

Felix: Silberschneider is an institution! He played in dozens of films. He is a face that represents a certain European region, a certain dialect, and body language that fits Mahler perfectly. And he is a wonderfully sensitive, shy, deep soul.

By the way, he played the lead in the play where we discovered Barbara. And Friedrich Mücke was also in it.  He is our Gropius. And he is a star now in Germany because of the movie hit  "Friendship". Nobody could believe that we cast three of our four leads on one evening from the same play.

Karl Markovics plays Sigmund Freud. How did he react when you offered him the part of a 20th century icon?

Percy: He just said "yes"! And he hadn't even read the script. I told him how much I admire his performance in "Die Fälscher" ("The Counterfeiters") And he said how much he likes "Out of Rosenheim" ("Bagdad Cafe"). And that was it.

Felix: He didn't want to play an icon. He plays Freud with so much fine humor, you want to sit next to him and tell him about your own problems.

How does Mahler's music inspire you? How did you choose the pieces you recorded with conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen?

Felix: There is one piece that Mahler wrote during the crisis with Alma. The first movement of his 10th symphony. It was the very last piece of music that he wrote. It contains the whole drama of that summer of 1910. His pain, his rage, his pleas, his moans, his accusations.

Percy: We sent the script to Salonen. He loved it, and he wanted to conduct the music for the film. But we also asked him not just to record the Adagio from the 10th, but also deconstruct it, let us hear what we normally don't hear: what the individual instruments play. Salonen agreed. And this provided our "score". Of course we use the full orchestra too, but the single voices correspond with the humor of the Freud/Mahler scenes beautifully.

Felix: Maestro Salonen also recorded the famous Adagietto from Mahler's 5th, because Mahler gave it to Alma as a gift after he fell in love with her. And my own favorite, the "Ruhevoll" from the 4th, for the sequence we call "Mahler in love".

The film takes place in Viennese artistic circles at the time of the Secession. Did this movement influence the way you shot the movie?

Percy: Yes, very much. The Secession was in the center of a movement that broke out like wildfire all over the world. Modern art was born! Picasso, Schönberg, Kandinsky, Frank Lloyd Wright, Klimt. The Viennese designers and architects met at the Villa Moll, where Alma grew up, to discuss there newest works, their movement, their protest against the lame traditions.

Felix: You see colors, fabrics, furniture, paintings of this exciting period everywhere in our film, especially in the clothes that costume designer Caterina Csepek translated into our time, and made them even more "contemporary". We took this license from Alma who was always progressive and ready to break the rules.

Certain characters offer a kind of commentary of the story--Alma's mother, Gustav's sister. On what basis did you choose these characters?

Felix: We chose the eyewitnesses that contributed best to the conflicts but also the Viennese gossip to our story.

Percy: Alma's mother is only on her daughter's side, Justine only on her brother Gustav's. Bruno Walter is Mahler's friend and colleague, Zemlinsky and Burckhard are Mahler's love-rivals, Frau Zuckerkandl arranged the meeting between Alma and Mahler in her salon.

You give great importance to the lighting, to the extent that it plays a role in the narration of the story. Tell us about your collaboration with DP Benedict Neuenfels.

Felix: Benedict makes the whole film vibrate! There is always a brightness that wants to intrude the images. It takes the story to a new level. To a fictitious one. It carries us into another dimension.

Percy: It doesn't try to tell us that this is history and this is how historical characters and places look, just the opposite. It makes people and places real. But it's an imaginary reality. One that you enter when you read an exciting book and being transported into a new existence on your own hard drive...your head!

You shot the film in the Dolomites, Vienna and Leiden. Were the locations also a source of inspiration?

Percy: Our art directors Bernt Capra (he did Bagdad Cafe!) and Veronika Merlin, gave us an abundance of great original locations.  Vienna is so rich on incredible residences with high elaborate ceilings and floors, original Secession villas by Otto Wagner, Hoffmann, Olbrich. Then there is the grandeur of the Opera.

Felix: Old Leiden is like a movie set. It inspired the idea that Mahler and Freud are just on their own. They're transported into their own imagination, no "historical" extras around them, as if "Leiden" is not a reality but just an idea. Mahler could have been on the moon.

Percy: The farmhouse in the Tyrolian mountains...well, this is one of our fictitious elements, and there was a lot of discussion if the Mahlers would have moved into such an ancient wooden box. The reality certainly was different. But we wanted the most radical contrast to their life in Vienna to portray their crumbling marriage.

Felix: And these are not the Dolomites, it's the Karwendel. But this will be up to the Mahler loving alpinist to find out.

If Alma had met Freud, what would they have said to each other?

Percy: Freud would have said: "You first."