Sydney Film Festival Interview: Swiss director Jan Gassman talks intimacy and inspiration on Europe, She Loves

Ahead of its Australian premiere at the Sydney Film Festival, Fergus Halliday sat down with Swiss director Jan Gassman to talk about his latest film Europe, She Loves.

A frank and intimate documentary-hybrid, Europe, She Loves, documents the lives of four couples across Europe.

The Iris: Such a fascinating and incredibly ambitious movie. How did Europe, She Loves begin?

Jan Gassman: I was, kind of, in the middle of two big projects that were  expensive and everything, and I was, like, taking a shower and thinking about life, and then, suddenly, it appeared in my brain.

I don’t know, exactly, how things end up together but somehow the couple relationship was something I was thinking about a lot at that time. At the same time, all the political movements that were going on. [Then] we decided to just start it and just make a movie, just out of the moment. I decided on cities and I decided to go there to find people to cast.

Why did you choose those particular cities?

Well, at the first place, I was thinking, okay, I should go shoot in Paris or Berlin or, like, the [other] capital cities but then, at the same time, I thought I would probably be repeating some kind of cinematic images that I already have from those cities because there are so many films I’ve seen from them.

At the end, I decided to go to cities where I’ve never been before. When you arrive at the new point, at the new city, you try to find out what is this city like? What is it about? How do the people behave there? And stuff like this.

So, I decided to go on the borders of Europe and [shoot in] those sort of cities. I also shot in a city in Croatia, which I cut out in the end – but the main thing was to have different mentalities and angles.

Did you have like a fifth couple in Croatia?

I had a fifth couple in Croatia. Well, it was the first couple we shot and I think they were just joining the European Union at that time so that was kind of a coincidence.

I don’t know, there are great things [in it] that I still love, and I still love the guys from there, but when we put the whole movie together at some point we realized that there was some kind of learning process involved in that shooting and we did stuff differently in the next cities.

That’s really interesting. The concept of the film is a simple idea but it’s also a huge, enormous, idea; is it something that you can ever see yourself revisiting and trying with other couples in five or ten years?

It’s an interesting question because when we were in the editing stage we always used to make jokes that next year we’re going to shoot Africa, She Loves and then Asia, She Loves and then, maybe, Australia, She Loves but actually right now I don’t have any plans.

I think, the way we shot it [was] really out of the moment and in some temporary way. I think this is a way of shooting that I love because it’s very real. You get what you get. You can’t fly out and fly back. So, I think there’s some part of this concept that I would really like to repeat but I’m not sure there will be couples again. But let’s see. Never say no.

Obviously, I have to ask, with the couples, how did you work up to building that level of trust?

I think, the most important thing was the casting process because I saw about 100 couples and with some couples I met, it was just, like, there was just an intimacy and a truthfulness from their side that was rare to find. Sometimes you meet people and you just know.

We wanted to make this movie together; it’s not just me portraying them, it’s more like, living together and partying together and spending some time together. So, I think the trust was mostly based on that they knew we had seen the same things as well and we are the same age and we don’t seem different. We can hang out together as friends and we can be together.

I think on the body thing and the sexuality, I told them, ‘if you can be naked, we can be naked too when we shoot, whatever. To me, it doesn’t matter. For us, it doesn’t matter to show that’.

I think, to us, what they gave us (‘no, we want to show our lives, we want to show ourselves, our difficulties, our fears and also our bodies’) was something that, kind of, made a pact between them and us that helped us through the whole shooting.

Were there ever any points where they did something that surprised you?

They surprised me, like, every day. Most of the time, if I had something in mind, like, we could go to a park or whatever, they usually would do something completely different and, I guess, it was also language related because most of the languages I didn’t speak.

So, sometimes they would have a big discussion and we would just be filming and we had no clue what they were talking about, and so we were just discovering in the night with the translator what has today been about. Of course, some stuff was already really heavy. For example, when the couple in Dublin, one day, started taking heroin again. That was something that we didn’t expect. I knew that she was on methadone and that they had this past but those were the moments that were hard, as well, to shoot.

So, what’s next for you? What’s your next project?

Now I’m on a fiction film, which I cannot postpone because of Europe’s laws. I’m writing and let’s say I’m in the later stage of writing. I hope to shoot next year and, again, it’s like a couple’s story. I don’t know why they catch me so much these days.

Europe, She Loves is screening as a part of the Sydney Film Festival on June 11 and 13.