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regular-article-logo Monday, 26 February 2024

Veit Helmer speaks about his film Gondola at Kolkata International Film Festival

‘Audience today is bombarded with music and drama. I wanted to say something very subtle’

Priyanka A. Roy Published 11.12.23, 07:25 AM
Veit Helmer

Veit Helmer Pictures: B Halder

German director Veit Helmer’s stunningly simple film Gondola is being screened at the 29th Kolkata International Film Festival under the International Competition: Innovation in Moving Images category. The film, a love story of two cable car attendants set in the remote mountains of Georgia, unfolds like poetry on screen and is made in Helmer’s signature no-dialogue style. While talking about his film on December 8 at KIFF, the director said: “The story is told not only with images but also with sound. And sound for me is very important because I get a lot of space to create the sound design. There is not enough space to create artistic sound design when the dialogue takes most of the sound space. If there is no dialogue then there is plenty of room for the sound. So, my film is a combination of images and sound.”

The opening scene of Helmer’s visually appealing film features the most important character of his film — the cable car. Talking about the cast of his film, Helmer said: “The casting process is a very important process for me. The films that I am known for have no dialogue. I agree the film is not about a dramatic story. The cable car is a character for me. It has some soul. The first shot starts with the cable car hanging on the rope and that’s an important character. It is a very minimalistic story.”

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Casting being important to the director, he further shared how the script of the story had to be changed due to the casting process. “It is a magical film. If I have to choose two words to describe the film, I say it is a poetic love story. It was about a guy and girl, initially. I auditioned 500 girls and guys. But then I ended up with two girls. Now it is a love story between two females. So, I told myself if the casting directed me to this story then this is how it should be. But we were shooting this film in Georgia, which is not very tolerant. We couldn’t say it is a LGBTQ movie to the cable car location owner. There was a scene where one of the girls had to undress. My assistant is very clever and told the cable car person, ‘Now we have to shoot a scene but there’s a reflection on the window’. The cable car person covered himself with a coat and we had only five minutes to shoot the scene,” shared Helmer.

Talking about the sound design in the film, Helmer mentioned how it was a collaborative effort between his team and the villagers. “In Gondola, there is no clear cut between music and sound design. All actors play music and music was composed before the filming. The tools that the villagers use every day for their work and household... the sound design was a collaborative effort. It tries to achieve something higher,” said Helmer.

Further into the discussion, Helmer shared how the story was conceived. “Sometimes location inspires me and later on I try to find a suitable story. I try to understand the soul and the machinery. I like to enhance and find soul in technology. This film was conceived in 2021 and we couldn’t shoot in Germany because of Covid. The co-producer had sent me pictures of cable cars from Georgia and I quickly wrote the screenplay and after three months shot the film. These cable cars are very weird. It was built in Georgia and it was not for capitalist reasons. There is some beauty in why this was built. Renovation destroyed the original structure. I had to shoot fast because they started to make the station ugly and modern. There is something interesting about these cable cars. I arrived in Georgia to shoot the movie but they had stopped cable cars there because of renovation and I quickly went around Georgia to find this one car. I shot the movie with just one gondola. People don’t believe me. Two straight lines never meet but that’s what we did — we made people believe in the impossible. If we want happiness in life we have to believe in the impossible,” said Helmer.

Gondola

Gondola

Talking about shooting with a small cast and crew, the director said: “Gondola was shot with just seven people because we shot in a cable car. I did the sound there, wrote the screenplay and was driving a truck. I was the producer and director, too, but in general I have very skilled collaborators. We shot many things and we didn’t know how it would come out. It took me two years to edit the film. I lost two editors in the process as it was taking time. My third editor completed the film. In my first movie, I had 50-60 actors. I don’t want the pressure of 50 people around me anymore. Like the documentary crew, I feel free like a bird. On the way, in the morning, I can stop two cars to get a shot, not 50 cars. I tell my cinematographer that he has to do the light. One of the benefits of digital cameras is that they are light sensitive and the cameras are small, so we could mount them on the gondola. I love that instead of 10 technicians.”

Explaining further on his no-dialogue style, the director added, “I am challenged to do a film with little narration. It is important to find very good actors for me. One actress from Georgia and one in Germany. They would never have a chance to be cast in a movie. For one of my movies, I had to go around 27 countries to cast. How do they communicate with each other in one language? During a premiere in China one person came up and told me that the subtitles were horrible. Not many people make films without dialogues.”

Concluding with his thoughts on the Calcutta screening at KIFF, he said: “Audience today is bombarded with music and drama. I wanted to say something very subtle. The drama is between the eyes of the two main protagonists, so I wasn’t sure how the audience would react. I was scared everybody would run away. I was only relieved when people were applauding. People in India are so passionate about movies. I can’t say that about Germany. This is so special and unique.”

Moods and Moments from Day Two and Three at KIFF

Rain couldn't stop cine lovers from gathering at the Nandan premises on Day Two of the ongoing Kolkata International Film Festival.

The Nandan premises done up vibrantly with artistic posters are perfect for cine lovers to capture groupies and selfies

The Nandan premises done up vibrantly with artistic posters are perfect for cine lovers to capture groupies and selfies

Eventful day two and three at Nandan

Eventful day two and three at Nandan

With the sun shining bright on Day Three, people gathered with more enthusiasm and in greater numbers.

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