In her feature debut Baden Baden Rachel Lang tells the story of Ana, who seeks new direction in her life over a languid summer filled with accomplishing little things. Don’t expect a road trip to the famous German spa, as the title might imply, but rather trips to the DIY-store to install a shower in her grandma’s bathroom. “This is the story of an individual who becomes singular and active through her encounters. That’s life!”
People let themselves be defined by their jobs. Train operator, fireman, journalist or filmmaker: that’s what you do, so that’s who you are. In the opening scenes of Baden Baden, Ana (a recurring character in the films of Rachel Lang, always played by Salomé Richard) is a driver for a film production. She’s chauffeuring the lead actress to the set. Sounds nice, but Ana seems stressed. Traffic is slow, she looks like she’s lost. When she arrives on set the producer yells at her that she’s thirty minutes late, and she’d better return the car to the rental company and never come back to work. So who is Ana now?
Most people have had some terrible jobs in their youth. At the beginning of Baden Baden Ana has one as a driver for a film production. Did you take inspiration from your own work experience?
“I’ve had every possible job you could think of between the ages of sixteen and twenty-four: picking apricots, museum guard, housekeeper, babysitter, waitress, doing cinema workshops for children, a model in art school, supervisor of examinations – and, yes, also a personal assistant and driver on a film shoot. I choose that one out of all those jobs for the film because I wanted to make the failure of my protagonist understandable to the audience. The film world isn’t necessarily more cruel than others, but a small mistake can lead to a catastrophe for a whole production. That’s something else compared to picking apricots.”
What job did you despise the most?
“Being a museum guard. I wasn’t allowed to read, I was paid to do nothing. I had to wait all day and stare at art I knew too well, that nobody wanted to steal anyway…”
Installing a shower might be the most monumental event in Baden Baden. How did approach a screenplay with so few conventional plot points?
“I wanted to make a physical and organic film. This is a film that is more concerned with state of being and feelings than with history and story. Characters are of the biggest importance to me. They draw Ana in. She becomes who she is, and grows, through them. This is the story of an individual who becomes singular and active through her encounters. That’s life!”
Ana tries to find her place in the adult world. How do you perceive your generation, which is trying to do the same thing?
“I started telling Ana’s story seven years ago. I decided to make a trilogy with Pour toi je ferai bataille, Les navets blancs empêchent de dormir and Baden Baden, about becoming an adult. It’s difficult for our generation to find a place in the world. To know who we are, why we’re here and where we’re going. To me, this existential aspect is closely connected with the political. Our generation has trouble projecting itself onto an old Europe, where it is hard to dream of a story we can create together.”
As a rebel Ana fights against predominant notions big and small: she eats peas and carrots with ketchup, she DIY’s a bathroom herself, sleeps with her ex, steals a car, speeds on the freeway while singing along with a female punk band about wanting to be unisex. How do you think Ana relates to the rest of society?
“It was my intention to remove the gender aspect out of my character. I want to talk about something universal, not just about a boy or a girl. I wanted a “unisex” character because I want Ana to be more than just a representation of the female sex. I didn’t want her to be a fantasy or an object of desire. I wanted her active, not subjected to the gaze of others. So I removed these codes of sexual attraction out of her. This film isn’t about gender, but about the metaphysical: what does it mean to grow up, to have important encounters that shape who you are and to experience things that give you joy?”
Photo: Sébastien Bonin