"The Dead and the Living" is a film about a character, Sita. She is the central figure, the focal point around which everything revolves: the pulsating heart of the film. This young woman is full of energy, constantly seeking answers, and this is how she finds herself straying across (and sometimes impaled upon) the border between the old and the new Europe. Whereas Sita's father's insistence on looking away is the outdated response to the family guilt, Sita – on the contrary - insists on looking straight at the subject. Only in this way is she capable of forgiveness. Not until she has accepted her grandfather's past can she forgive him, and only by means of forgiveness can the pathway to a new beginning be smoothed out.
My own family comes from Transylvania, Romania, so I grew up with the themes of lost homeland, of displacement (in a quite different way I have already approached this subject in my films "Nordrand" and "Somewhere else"). The Saxon people of Transylvania were transformed into both perpetrators and victims by World War II. My great- aunt was taken away to a Russian prison camp – while several other relatives who had volunteered to join the SS were deployed as guards in concentration camps after being wounded at the front.
However, I wanted to create a connection with today rather than remaining stuck in the task of working through the guilt from all these years ago.
The script is based on research I conducted over many years; as well as travelling to the places Sita visits in order to get closer to the matrix of subjects, I also performed extensive research in the archives of the Austrian Resistance in Vienna, in the Jewish Museum in Warsaw and in a number of archives in Berlin and Frankfurt.
The historian Daniel Jonah Goldhagen dared to make a comparison between the systematic genocide practised in the Third Reich and the mass elimination of ethnic groups today. I was motivated by the same considerations when writing "The Dead and the Living".
My aim was not to chew over the guilt involved, not to attempt to make one-to-one comparisons between horrific acts; instead I have been considering a different range of questions: where does our responsibility lie today? Where does contempt for humanity begin? Where does it lead? Who are the perpetrators today and who are the victims?
I did not attempt to depict that which cannot be depicted. At the same time, the process of looking and then looking away - the forbidden, often sold image - was a constantly associated theme. The depiction of the perpetrator and SS officer Gerhard Weiss is an unclear image, an image on a video screen with low resolution - or a censored image, the image of a glove, a table leg. I wanted to play with the forbidden image, to uncover taboo images, but without having to employ "sensational" material.
For me making movies, especially working with the actors, is something very physical. Rather than in the "beautiful" image, I am more interested in closeness, faces and bodies. They are the focal point of the film and increasingly lose touch with themselves, puzzled, unable to comprehend the world any longer, thrown out of joint, tumbling, losing their footing. People who are driven, people who are driven away, who are lost - and always within them shine the individuals who yearn for something, who live, who have questions and pulsate.
This energy, the tension and release of tension, is expressed by the moving camera and the close-ups of faces in the city. Faces and bodies become their own landscapes.
The energy of the film correlates not only with a pulsating, breathing camera, but also with the style of editing and the way we worked with music.
Sita, on the move on her Vespa, on a train, in a bus or a plane - or simply running - represents the fast pace of the present, while Michael Weiss and Gerhard Weiss represent the past. In this sense, "The Dead and the Living" can certainly also be considered as a road movie.
If I get close to the audience, almost touching them physically, without having to depict horrors and suffering explicitly, then I will have achieved a correlation with the vivacity of the protagonists on the one hand and the pulsating, breathless feeling of the time on the other.