How ‘Soul of a Beast’ Director Used Experience of Being a Teen Father

Lorenz Merz doesn’t want viewers to dissect his new film “Soul of a Beast”.

“It’s really not an intellectual film,” he says. “I don’t think it’s a movie that you can experience intellectually, it really is a physical movie that goes either to your stomach or not.”

“Soul of a Beast” celebrates its world premiere on Friday at the Locarno Film Festival and follows the teenage father Gabriel (newcomer Pablo Caprez), who falls in love with Corey (Ella Rumpf), the girlfriend of his best friend, during an insane summer storm. Dragged by the decision to stay and take care of his son or follow Corey to Guatemala, Gabriel is catapulted into the unforgiving wilderness of his heart, where fantasy is more real than reality.

The film is a vibrant affair set in a crumbling urban world brought to life with special effects and a trippy mix of animal symbolism and Japanese fairy tale influences.

“Soul of a Beast” is Merz’s second feature film and represents a return to Locarno after his debut film “Cherry Pie” premiered in 2013 at the festival. War ”, through which he met Ella Rumpf, the female lead actress of“ Soul of a Beast ”. In Caprez, the director found “a perfect partner” for Rumpf, and electrical sparks flew between the two when they first met.

Variety met Merz before the “Soul of a Beast” premiere to talk about the origins of the film and those manga-inspired moments.

Are you looking forward to bringing “Soul of a Beast” to the big screen?

Yes, I actually just saw it in a theater with the leading actresses. It was shot three years ago and since then they have done many larger projects. They have made progress in their journey as actresses so they were a little worried that this was an old project that they would be ashamed of, but they were very proud to come out of it. They said they had never seen anything like it.

What were the origins of the film? It is clearly a very personal one to you.

It started when I became a father very young, around 17 or 18, and some very close friends of mine died at the same time. I had this overwhelming feeling, an intense present feeling, of being paradoxically alive. That’s always stuck with me, this change of perception. The almost simultaneous experience of birth and death had a great influence on my appreciation and made me question what freedom means in my own life. I was a young person who dreamed of traveling the world but at the same time taking responsibility for a young child.

And how did you want to channel that into “Soul of a Beast”?

I took the base of these facts and turned them into fiction. This is not my story, it is about the feeling it should convey. I actually wrote the treatment in two weeks, then went away and did a lot of DOP work on other functions before resuming it. I’ve been carrying it around for about 10 years.

You don’t describe it as a “sad, melodramatic coming-of-age drama”, but as a “contemporary brought into being” film. What do you mean by that?

This young character, the father (Gabriel), is used to his usual habits, his usual point of view, and then when hard hits happen, everything changes and his perception changes. He is brought to life, grows up in a system that we take for granted, and then when unusual things happen, he breaks with everything and begins to question the logic of his knowledge. He feels like he’s been reborn. When you have a child, relive every little step you forgot in your own journey. I wanted to show these existential things that remind you of what really matters in life.

How did you want to portray the love story between Gabriel and Corey (Ella Rumpf)?

It’s super fast. With the love of your life there is a look and everything is there. But at the same time, the film is not about that. It seems so, but then it all falls apart. It’s a movie about falling in love and then falling apart. The beauty of falling in love is lived in your body and your perception and everything seems to change, but that makes it harder to break afterwards.

The film is peppered with Japanese influences, where do they come from?

The loose ideas, the first pictures at the beginning came from the Japanese graphic novel by “Lonesome Wolf and Cub”. It is about a samurai who became an outlaw with his son and who embarks on an eternal vengeance journey because his wife was killed. It’s super poetic and super violent at the same time. The child is always present and keeps this pure vision. I think Japanese art has influenced everything I’ve ever done in my life. I’m very touched by the culture itself and the discrepancy between the super sensitive little things and the super powerful things and the way these two come together.

What are you hoping for the film?

Of course I want it to be seen by as many people as possible, but at the same time it’s a very personal film. The people who took part have their own personal stories and I love doing things that have an impact in real life and are not made just for their own worth. I hope it will somehow be noticed and maybe touch something in the people who are close to me and who were involved in it. I just want to keep doing what I love.

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