SEE NL #18

Page 9

Berlinale feature presentation

Sacha Polak

Photo: Bas Losekoot

Emotional drive

Sacha Polak talks to Melanie Goodfellow about her new film Zurich ahead of its premiere in Berlinale Forum. Filmmaker Sacha Polak’s second feature Zurich, supported by the Netherlands Film Fund, is a searing portrait of grief revolving around a woman who discovers her late husband was leading a double life. Like Polak’s debut feature Hemel, about a sexually promiscuous young woman grappling with her fear of intimacy, Zurich centres on an equally intriguing and complex female protagonist. “It’s a really sad love story with a really, extreme female character,” says Polak, who developed the script closely with screenwriter Helena van der Meulen, who also wrote the screenplay for Hemel. Dutch singer-songwriter Wende Snijders, known to her fans simply as Wende, plays Nina, a professional singer whose life crumbles when her larger-than-life, lorry-driver husband Boris dies in a road accident, leaving her behind. Set against a no-man’s land of

motorways somewhere between the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium, Zurich follows Nina as she hangs out in lorry parks and service stations, searching for traces of her husband; agonising over the mystery of his second, secret existence, and occasionally seeking comfort in the cabs of other truck drivers. “The storyline grew out of a news article about a female paediatrician who hung out in lorry parks at night and gave drivers blow jobs but it developed into something totally different,” reveals Polak. The director went on a road trip of her own with production designer Jorien Sont as part of her research for the film. “We went to truck driver festivals and stopped off at roadside bars. We met a lot of people, asked lots of questions and took a lot of pictures,” explains Polak. It was van der Meulen’s idea to work with Snijders. She showed Polak an episode of the TV show 24 Hours with… in which a celebrity and interviewer spend 24 hours locked in a room together. “I immediately found her fascinating. I liked her and thought it would be great to do something with her,” explains Polak. Snijders puts in an accomplished performance opposite German actor Sascha Alexander Gersak, recently seen in the German Guantanamo Bay drama Five Years, as Matthias, a truck driver with whom Nina embarks on a

passionate affair. Without spoiling the plot, Polak and van der Meulen have devised a clever two-part structure that will keep spectators piecing together the full story right up until the end. Amsterdam-based producer Marleen Slot of Viking Film produced Zurich, with Germany’s Rohfilm and Belgium’s A Private View as co-producers. Slot previously produced Polak’s short film Brother (Broer) while at Amsterdam-based Lemming Film, where she worked for seven years before setting up Viking in 2011, as well as the director’s 2013 auto-biographical doc New Boobs. Polak has strong ties with the Berlinale. Hemel premiered in the Forum in 2012, where it won the FIPRESCI prize, and Zurich was developed with the support of the festival’s Berlinale Residency programme, which Polak attended alongside directors Ireland’s Rebecca Daly, Iranian Rafi Pitts and Israeli Samuel Maoz. As Zurich starts its festival circuit, Polak is already deep into the development of her third feature, Vita and Virginia, selected for this year’s CineMart (see p22). It is based on a screenplay adaptation by Dame Eileen Atkins of her theatre play of the same name about the love affair between Vita Sackville-West and writer Virginia Woolf.

Zurich Director: Sacha Polak Script: Helena van der Meulen Production: Viking Film



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