Stefan Jäger • Director of Monte Verità


– The Swiss director invites everyone to revisit “The Mountain of Truth”, a utopian colony that has welcomed all unconventional thinkers

The year is 1906, and the young housewife Hanna (Maresi Riegner) literally can’t breathe, stuck in her role and in her apartment that she’s not supposed to leave – at least according to the doctors. Until she heard about a mysterious place where everyone was uninhibited and free, of course. In Stefan Jäger‘s Monte Verità [+see also:
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interview: Stefan Jäger
film profile
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, screened in the Piazza Grande section of the Locarno Film Festival, it’s time to make a revolution – even if it’s only personal.

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Cineuropa: I had never heard of Monte Verità; mow, i just want to know more.
Stefan Jäger:
I was there in 1989 with Cinema & Gioventù, which is also part of the Locarno Film Festival – they invite students and young people. It was my first time, and it struck me right away – it’s such a fascinating place. It’s full of history, which you can just feel; you can feel all these people walking there, dancing and discovering the same things that we are discussing today like veganism, our relationship with nature and women’s rights.

It’s crazy how far ahead of the game this community was. Well, maybe outside of their insistence on daily tan.
Maybe at that time the sun wasn’t so aggressive [laughs]. I was curious to find out more about the female figures who created this place, like pianist Ida Hofmann – not being married was very important to her. This specific year, 1906, was chosen because that was when Lotte Hattemer, the daughter of the mayor of Berlin, committed suicide and [Austrian psychoanalyst] Otto Gross gave him all these potions – that’s a fact. Hermann Hesse went there, as did Isadora Duncan, one of the first dancers to go there. However, we still don’t know who took most of the photos of this place – there are over 500 of them. This is where our invention began. We said: “Let’s create a female protagonist who will be a photographer, looking for a new artistic approach.

By giving him this job, you Could playing with some old techniques. For a filmmaker, that must have been a lot of pleasure, right?
I love these old photos. We had a special camera, a Hasselblad, and you could film what she saw. There is also this photography museum in Switzerland, and the researcher there helped us a lot. When Hanna takes pictures and we jump into her head, there are parts that are still moving while others are already frozen. She wants to embrace movement, make it part of her creation. It was fun, but a lot of work. Maresi also had to learn how to handle the camera. You can see that her character isn’t that used to it at first, after all these years of marriage.

Hanna is trapped in her house at first. his illness, whether it be real or imaginary, recalled “hysteria” aAnd how some men tried to cure it.
We talked about asthma, not being able to breathe. During the pandemic, it took on a whole new meaning – we had to work with masks, after all. We had this idea that being on Monte Verità is like learning to breathe again. You can also hear it in the sound design. There is a whole story being told just through his breath.

Back in Vienna, we wanted her cleavage to be very high, her hairstyle very straight. All the rooms are dark, and it’s like being trapped in a golden cage, with medics telling you, “Don’t show any emotion, or you’ll have a stroke.” It was only later that she gained some self-confidence – also to be able to work as an artist.

With period films, attention to detail is crucial. But could you let your imagination run wild a little wilder once she walks outside in this world ?
There are many books on this subject and a documentary called Pinball! And all those photos, of course. But we decided not to be so specific about how these people looked, because at times it seemed a little cheesy, to be honest. We wanted to go further and create looks that would also recall the Flower Power movement; we looked at images from the 1960s and 1970s. I always say it’s funny that the first hippie town was created in Switzerland. People rebelled against this society which did not leave them free. I would love to be a hippie myself, but I was born too late.

These ideas, or utopias, are generally quite ephemeral.
And yet Ida Hofmann, interpreted by Julia jentsch, had been there for 20 years! This is quite an achievement. She later left with her partner Henri Oedenkoven, who had a child with a dancer. She accepted it, and they created this patchwork family, moved to Brazil and started a new community. Much of his life has been devoted to this utopia. There have been different periods in the history of Monte Verità: there was the period of the founders, the artists, then the rich, building a new infrastructure. What these people did was truly revolutionary – you can’t even believe it was possible. I love fantasy, but here all the magic happens in the minds of the audience.

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