Robert Manson’s drama Lost in the Living screens at the IFI on Thursday, 11th February 2016. The film follows a young man, Oisín (Tadhg Murphy), who travels to Berlin with his band, buzzing with the potential of a tour and escape from his troubled family life. Oisín meets Sabine (Aylin Tezel), a pretty young Berliner, who shows him the secret places that belong to the city. The band lose patience with him and move on and he decides to stay. But this time of simple pleasures is based on illusions. Oisín’s willful escapism is thrown into a tailspin when events take a dark turn.
Robert has described the film as his ‘love letter to Berlin’, a city he has been visiting for ten years and where he now lives. “I love Berlin. It’s a huge inexpensive creative metropolis, where young and emerging artists, can find and afford space to develop their craft without too much hassle. Lost in the Living is an homage to the city of Berlin in many ways. This film is a collection of anecdotes, experiences and observations I have made in the city over the years. Some are personal ones, some are of friends and visitors, to Berlin, and some are things that I have seen and overheard. I collected all these little shards and memories and worked them into a simple script about love and loss in a foreign city.
“The film took me a little over four years to make and bring to this stage. I have been living in Berlin for nearly a year now so my perspective of the city has changed considerably over time. But it’s still interesting to see and experience things with fresh eyes. I still feel that newcomer buzz when watching the film now. I have learned a lot more about Berlin since shooting this film. Including a deeper understanding of the people, the culture and the history of the city. In some ways the success of this film has given me an opportunity to delve deeper into life in Berlin. It was originally my plan to make this film as a bookend of my experiences in the city and go somewhere else to discover another city perhaps. Berlin hasn’t let me go though. I have been immersed since then, presenting the film to new audiences in the capital city.”
It turns out that this will not be Robert’s only film set in Berlin. Robert explains that he plans to make a trilogy of films there, “representing three stages of life in the city: visiting the city; living in the city and, finally, leaving the city, after spending a long time there. I am currently developing the script for the second part of this trilogy, along with two other scripts, which are set in Ireland.”
Robert had written and directed 5 shorts before taking on his first feature and points out the particular challenges he faced working on his debut feature. “Shorts and features are two completely different animals. Everything is ten times bigger, scarier and more difficult when handling a feature. The hardest part about making a feature is knowing when you’re ready to step up and start swimming against the current. Then comes the decisions about what story or script to develop. There is also the challenge of gathering a team together to work with you.
“‘Don’t wait too long or you’ll miss your chance,’ an Irish film director once told me at the Fleadh in Galway. Convincing yourself is the first stage, then you need to try and convince everyone else around you that it is going to happen. It’s like a right of passage for a director/writer. Shorts are a great way to find your feet as a filmmaker and to develop your craft. It’s important to make as many as you can at a young age and make as many mistakes as possible during the process. I made loads of mistakes along the way to finishing Lost In The Living.
“We shot a feature film, on a minimal budget, in a foreign city, with a language and cultural barrier. My producer Lisa Roling was asked at a recent screening in Berlin, ‘how did you manage it all?’ she replied, ‘I really don’t know’. We survived this process by the skin of our teeth and with all the film Gods looking down on us and guiding us. The experience I garnered on this film, I think, will put me in good stead for many years to come. It will also help me tackle, with good temperament, the challenges of future projects. I am hungry for the next challenge now.”
For a film like Lost in the Living to work, Robert needed particularly strong performances from its two leads, which he got in spades from Tadhg Murphy, playing Oisín, and Aylin Tezel, who plays Sabine. “After watching the short film Rhinos, I thought Aylin Tezel would be perfect for the role of Sabine in my film. I got in touch with her and visited her in the Mauerpark in Berlin. She liked the script and we became friends. There were a few bumps in the road before we actually got around to shooting the film in the summer of 2013 in Berlin. In that time, Aylin had started to become really famous in Berlin and was working on a number of high-profile films and had also secured a main role in the hit German TV show Tatort. But she kept true to the film and joined up with us to shoot in Berlin and Dublin.
“I cast Tadhg a few weeks before setting out to Berlin for the pre-production phase of the film. I met him in a cafe in Dublin just after he had finished shooting on Vikings and I was bowled over by him. He was so open and generous with me. I remember him being calm and revealing stuff to me after a matter of minute that he said he hadn’t told anyone yet. I knew he was perfect for the role.
“It’s always a worrying moment when actors meet for the first time on set. Thankfully, Tadhg and Aylin got on like a house on fire from the first moment they met. Their first scene together was when they meet for the first time. I didn’t introduce them before the scene where Tadhg looks over at Aylin in the cupboard bar scene in the film. I told him to find her amongst the crowd of extras and he did. It was perfect and is still one of my favourite moments in the film.
“We worked with a lot of non-actors and real people just off the street in Berlin during, the making of this film. Tadhg was a godsend as he relaxed people he shared screen time with and also guided some people that needed a little extra encouragement. He was like an acting coach for some people. It was amazing working with both these generous, high-profile actors, and so much fun, introducing them to the madness of Berlin.”
In the film, Oisín has left behind the sadness of his mother’s death and disappointment towards his absent father and his disaffection spills over into an overt feeling of alienation – something that his character pursues. “Berlin is like the city of lost children,” according to Robert. “Maybe an inverted Tír na nÓg. There’s a strange energy in the city. I regularly find myself just wandering around the city with no real destination or appointment to keep. It’s great. I enjoy switching my brain off, grabbing a beer from a Spati and taking the long way home or then going to a party. Also if you don’t understand the language it’s easy to filter all the conversation around you on busses or trains and find complete silence in your brain. I think Oísin’s character has been through a lot in recent years and a few events at the start of the film forces him to break away from his friends and to search for some peace within himself. He seeks distraction and silence… but finds love.”
That sense of alienation is made more palpable by the cinematography of Narayan Van Maele and Gareth Averill’s sound design to create a particular sensual environment that sets the tone of the piece. “Narayan was a lifesaver for this film. I have worked with him many times over the years on short films, in and out of college. So he know my approach as a filmmaker and knows what to expect. Sometimes it can be hard to form a relationship and dialogue with a new DOP. Especially when you’re thrown in at the deep end on set. It can take years to develop a connection and professional working relationship, sometimes.
“This was our first feature film together as DOP and director. Having solid people in all of the key Heads Of Department positions on set is so important. Also, it didn’t hurt that Narayan can speak German, being from Luxembourg. We would have been lost with Narayan, if the truth be told. I think that his European pedigree for cinematography and his rich and imaginative eye for details shows up through his shot selection and the visual style in the film.
“I have worked with Gareth on many projects over the years. We have a great working relationship. I don’t need to describe too much about what I am looking for on each project. He just gets it. I send him a cut of the film to work away on and I get some of the most amazing soundscapes and scores back that I can pick and choose from. He usually sends me samples of the directions he’s going in and I can keep up to speed with him that way. For me the sounds design is always one of the most enjoyable stages of the whole process. Sound really brings everything together.”
Lost In The Living screens on Thursday, 11th February 2016 at 18.30 at the IFI as part of Irish Film in Focus, a focus on new Irish film and filmmakers.
Director Robert Manson will be present for a post-screening Q&A.
Tickets are available here or from the IFI Box Office or on 01 679 3477