Jennifer Merin interviews Katja Von Garnier, “Blood and Chocolate” director
Katja Von Garnier shapeshifts this werewolf movie into a deft romance.
Fans of Annette Curtis Krauses novel, Blood and Chocolate, are grumbling that the screen adaptation takes liberties with the plot. For one thing, the storys set in Eastern Europe, where Vivian (Agnes Bruckner), the attractive loup garoux (werewolf), has lived with a pack of relatives since her parents, also loup garoux, were slaughtered in the American West. Relocating from Colorado to Roumania certainly gives Blood and Chocolate a different flavor (bonbons and dark alleys, instead of fast food and trailer parks), but the essential theme (loyalty to pack versus free will, and true love) is the dramas centerpiece.
German director Katja Von Garnier says the relocation was set before she signed on, but she found it fit her interpretation of the story as a mythic romance”
We were set to shoot in Prague, but Bucharest turned out to be the better location. Did you know that Romanias symbol is the wolf? I found that amazing the place has so much of the mythology and legend. says Garnier. And it was perfect for locations like the old church where Vivian (Agnes Bruckner) first meets (love interest) Aiden (Hugh Dancy), and the metal alley, where the young pack are jumping overhead, which was part of one of the projects Ceausescu began and abandoned.
The feel of the city was right, too. Its a place where people the loup garoux who have hidden identities could live among others without being discovered. I wanted it to feel true. Of course, we know its fiction, but I want the film to give you that little mind space where you wonder if its true.
MERIN: Yours is a very different approach to making a horror movie you dont have any monsters. There are people who become wolves, but neither are grotesque or unnatural .
VON GARNIER: Thats true. I dont really see this as a horror movie. I think of it as a love story. Thats what attracted me to the project. Its funny if youd asked me a few years ago what I wanted to do, if Id do a horror movie, I would have said no, Ive no interest in it. But this script and I must say I read the script before I read the book inspired me because I think its about true love conquering all, and thats a theme I like. Vivian, like the other loup garoux, is hiding from the world, but shes also hiding from herself. Shes ashamed of her nature and she learns to respect by seeing her culture through the eyes of Aiden, who respects and is fascinated by the myths before he knows shes one of them. Also, in most stories about transfiguring, the act of becoming an animal is seen as a curse. I like to think of it in this story as an ability, as something they do to feel free its a gift.
MERIN: Yes, but they hunt and kill, too.
VON GARNIER: Thats part of it. But Vivian has that ability to transfigure yet she doesnt kill, she just loves to run. She loves to feel free like a wolf.
That was another thing that attracted me to this film I really like the idea of working with wolves. Theyre very different creatures than most people think. Very shy, not at all aggressive. And very difficult to train. We were advised to use hybrids part dog. I wanted purebred wolves, and we were lucky we found Zoltan (Horkai), a Hungarian animal trainer, with 23 wolves. They never run in packs that large, so the hunt scene which, to my mind is the highlight of the film is very unusual. It was incredibly challenging and gratifying. Theyre very spirited animals. Sometimes just watching them on the set, I was so moved Id just well up.
MERIN: The hunt scene is fantastic. Who came up with the mode of transfiguration, where men and woman leap into the air and land as wolves?
VON GARNIER: That came from working with my storyboard artist. When I came to the project, I made the hunt scene my priority. I wanted it to be visually amazing. We sat for hours listening to music for inspiration and getting ideas and sketching out how it could be. We got the idea of leaping and thought that was a nice mindset, like its the choice they want to make for the transfiguration, so they literally make a leap of faith and its sort of that if they dont believe theyll land as a wolf on the other side, theyll break their hand.
I thought it was really cool, and I see it as an element of beauty in the film. Knowing that wolves are so misunderstood, I really wanted to show their grace and beauty, to give this element to the loup garoux, a moment of running free before they hunt. I want people to be open to seeing that about wolves.
MERIN: The actors are actually wolf-like in their behavior, even when theyre not transfigured. Who choreographed their movement, the hunt, and other stalking scenes?
VON GARNIER: It was a combination of factors. First, the actors went to what we called wolf camp, where they spent a lot of time observing the Zoltans wolves and adopting their behavior. Then we wanted all the movement to be beautiful to keep the idea that they have an extra ability, and that gives them extra grace. So, we trained with the parkour style, which emphasizes the beauty and grace of movement in all sport so its almost like a dance. And we had one of the Parkour instructors do stunts, too. He actually took the leap without wires, but most of the stunts did wear wires for safety.
MERIN: Speaking of leaps of faith, youre a European director whos taken as her first American theatrical release an American story thats been transported to Europe. So, thats a kind of leap of faith. Do you find directing in America different than in Europe.
VON GARNIER: It is different. In Europe it seems to be more about the directors vision and finding a way to make it happen. Here, there are more people involved in making decisions, and more of the decisions are based on money. I found it tougher, more challenging.
MERIN: Youve mentioned you liked the challenge of making this movie. How do you see it as fitting into your body of work so far?
VON GARNIER: Its very different. My last project was for HBO, Iron-Jawed Angels, and its about suffragettes. And before that I made Bandits, which is a music movie. So this, with all the effects and the wolves, was very different. I will say, though, that Im always interested primarily in character. And I love working with actors Id say that one of the best things about this gig.
Parts of this interview were originally published in New York Press