Jennifer Merin interviews Katja Von Garnier, “Blood and Chocolate” director

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Katja Von Garnier shapeshifts this werewolf movie into a deft romance.

Fans of Annette Curtis Krause‘s novel, “Blood and Chocolate,” are grumbling that the screen adaptation takes liberties with the plot. For one thing, the story’s 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 drama’s 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 Romania’s 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. It‘s 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 it’s fiction, but I want the film to give you that little mind space where you wonder if it’s true.”

MERIN: Yours is a very different approach to making a horror movie– you don’t have any monsters. There are people who become wolves, but neither are grotesque or unnatural….

VON GARNIER: That’s true. I don’t really see this as a horror movie. I think of it as a love story. That’s what attracted me to the project. It’s funny– if you’d asked me a few years ago what I wanted to do, if I’d do a horror movie, I would have said no, I’ve 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 it’s about true love conquering all, and that’s a theme I like. Vivian, like the other loup garoux, is hiding from the world, but she’s also hiding from herself. She’s 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 she’s 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– it‘s a gift.

MERIN: Yes, but they hunt and kill, too.

VON GARNIER: That’s part of it. But Vivian has that ability to transfigure– yet she doesn’t 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. They’re 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. They’re very spirited animals. Sometimes just watching them on the set, I was so moved I’d 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 it’s the choice they want to make for the transfiguration, so they literally make a leap of faith and it‘s sort of that if they don’t believe they’ll land as a wolf on the other side, they’ll 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 they’re 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 Zoltan’s 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 it’s 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, you’re a European director who’s taken as her first American theatrical release an American story that’s been transported to Europe. So, that’s 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 director’s 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: You’ve 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: It’s very different. My last project was for HBO, “Iron-Jawed Angels,“ and it’s 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 I’m always interested primarily in character. And I love working with actors– I’d say that one of the best things about this gig.

Parts of this interview were originally published in New York Press

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Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and About.com. She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is also a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).