Sonja Heiss admitted a movie about panic attacks and mental breakdowns might not seem like fun. But somehow she has skilfully weaved a life-affirming and often jaunty thread into a very serious subject.
Heiss faced a small but very appreciative audience at The Light Cinema after a showing of her German-language film, HEDI SCHNEIDER IS STUCK. A kind of ‘Go Happy’ meets ‘The Madness of King George’ – she spoke of her own experience of panic attacks and consequent treatments. As an audience member noted of the film, the medical profession’s reaction to the breakdown of the eponymous character, a normally happy-go-lucky 30-something, happily married mum, was harsh and unfeeling.
“In Germany there are so few psychiatrists that you have to wait for weeks to see one, then queue for four hours and get about three minutes to explain your issues after which they give you pills”, said Heiss. She didn’t want to go down the therapy route on film as that creates entirely different story. “Essentially this is a story about a happy relationship that is suddenly put under huge pressure. In Hedi’s breakdown she turns in on herself and takes hardly any interest in her young son or husband Uli. I wanted to explore how the family reacted to that.”
She also told an enquirer that she deliberately avoided the filmic stereotypes of depression: no gloomy monochrome or dismal music score.
“I kept up the bright colours of everyday summer life. That’s what happens when you have a breakdown, you notice that the world looks exactly the same as before.”
I wanted to take the film away from its setting in Frankfurt…
Another audience member wanted to know how she got such a good performance out of the boy who played Hedi’s six year-old son.
“It is difficult – you only have two hours a day to work with a child and in the end it was easiest to just shout out the lines and tell him exactly what to do for each part of a scene. It worked in the end.”
Answering a final question about the film’s future, Heiss seemed sanguine that being a German film offering comedy and and mental illness, it might not be seen as a commercial proposition. The audience member, who saw the movie at the Berlin Film Festival, stated that taht was a huge shame – it had been on of his favourite films this year.
Another questioner wanted to know about the film’s lead, Laura Tonke, described by Heiss as the “one time Indie star”. She is a personal friend of the directors and was, expressed Heiss, pleased to be offered such a challenging and nuanced role. It was certainly a remarkably honest and powerful portrayal of a woman in family crisis.
What about the final scenes set in Norway? “I wanted to take the film away from its setting in Frankfurt and really open it up.” She also revealed something that very few people outside of Switzerland (oddly) have ‘got’. The Norwegian setting was meant to be in the ‘land of the midnight sun’, a never-ending day longed for by Hedi who is determined to get unstuck.