The Austrian auteur tells Vladan Petkovic why blurring the line between fact and fiction is the hallmark of his work.
Austria's Ulrich Seidl is a film-maker best known for his documentaries such as Loss Is To Be Expected and Animal Love, as well as the Venice prize-winner Dog Days, the first of his films he described as fictional.
Import Export is his second. It screened in Competition at Cannes, winning critical acclaim for its powerful but uncompromisingly bleak view of the human condition.
'For me, the only line that divides documentary from fiction is that there is a script to begin with and people playing roles,' says Seidl. 'It is a thin line, but to me it is only important to show something that is essentially real, whether staged or just filmed.'
The film takes place in genuine locations: a geriatric ward, a children's hospital, slums and an online sex agency. 'Everything else is invented,' says Seidl. 'I needed to use a real situation as a stage for a fictional one.'
The film follows two parallel stories. One is the tale of a young Ukrainian woman who takes a series of low-paid jobs in Austria to send money to her family at home. The second plots the narrative of a down-on-his luck Austrian who heads to the Ukraine to avoid his creditors. The two characters never meet.
Seidl spent a year auditioning 1,500 non-professionals for roles in the $2.9m project and then shot in Austria, Slovakia and the Ukraine over the course of two winters.
'It was hard work to bring in all the crew and gear and shoot among people who are very old or dying,' says Seidl of the shoot. 'But not any harder than shooting in the Ukraine at 20 below zero.'