Leonie Krippendorff Overcoming an Inner Loneliness

German screenwriter and director Leonie Krippendorff in Sydney
German screenwriter and director Leonie Krippendorff in Sydney | © Sabine Scholz-Hinton

Leonie Krippendorff is still in the early stages of her film career. Born in 1985 the screen writer and director from Berlin has just released her first feature film ‘Looping’ (2016). Her chosen topic is a complicated one. She examines people’s loneliness alongside human solidarity in unlikely situations. In our interview she talks about the relationship she has with her protagonists and what she would like viewers to take away from ‘Looping’.

Can you tell me something about your motivation behind the themes in your first feature film ‘Looping’?

Looping is my diploma-film from the Film University [Babelsberg Konrad Wolf]. It is actually quite an intuitive project. I put anything that inspired me on a wall at my home: Song lyrics, photographs, passages of novels or poems – anything really. Also scenes that I had already written and was intrigued by, but couldn’t really pin-point why. I kept looking at the wall and wondered what the underlying theme of these small pieces in my collection was. Through this process I realized that it always had something to do with an inner loneliness. From this vantage point I created my characters.

Finding a place in the world

Of your three female protagonists who came to mind first?

Leila (Jella Haase) was first. I had been engaged with Leila’s character for some time. I had already done a short film with a very similar protagonist. That was my first short film at Film University. It was about a young girl that feels an inner longing. She is trying to find her place in the world and wants to feel something at the same time. This wanting-to-feel-oneself always has something to do with living on the edge - which often resonates an intense energy, but can also easily turn into something self-destructive, if one doesn’t have an automated inner shield that turns itself on once things get dangerous. There is always this thin line: where does a great, seething energy end and where does self-destruction set in.

So I discovered Leila pretty quickly. But she was a little softer, more vulnerable than the character I had examined earlier [in my short film].

Looping (2016) © Looping (2016) Do you know your characters inside and out? For example: do you know what happened to Ann and how her story would have continued?

Ann (Marie-Lou Sellem) is an exception. Normally, I know a lot about my characters. But to me, Ann is more of a philosophically functioning character than a psychological one. So in her case I would say that I don’t know everything. But I have a very strong feeling towards her. In the final and current version of Looping one gets at least an idea of what could have happened to her: that there has been a painful experience, that it has something to do with her childhood home, that it has something to do with her father, with a child that might or might not have been her. There are different interpretations and that was my intention. Originally, I wanted to say nothing psychological about Ann at all. To me, Ann feels a longing for death which is still different to someone who is at risk of committing suicide. [A longing for death] does not result from a permanent sorrow or pain, but from a longing for a different condition. That was my approach for the character of Ann. This world here is simply not the right place for her. Which to a certain degree does have to do with painful experiences. But not just that. I purposely didn’t want to find a clear psychological explanation for Ann’s longing to die – that felt dishonest to me.

Strong images, few words

Something that stood out to me and surely gets mentioned a lot is the significance placed on visual images: especially during the start sequence at the fair, but also in close-ups of the characters that have experienced very strong emotions and continuously try to cope with their feelings. The film itself works without much dialogue. That reminded me of Japanese directors such as Takeshi Kitano. Was that an inspiration for you at all? 

The cinematographer Jieun Yi and the cutter Jihyeon Park are both Korean and I have been working with them for quite some time. With Jieun I have already shot my first project at uni. Back then she didn’t speak as much German as she does now. We’ve always found different ways to communicate about the scenes. That was a brilliant thing for me, as I often spluttered in the beginning when I was trying to explain my intentions behind a scene. Especially in the beginning everything came just from a gut level. Often there was only an interest for a certain situation or condition, for a character, without knowing exactly why. With Jieun I had found my perfect partner, as she was used to not always understanding every little detail, but finding the bigger picture. We had to improvise with our communication. Occasionally I would show her a photograph which hadn’t anything to do with the scene itself, but exuded a similar aura, a similar emotional base. Or I would play her the song I heard when I was discovering the scene.

This kind of creative understanding between us was beautiful and supported me in my creative development. Words have been secondary up to this point.

Lana Cooper (Frenja), Marie-Lou Sellem (Ann) and Jella Haase (Leila) in Looping (2016). Lana Cooper (Frenja), Marie-Lou Sellem (Ann) and Jella Haase (Leila) in Looping (2016). | © Salzgeber & Co. Medien GmbH About the situation of female directors in Germany: do you feel as though there is equal opportunity or is the film industry still dominated by men?

I get asked that a lot. I always feels as though I should talk about how difficult it is as a woman in this industry. But in reality I get the feeling that I’m now one of the first women who get to enjoy the fruits of the equal rights lobby. I didn’t experience any disadvantages just because I’m a woman – not during my time at university, nor when it came to financing my film. The only thing I would say is that when you are shooting a film and there is a relatively big set, then there are around 20 technicians who are predominately men. This can make it difficult to assert yourself as a woman, especially when you are young and it is your first feature film. One isn’t necessarily perceived as a person of authority. But obviously there are also sensitive men who make films and are just starting out – they have the exact same problems.
To cap things off – what would you say is the main message behind your film? Sometimes this isn’t so clear when writing the screenplay and one only discovers this right at the end. Did you have such a moment or did you know right away what you wanted to say with ‘Looping’?

There is this poem by Blumfeld. One line goes: “Children of the Night; at places of light; are standing outside; and sending you signals.” In my opinion that is a nice expression of this inner loneliness that I have been talking about. Also to realize that one isn’t actually alone and that there are so many people out there who for different reasons and in different phases of their lives feel exactly the same way. If people band together, a real strength can come out of this and fill the void.
Thank you very much for this conversation Leonie.