Ensemble Thriller

German-born director Dominik Moll came to international attention two decades ago with Harry, Here’s Here To Help – a thriller that saw him nominated for a BAFTA. His unique brand of darkly-hewn storytelling continued with Lemming, The Monk and News From Planet Mars. He now returns with Only The Animals, an ensemble thriller about desire that criss-crosses around the world. 

ASFF: Only the Animals is such a complex thriller, moving back and forth in time. Did this structure evolve over as you worked on it?
DM: No. It was conceived like that from the beginning, because it’s an adaptation of a book [by Colin Niel]. And the book is already structured in that way. It’s structured in five chapters. The difference is that in the book, it’s told in the first-person every time – which of course we couldn’t do, except by having a voiceover, which wasn’t interesting. So the challenge was to transform this subjective first-person narration into something more objective.

ASFF: What appealed about the story?
DM: This double thing of the mystery thriller – people having secrets, hiding things from others. And at the same time, this longing for some ideal [of love] which makes them all become active. That was a mixture that I liked a lot.

ASFF: Valeria Bruni Tedeschi features, but has to play a corpse for half the movie. How did that work out?
DM: I was nervous about that. Maybe not very exciting for an actress! So we had a dummy – really quite realistic. That was strange – both of them close to each other! But all the close-ups where you see her, it’s her, and she did it extremely well, and she loved it. She said it was like a metaphysical experience and she learned a lot about death. That was also a surprise – that she could find that exciting to do.

ASFF: You once again teamed up with your co-writer Gilled Marchand, who you’ve worked with since your debut Harry, He’s Here To Help in 2000. How did this relationship come about?
We met at film school, so more than 30 years ago. We hit it off and felt we liked film for the same reasons. We don’t always agree, but we quite naturally started working together – and worked together on the screenplays on my films and his films. I consider it a big chance to have that working relationship. We know each other very well. There are no ego problems. The way we work…once one of us has an idea, we talk about it. We start to develop it. We explore this way and that way.

ASFF: Why do you think Harry… is still your biggest success, commercially speaking?
DM: It’s always difficult to know of course in advance if a film will be successful or not. Otherwise everybody would do successful films! There’s always a mystery about it. I think that the story was good, and the incarnation was good – Sergi López created a character that was an archetype. A lot of people could relate to this idea of someone, even if he’s a criminal, who pops into your life and starts solving your problems.

Only the Animals is available to stream from 29 May. For more details, click here.

James Mottram