Our interview kicks off with the most obvious question. When I catch up with Her Composition director Stephan Littger at the Raindance Delegates Center during the 24th Raindance Film Festival, I’m still intrigued by his film’s subversive premise: a creatively stuck composer, Malorie, explores her creativity by turning to prostitution when her sexual encounters start giving her new musical inspiration. From the opening shot of the film, you realise that this “tale in four movements” is all about exploration, and emancipation in order to come to terms with one’s creativity.
Therefore, my question is: has he ever gone to such lengths to explore his own creativity? With a faint German accent, he replies “Malorie is definitely my alter ego”. From the way he replies, with a slightly amused smile, it’s clearly not the first time that he’s heard this question, and the answer is not so simple.
Stephan Littger is a self-taught filmmaker and cinema came quite late to him, compared to many other directors. “I studied politics, philosophy, psychology anthropology…” When I point out that it’s clear that those disciplines influenced his debut feature, his answer is not where you’d expect. “You could say that, but then again, the divisions are arbitrary. Those disciplines are just different narratives we use to explain the world, and that’s what interests me in creating a film: for ninety minutes, I brought people in a common narrative, a way to explore the world in my own terms.”
It was to be expected that the director of a film that defies easy definition would not give simplistic answers. As it turns out, his intricate film is not what’s of interest of him in the discussion, it’s how it came about, and the narrative it weaves around the theme of creativity. “Of course people are going to pick up on the sexual politics of the film, and of course people will ask me if I’ve gone down the same road as Malorie in the film. And I have, but in a different way.”
As it turns out, the emotional path that the main character follows in the film is really not dissimilar to what Stephan Littger experienced. ‘“I moved to New York wanting to make films. I didn’t what story I wanted to tell or what theme I wanted to tackle. And I didn’t know anyone there, let alone in the business.” Wanting to explore his own creativity, he went into psychoanalysis. Still, he went through it for a few months as a creative experiment, just like Malorie has her sexual encounters.
That process did raise personal matters, which did not find their way into the film, but the overall experience did, which led him to writing “Her Composition”, with one major difference: psychoanalysis stopped. “As the analyst is supposed to be this father figure, I found that inhibited the development of my creative act. And the whole point of creativity is that it doesn’t stop, I don’t have to put a lid on it.”
And that’s what drives Malorie, Stephan’s alter ego too. “She’s stuck in her creative process, all artists experience that. So she has to subvert the act of creation, and the ultimate act of subversion is through sex.” When I ask whether that’s the reason he made his alter ego female, I feel the politics buff in him wake up and get animated in a split second: “For sure, it’s not just to distance myself and put some space, it’s because people will pick up more easily on the sexual politics if the person having sex is a woman. That’s just how it is.”
That’s when I feel we hit the heart of the matter. The politics of a film which is artistic to its core. “I don’t want to be political in a militant way because it’s not my way to make my point. But if you manage to create an experience whose aesthetics are intrinsically political, and intrinsically about art as well, then you’ve got a film that’s whole and can potentially bring together people who wouldn’t speak to each other, or couldn’t relate in any other setting.”
In that respect, he definitely has succeeded. His debut feature is explosive, fascinating from start to finish and carries its intriguing premise all the way through. By exploring his own creativity, he has given birth to a touching film that will stay with the viewer. The film is as captivating as the director: neither give simple answers (nor should they) and both leave a lot to think about -until the next film.