Christoph Behl is a German-born writer and director who studied his trade in Argentina and Spain. Primarily a documentary filmmaker, Behl’s first feature, What’s Left of Us, follows three friends in the wake of a zombie apocalypse.
STARBURST: This is a hugely ambiguous film that can be interpreted in many ways. Would you say this is your version of hell?
Christoph Behl: It is a good question, because I like the fact that people will have a dialogue with the film when they try and interpret it. There are references to Sartre and there are very different ideas of why it is like it is.
Love appears to be one of your central themes, but the characters become almost asexual as the dynamic changes.
We originally filmed some sex scenes but we didn’t put them in the film. With them, there the love was much stronger but it wasn’t part of the original plan. With the scenes in, it felt like there was too much energy somehow.
Decay is also a strong theme, but there seem to be contrasts in how this is presented.
It’s very much there. Perhaps it’s the human characters decaying more slowly than the zombies, with the flies and so on. I don’t have all the answers I’m afraid .
Talking of flies, there are a lot in the film. How difficult was that for the cast and crew to work with?
It was really hard at first because we use lots of real flies and they were everywhere. It made it uncomfortable for everyone, but they’re not dangerous. After a few days, everyone just got used to it.
The film felt like a play in many ways, with just the three main characters and the mainly fixed location.
It wasn’t such a dogmatic decision to use one place, but as we rewrote the script it just became that way. For me it was important to reduce many of the elements and work more on the characters when there are less distractions.
The three leads deliver outstanding performances. Was it difficult to cast the roles given the chemistry you needed?
It was difficult, as you need a good cast or you don’t have a good film. Without them just doesn’t matter. I watched them all in plays to see what they were doing but it took six or seven months to sort out. They were very involved too, as they changed a lot of the script and we decided not to just have shots; we filmed the scenes and let them run, which I guess is documentary in style, but we did it just to see what would happen.
You have a documentary background and this film feels very voyeuristic. I wondered, was this something you’ve worked on?
The idea was to get the voyeuristic feeling by not making the cast act for the camera and just to watch them. It was important to simply observe them, like the Dardenne brothers, although they are much better at it than me. We also didn’t change the lens similar to them. We kept the same optic the whole time to make it feel very close. If you see this film in the cinema you are always so close up with the faces.
The sound in the film is hard to really describe and I wondered if you could talk about that a little.
We had this idea from the beginning where we wondered what we could do differently. Everyone has seen zombie movies, there are so many, so we didn’t need the backstory. What we did was put the sound from the outside into the inside of the house so it plays through the speakers on to the characters all of the time. That was the main idea, to make the environment even more unbearable. It was brave to make a film without music but I thought we did a good job.
There are so many zombie films out there and this feels like a direct opposite to World War Z. Were you nervous at all about entering the genre?
No, I liked the idea of going into the genre. I think it’s good to work with popular mythology. There are rules that are accepted and it’s good to work within them. The interesting thing is to work inside these conventions to tell a normal story. There are a lot of films like this now, such as Jim Jarmusch’s vampire film .
What’s Left of Us is released on DVD on May 11th, and you can find out review here.
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