News from the Locarno Festival

An interview with Michael Steiner

An interview with Michael Steiner



After your last three films that were based either on true happenings or literature, is this one imaginary. How did you come up with the idea?
No no, it’s a real story, too!! (laughs) My scriptwriter Michael Sauter had the idea for the story ten years ago. After he wrote Achtung, fertig, Charlie! and Melanie Wininger, an ex-Miss, was casted for one part, he was inspired and wrote a draft. Producer Bernhard Burgener now took that story up and we started with the film.

Why this focus on beauty competitions?
In Switzerland we have a special situation. There is a bit controversy: can one be famous because of beauty without any accomplishments? According to evangelical traditions you should achieve something. The Latin cultures are those that promote beauty per se. Also in Germany, Heidi Klum’s casting show has started a debate. Famous for nothing – yes or no?! In Switzerland this area of conflict lies on the Alps: north versus south. Since 17 years, people are engaged in this discussion whether to keep such competitions or not.

Switzerland is a country, where beauty competitions have quite a lot attention in the media compared to other countries.
That is an illusion. If we look to South America, beauty competitions here are modest. It is our subjective perception that it has a broader audience. This has also to do with the fact that Switzerland does not bring out a lot of big stars. This vacuum is likely to be filled with the Misses. I just combined these two aspects, that is why it matches. 

The fourteen girls in the movie have been chosen from a casting where over 200 girls participated. Whas it a criteria to have participated in a beauty competition?
No, the main criteria was to have acting ability. It was a normal casting. That professional actresses play the girls in the main roles is because they convinced us in the casting, not because they have experience. Lisa Maria Bärenbold for example, who plays Ashley, did only theatre so far. She is very good for her young age but it was her first film shooting, too. In the casting I immediately knew: it’s her! It happens rarely that a pretty girl with a beautiful face can say “Fuck yourself!” in that attitude she does. It is funny how all the girls are in reality so different than their characters.

How was it to work with a bunch of experienced and inexperienced actresses?
Yes, we had a funny mingle-mangle of different stages of shooting experience. We coached laic actresses in collaboration with the professional ones. Plus, they also learnt how a shooting works. They first days, some had teething troubles realizing for example when they are filmed from the back they did not have to do much with the face, etc. Luckily, the girls all had a fast apprehension.

Switzerland was waiting for your new film. Did you also experience bad reactions to your ideas, especially from the beauty industry?
Not at all. We are not able to damage them since they are threatened with extinction. It’s my first film for a minority of this country. The minority of beauty queens! I guess there are less Misses than Reto-Romans by now. We have to save them! Switzerland would lose something beautiful. I totally support the continuation of the beauty contests. I think beautiful women should get up in the morning, put make-up on and stand in front of a car (laughs).

You have always focused on different aspects: economy with Grounding, into the past with Mein Name ist Eugen, the dark sides of the mountains in Sennentuntschi an all through different genres. Why now the beauty queens through horror again?
Well, with the Misses you cannot just make horror, you cannot only take it seriously. It offers to play with Klischées. If we read in the newspaper that 16 candidates did not recognize the Matterhorn, I had to start with that. And without the horror it would just have been a boring film. No, I think this is the right combination – and again: to show how threatened this minority is!

A lot of known faces of Switzerland appear in the movie. How did you make them all participate?
In the scene where Miss Züri is chosen, I thought: what would be the strangest jury?! Nomi Fernandes incorporates how a beauty queen is not supposed to be Who could decide that the operated girl would win against the natural beauty of Meryl Valerie who plays the main character Jasmin? We wanted someone serious. The combination between Victor Giacobbo and Roger Schawinski with Gilbert Gress, who does not match at all, is great. One would never expect Gress in this position. With Mike Müller I am friends since Mein Name ist Eugen. That film brought his career to another level and it was obvious I was going to ask him. Pino Falk is the evil character in the movie and I don’t know any other actors who could play him still in a likeable way. Anouschka Renzi is the perfect part for the “Miss Mama”, I wanted to have a Swiss speaking German for this and I couldn’t imagine anyone better for that.

You take up every Cliché one can imagine in this context. Is this exaggeration also a payoff to the media that also wrote about you a lot, especially when you did the last film, Sennentuntschi?
No, not at all. As a filmmaker I cannot avoid bad press. I do what I do and don’t care about if someone doesn’t like it.

Can the film also be received and understood by an international audience?
Yes, sure. The wordplay gets lost a bit but that already happens when it is subtitled into German. Every film suffers in the translation. And those people I mentioned earlier are just in one scene. The film might not be as funny as for Swiss Germans, but it certainly works also for foreigners.

You work with a lot of stereotypes: The Matterhorn-Questions, but also the Slang of children from immigrants, etc. How do you see Switzerland?
Oh, very multicultural. In my life there is Zurich and the rest of Switzerland. Zurich is like an own island, very colorful and with 30 percent of foreigners. My Switzerland is more like that what I see there: different cultures that live together in peace.

You have a little daughter. Will you let her participate at a beauty competition in 18 years?
If the competition still exists then! If the Federal Office tries to save it, she can certainly participate.

Claudia Piwecki
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