The director of The Affair, Julius Sevcík spoke with Borrowing Tape writer Nace DeSanders on various elements of the filmmaking process. The film is now available to watch via VOD and digital platforms now.
Listen to our podcast episode and/or read the transcript, which has been edited and condensed for clarity:
Hey, movie fans. I'm Nace DeSanders of Borrowing Tape and I'm here with Julius Sevcík, the director of The Affair — a drama about the relationship between two women in an extravagant home in the 1930s. Julius, thanks so much for being here.
Thank you for having me.
This film is based on the novel, The Glass Room by Simon Mauer. Were you familiar with the source material before being brought on this project?
Oh yeah, absolutely. I mean, we were shooting another movie with the same producer who produced The Affair, and at some point, he came to me with this book, which I immediately fell in love with because it had —apart from a wonderful story — it had an extremely original element of a love affair, which should be secret taking place in a house made out of glass. And I thought, this is an interesting conflict. How do you keep a secret in a place which is made out of glass? How do you go on like that? And I immediately thought that apart from a fantastic love story, which this was, it was a nice metaphor to the movie that will help me build the film on both a great story and a great underlining theme.
That jumps right into my next question. The home in this film played such a major role, both visually and to the story (like you say), so did you play a hand in location scouting and set design?
Yeah, of course. I'd like to be involved in everything because everything becomes on screen, it comes on screen at some point. So you know but this house is a relocation. This is actually a UNESCO-protected house, which was built about a hundred years ago. And now it belongs to the country as a historical element. So, we actually had to shoot in a real sacred place, which wasn't an original. We didn't build much for this movie.
When you were looking for the house, what specifically were you looking for?
The story by Simon Mawer is written specifically for this house. He travels a lot, this particular house. Yeah. And he travels a lot and you know, one day he came to this place, which is a smaller town near Vienna, it's in Czechoslovakia. I just crossed the border. And because the place has this Mies van der Rohe build house (Villa Tugendhat), which was built in 1929. And it's still part of UNESCO heritage, the world heritage. And he wrote a story that takes place there. So, we didn't have to scout. We just had to go into this particular house and find a way how to shoot in there.
This film takes place in the 1930s. What kind of research goes into ensuring historical accuracy?
I mean, you always have to do a lot of research. The movie travels between periods as well. Not only the 1930s — it takes place and in the forties and a little bit in the sixties. And so, I had to obviously go a lot into the history of that part of the country during those times. And there's a lot of it because — over the years — it's a love story, but it has to happen. It has to paddle itself through time and through time of the thirties and forties and then sixties, there were three different regimes actually ruling in that place. So you come from a democracy, then you fall into Second World War, and then you emerge in a communist regime, which took over after the Second World War. So, there was a lot to study and there was a link that we had found what was the background that would affect female-to-woman love story at that time.
And in the thirties it was more open, but yet there was a lot of, a lot of convention. And then in the forties, it was banned. The characters were, you know, a set apart and in the next and the next period — the period of communism was also bad. So, these two women had to find a way out to keep their life, how to be together, even though they had to face so many obstacles. And that was amazing. And that was the research was also about how a female love story would have worked in those times.
Speaking of those two women at the helm of this film are two well-known and respected actors, Carice van Houten, and Hanna Alström, can you tell us a bit about your experience working with them?
Experience was 100% amazing. Carice was the first cast for this movie and the character of Hanna that Carice plays is a kind of a shark kind of the person that is a little bit dark, a little bit more brave than everyone else in this movie. And she's ready to stand up for herself and being a fighter. So when she falls in love, it means a lot and she wants to keep betting. Carice was extremely perfect for this part. To me, she embodies those qualities, And when I was so happy when we cast her because it's always great. Obviously my pleasure, it's great to work with a fantastic actress but also when it matches with the role so perfectly. And the same is with Hanna Alström, who plays the character of Liesel. Because the character of Liesel a little more fragile, a little bit more solemn, and she needs to also be encouraged, but she's also very brave, but in a different way, and I think the chemistry between these two characters and between Hanna Alström and Carice was amazing, and it really carries the entire movie and for a director, this was a gift and it was a fantastic opportunity to fast time that we spend together.
Yeah. It really showed on screen. Was it always going to be these two playing the lead roles or did you have other people in mind originally?
I had no one else in mind [other] than Carice to play the lead from the first moment, the producer came with the idea actually to me and I immediately said, yes. I thought it was it was the perfect idea. And we had a little bit of casting the role of Hanna, but when I met with Hanna Alström, I was impressed immediately. And that I think Carice's heart and, and the way she was, I think she was perfect for the part. And that's always something that makes the movie come alive.
It's so wonderful when it works out like that.
Yeah. It was special. And, we could have decided very freely and it was we were in contact with the producer on it and everyone, whatever, [who] watched this movie thought that the casting was great, and the characters really have chemistry between [them].
Could you tell us a little bit about working with Cinematographer Martin Stairwell?
Oh I mean, this movie was a challenge for a cinematographer, and because you shoot in a real location, so you can't really influence it that much. And especially, in this case, you're shooting in a location, which is mostly made out of glass skewed. Huge glass panels that go, four meters in height. And actually, before the architect finished the building, he decided to make everything 25% bigger than it was on what was on the original plan. So you have huge high ceilings. Everything is just out of proportion in this house. And out of proportion are also the reflections. So as a cinematographer, you always have to think about reflections and how to use them or versus how unpleasant they can be on the screen. But, we made a movie before with Martin and we work very well together. You know, he's shot say maybe a hundred movies. He's extremely experienced and extremely focused on what he's doing. And I think this was a challenge for him. So it made him, I think made him happy to try something new.
That's great, yeah. I hadn't even considered the reflections because there's nothing but glass, but really, I think it came out really great, and seeing the trees and everything outside the windows made all the difference. It was so beautiful.
Thank you. I mean, it was the architect's original idea. We're talking about the 1920s, basically when Mies van der Rohe — who's today a treasure — the jewel of architecture came with the idea that we should open up the walls, and open our souls, and open our secrets, and open our thinking in when it comes to architecture. So the idea after the first war, basically, and those empires that preceded was let's tear down the walls, let's create a space that today we see in every time every second building, is that let's connect the rooms so that we are all together, but at the same time, each has privacy — it was a revolution in architecture. And putting something like that on-screen is always a challenge. And I think that Martin just got this right without making it pompous. He made it very livable, I would say.
So which films or directors have influenced you as a filmmaker, but also the film, The Affair?
Oh, I'm a film buff as well. And for this movie specifically there, you can't say, because once you've seen so many movies and you remember this and you remember that, and there's a lot of great movies. You know, just for some fun, maybe you can think even of the Kurtz scene in Apocalypse Now, in the end when it comes to architecture and lighting and things like that and how the space influences our thinking in real life as people, because there's such thing as an architecture of happiness or architecture of sadness. And for this film, the references are there. I just spoke to somebody and they mentioned that the airplane scene looks a little bit like in Casablanca, which was not the intention, but it looks like it was there was a reference. Sometimes, maybe as a director, you have these images in your mind that you didn't even, probably exactly know when they come from, but you have them and then they become your influence. There was a lot more than I had a little bit of Asian movies as well, which are always kind of part of my heart. So all kinds of influences — modernists films and films that take place in a landscape of mind, it's called. When the space actually creates a little more than a place to happen, that the story happens, but also influences the story, as it happens. All those references are in this movie and it's a very visual movie as well.
Oh, definitely. Definitely. Yeah. It was very visual. Really. I also thought of Casablanca during that scene.
Oh, I didn't ever... I never thought about it when I was shooting it. I knew I'm in a different scene, which takes place on the water. I thought about a movie, but in this particular scene in the airport when basically the family falls apart, and it's a very dramatic scene. It's more about the plane really, I think, and a little bit about kind of the sense that whatever we do here in the air, in the airport and when we get on or off the plane is going to change our life, whether we get on or not. And I think in that respect, there's a resemblance there.
Do you have any upcoming projects, anything that you're currently working on that you can tell us about?
Yes. I'm working on a new thriller with a very original concept and a very original idea. And I'm all into that development right now.