With an ultra-widescreen aesthetic shot on a Sigma fp and crisp 6K images of its character contrasted against grand and strange landscapes, Juliette Hüsler and Filip Piskorzynski’s Mirage makes us question the very nature of reality itself. Shot over a few years, the David Bohm-inspired film reunites the two DN alums – who we saw work together as director and composer respectively for 2019’s transfixing depiction of multiverse theory Circle – come together once again to explore experimental questions of who we are and how our perception of reality can often change its presentation. Otherworldly cityscapes meld with epic mountain views to depict the journey of one woman (played by Hüsler herself) and her ever-shifting relationship to the wider world, creating a fascinating representation of what it means to exist in modern society. To accompany today’s premiere of Mirage, we talk to Hüsler about her long-standing collaboration with Piskorzynski, finding the rhythm of the piece through editing and how she created the unique effects featured in the film to represent the ideas of quantum physics.
I’d love to learn more about your relationship with co-director Filip Piskorzynski. How did you first get in touch and how do you work together?
We have collaborated since 2016 and worked a lot on commercial jobs together as DPs and directors and editors. We always had similar interests in quantum physics and how perception is not the ultimate truth. That inspired us to do this project. I made Circle a few years ago, which premiered on Directors Notes as well. This was kinda like a second part I really wanted to do and I talked a lot with Filip on this idea and he joined me on this project.
For me, I thought it represented dreams that might not be our own. Like we’re imagining someone else’s reality. I think the way the images bifurcate gives that impression. Would you say that’s a fair way of approaching the film?
Of course. I think it’s always this question of what is real and what is a dream. I think that’s also why we feel that perception holds the key. I think a lot of theories in physics tell us that the observer interacts with what’s observed. You can start to shape your reality so you never really know.
Were there any theoretical physicists that influenced you in particular?
There’s this one physicist called David Bohm. He was really inspired by the famous quote of Jiddu Krishnamurti. He was this spiritual teacher who said that “the observer is the observed”. I think it was the pinnacle of his teaching. He always said that when there is division between the observer and the observed, there is conflict. The ideal is that the two merge so that duality comes to an end. I think that’s the inner dialogue that this girl has. David Bohm felt a similar way in quantum physics: there are a lot of experiments where the outcome changes if you observe something.
We always had similar interests in quantum physics and how perception is not the ultimate truth.
I don’t know if you heard of the double-slit experiment. You can shoot particles throughout two slits and the moment you observe the particles, they become waves. It’s a famous experiment that took place in the 1920s with Bohm and Einstein. This is always a huge miracle about how the observer is somehow integrated within the experiment itself.
Which visual techniques did you want to use to depict this in the film itself?
That’s really the idea of this echo effect. Where you have this one person, let’s say it’s the particle, then it starts to become a wave, so it becomes these multiple personalities.
For me it’s a film that really seems to exist more in the edit. Were you always thinking first about the edit before you started shooting or did you shoot and then think about how you were going to put it together?
It was such a fun process for both of us. Whenever we kind of had an idea or saw an interesting location, we called each other up and said “let’s shoot there and see how it’s gonna fit together.” Then a lot came together in the editing through experimentation. We both edited it and sent a lot of versions back and forth and that’s where a lot of the ideas started to flare up.
And you seem to have shot over a long time. We can see the different seasons…
We started with the Swiss mirror house in 2019 and then we let it rest for a while and picked it up again. Then, whenever we had time to work on it, we went shooting, basically.
Did you feel like these breaks gave the film time to breathe, so you could come back with a fresh perspective?
Yes, but I think that was a bit of a challenge in parts, because our ideas kind of changed throughout the film. But of course this was a necessary process. The composer, Ali Christenhusz, saw some early versions and was very kind and started to compose something for us. The music, I feel, was really important in the editing to find the right rhythm for this piece.
We sent a lot of versions back and forth and that’s where a lot of the ideas started to flare up.
I was going to ask about the music because it melds together really effectively with the images: for example, when the beat comes in as she splits into parts. What was this collaboration like?
We started shooting in a few locations and put a few images together in the edit and we showed him. He was was really drawn towards it and proposed to compose the music. Then he started working on it and we went on filming and it all really came together with the music. The example you made was created after the final edit.
You meld the images together to create a kind of kaleidoscopic effect. I’d love to know more about their use?
This is another way where we really tried to think about which effects we could use to give the audience the idea of a more fluid perspective of reality, which is more dynamic. I think that this kaleidoscopic effect as well as the echo effect was a big part of it — how we perceive reality in our everyday lives and how we can change this slightly.
Is this a theme that you would like to develop in future films with Filip?
Yeah, I hope so. We’ve already talked about a Mirage 2! I think there is so much to discover with this idea of changing realities and changing perceptions but we don’t have anything concrete.
Are you working on anything new currently?
I’m working on a few commercial projects at the moment and I’m also editing a documentary. Filip is also working on commercial projects as well as the moment.
How does working on commercials inform the aesthetic of your personal work?
I think that’s a big part in a way. We felt that because we’re giving so much creativity in the commercial world we have to have a project on the side that is completely ours and where we can be so free which is not the case if you shoot or edit commercials.