German filmmaker Nathan Engelhardt, co-founder of Munich-based creative production house Bitte Einen Film, who first graced the pages of DN with his poetic contemplation of love lost Your Curly Hair, returns with another complex and earnest exploration of love and relationships in Senti L’Energia. His languorous journey under the Italian sun surrounded by the stunning scenery of Lake Como builds upon a powerfully tangible emotional energy Engelhardt felt when lying with his wife. The director then dove into a series of explorations into our connections to people and what these mean to us, coupled with a contemplation of the moment when a friendship imperceptibly merges into something more. Although Senti L’Energia originally began as a much larger feature length examination of these themes, Engelhardt was able to identify the key scenes which encapsulated the spirit of the piece and bring them together in this compelling 20 minute short replete with the possibilities and freedom of all-encompassing love. We asked Engelhardt to join us here on DN once again to talk about the musings and exploration of love and relationships which drew him to write the script, creating a tight-knit environment throughout the production conducive to the intimacy of the narrative and the shared visual understanding he has developed with DP Noah Böhm across projects.

[A heads up, there are some NSFW images in here.]

As with Your Curly Hair this film delves into the shifting landscape of love and relationships, why are you drawn to these types of stories?

The feeling of love has always been a great mystery to me. I fell in love with my wife at a very early age and since then have pretty much lived the romanticised ideal of a loving relationship. This relationship has also shaped me very much through the years growing up. Unlike others who have travelled a lot and explored the world, these were my experiences through which I found out who I am or who I wanted to be. In cinema, I was only touched by films that dealt realistically with the topic of love/relationships. This made it a challenge for me to somehow successfully visualise this feeling in a film.

What was the genesis and development for this particular tale of the blurring of lines between friendship, love and relationships?

The idea of the film has always been to represent love as something supernatural all-encompassing that permanently surrounds us. This idea has accompanied me since a special moment in my relationship. About two years ago, I was lying on top of my wife in the morning before the day began and our entire body surface was touching. We were just cuddling but I realised I could physically feel emotions and I felt a warmth shoot through my whole body. This moment overwhelmed me so much and I was amazed that you can also experience feelings on your whole body and that love as energy seemed somehow measurable. So I wanted to know if she had also noticed that and asked her, “Do you feel the energy?” After that I often re-lived that moment and thought about this question in Italian, which is “senti l’energia?”. It definitely sounded more poetic than in German and that’s how the basic idea for the theme of love as an all-encompassing energy was born and so I wanted to make this feeling tangible in a film.

The connection I have to my family, to good friends or the connection someone could experience towards multiple partners also seemed like a kind of love in many situations. All these relationships are love to me now. Like an energy shifting back and forwards between souls, sometimes holding on to one person for longer, forever or for only that one evening. Furthermore, I realized that a huge conflict raises its head at exactly that point where friendship ends and romance begins. But when you look at it from this “all is love and energy” perspective, suddenly all those conflicts and jealousy are actually completely irrelevant, aren’t they? All of these were my motivations in creating this narrative, in which we don’t get into hate and quarrels after affairs, but a melting together of all these relationships and feelings. Lastly, the ‘Lago di Como’ has played a big role in all these insights because my wife and I had a very formative vacation with our closest circle of friends, where I was able to get to know all the locations and also felt this energy of love everywhere. So actually it is a film about my understanding of love in one of the most beautiful places in the world for me.

I realized that a huge conflict raises its head at exactly that point where friendship ends and romance begins.

During the summer of 2021 I sat down and started to write something. It soon grew bigger and bigger and I ended up with a 90 page script for a feature film. At this given point in time, shooting a feature film was not an option so I picked a few scenes and drafted a short film script. The project was cross-financed by a record label, which originally planned to use the footage for two music videos for one of their acts. With this financial support we were able to realize the short in early 2022. During the whole time of production we all stayed in a large Airbnb for seven days, which also was used as one of our fundamental locations. Spending 24 hours a day together with the entire crew and cast creates a very loving environment and even though we shot up to 16 hours a day, we still ended up drinking wine and dancing until sunrise.

How did you go about finessing the feature length script into the condensed film we see today?

That was very difficult because this whole story actually contains a lot of complexity and in my opinion already needs the long format. I started to look for all the key scenes and slowly broke it down piece by piece to the few scenes that have now made it into the film. And now those 20 minutes feel like a good compromise to me.

The bond your cast formed is tangible in the film, how did living together inform your rehearsals and directing of their performances?

The project was very compressed in time and actually, we had little time to rehearse. Since some scenes required a lot of intimacy, I knew that I still had to create the space in which trust and sympathy for each other could develop. That was really the plan from the beginning, that we all have to live together. Whilst this saved us some money, the primary reason was to have a place where you have this atmosphere 24/7 around you and also experience it through that.

Since some scenes required a lot of intimacy, I knew that I still had to create the space in which trust and sympathy for each other could develop.

For me, it was very helpful having them around because this created situations in which I was able to have very personal conversations with everyone and we quickly had a deeper friendship and working relationship with each other which then helped within the rehearsals as we were able to sit with them for 10 minutes, during which they explored how far they wanted to go without it being unpleasant for one party.

Noah Böhm’s cinematography is so evocative of those giddy, all-encompassing feelings of falling for someone. How has your working relationship developed across projects?

Working with Noah is always very inspiring and I always learn a lot. He’s so involved that he usually asks questions that I don’t have the answers to at first, and that makes me think about the topics much more deeply than I did before. The fact that it was our second project allowed for a kind of security in the collaboration and I think we have found our own personal visual language together. The equipment was very reduced and the team was very small, but in terms of light we had our talented friend Luca Rieger with us as a gaffer, who made a lot out of very little and we shot digital on a RED camera using the KOWA Prominar Lenses and an Arri Alura Zoom.

The fact that it was our second project allowed for a kind of security in the collaboration and I think we have found our own personal visual language together.

Senti L’Energia captures that epic feeling of a whole summer, how many days were you actually shooting for and how did you select all of those stunning locations in and around Lake Como?

In total, we shot for six days and were only there for a week. Unfortunately, we had bad luck with the weather and actually never had real direct sunlight. I knew most of the locations from a holiday I spent there with friends a year earlier, and we were also there two weeks before shooting began with the DP and the producer to scout the locations. Our Producer Maxi Mayer found the villa in which all the interior scenes took place and also served as our accommodation on Airbnb. Unfortunately, this villa was at Lago Maggiore and for every shoot at and around Lago di Como, we had to plan an hour and a half to get there. Most of the exterior locations were actually shot in a beautiful city called Menaggio, which I also got to know on my earlier vacation.

He would play around on the guitar and actually composed the main theme on location in our beautiful villa.

I love the romantic, classic soundtrack which feels very much born out of the film’s idyllic setting.

The film music was composed by my little brother, Johann Engelhardt, who was also on the shoot in Italy as an intern of our film production company Bitte Einen Film. Every day when he was done with helping around the set or cooking for us, he would play around on the guitar and actually composed the main theme on location in our beautiful villa. When we then started with the editing, it was almost always a ping pong of influences from Italian pop music that I sent him and his own musical language in which he composed. This quickly resulted in a style that we both really liked and that was able to transport this all-encompassing energetic feeling that we wanted.

How do you approach making films in different languages?

I learned Italian at school and have loved it ever since. So I also wrote all the dialogue when writing the script directly in Italian. Of course that was rather inauthentic, but that helped the actors to always know the core essence of each scene and then they of course said the lines in their own words. And most of the time they really improved the dialogue a lot on set or in rehearsals.

What is the next exploration for you?

At the moment I am working on a coming-of-age film that is set in southern France and deals a lot with the question, “Who am I, what kind of man do I want to be“. The approach of this project is very free and reduced on the technical side. I really want to focus on acting and creating the perfect environment for the cast and crew. I think it is pretty much oriented on the influences I have garnered watching the films of “Nouvelle Vague“.

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