Ulrich Seidl Talks Sparta Controversy While Presenting ‘Wicked Games’

Austrian director Ulrich Seidl said he always intended to make “one long film covering the whole story” of his two previous projects, Rimini and Sparta.

The resulting film Wicked Games Rimini Sparta had its world premiere at the Rotterdam International Film Festival and is a combined version of his 2022 diptych Rimini and Sparta, which follows brothers Richie (Michael Thomas) and Ewald (Georg Friedrich ), respectively.

Speaking of Diversity, Seidl went on to explain how the original single project was split into two separate films: “During the extremely long editing process, I wasn’t completely satisfied and thought it would be interesting to explore the idea of ​​making two different films. of it using the same material. So we tried to do just that, as I wasn’t convinced that the extended version gave the best possible artistic results given the material. We made two movies out of it, but it was always my intention to release the full extended version as well.”

Although Rimini was highly praised after its premiere at the Berlinale, its twin film did not enjoy the same acclaim, largely due to allegations of impropriety published by the German news magazine Der Spiegel. The allegations led to Sparta being pulled from last year’s Toronto Film Festival, with Seidl pulling out of most of the film’s subsequent festivals.

“The accusations that have been leveled at the film are something so strange. It was a deliberate manipulation by the media to create a story about pedophilia and child abuse in Eastern Europe,” Seidl said of De Spiegel’s allegations, which claimed the director failed to convey the film’s theme of pedophilia to the child actors, all of which they had no previous professional experience. It is also alleged that the production exposed the young actors to nudity, alcoholism and violence, all without adequate training and psychological support.

“I was portrayed as the white guy who goes out there to exploit these kids. It has nothing to do with my work. These accusations, this ‘scheme’ have nothing to do with my work,” Seidl continued.

The director noted that “none of these things actually showed up in the research” and that an official investigation in Austria by the Austrian Film Institute did not prove any of the accusations leveled against him.

“You have to understand that the shooting went on for a very long time. We shot from the winter to the following summer, and if at any point a parent was concerned or uneasy about what was going on on set or how the kids were being treated, they would have time to pull the kids aside and say something. Nothing like this has ever happened,” Seidl said. “And actually afterwards, when I showed the finished film to the parents and children, they all gave their full approval, both to the filming process and to the final film.”

When asked if he believes Wicked Games Rimini Sparta gives audiences a different experience of Ewald’s character, Seidl said, “I don’t think the answer is any different if you watch the individual films or the extended combined version. My experience of talking to people who have seen the film is that they develop a lot of empathy for Ewald’s character and also feel that this is a man who is a prisoner who is suffering and will never be able to leave. He will never be able to lead a normal life and, like all of us, he dreams of leading a happy, integrated life and knows that it will never happen. He suffers from something for which there is no cure, something that can never be cured.

“I’ve always told myself that I don’t want to deal with child abuse,” Seidl confirmed when talking about his decision to tackle the true story behind Ewald’s character. “It was something I wasn’t ready to touch and always put aside. Then I read about this true story that happened in Romania, and Romania is a country I know very well, having visited it many times over the decades. At that moment I knew I had to write the story.

Now that Wicked Games Rimini Sparta is out in the world, Seidl has already begun work on his next project, which will continue his long tradition of exploring harrowing themes. “I wrote a script two years ago during isolation. I won’t tell you exactly what the film is about, but it deals with black tourism and the fear of contagion.”

When asked to explain what he meant by black tourism, the director said: “It refers to people going to places of horror, places of torture. Chernobyl has become a classic black tourism destination. There are people who go to be locked up in KGB prison cells or go to Cambodia and pay to visit the torture museum.

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