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[Herald Interview] Story of sexual surrogate tackles themes of urban life, human intimacy

Filmmaker Anja Marquardt speaks about her film ‘She’s Lost Control,’ screened in competition at JIFF

JEONJU, North Jeolla Province ― In filmmaker Anja Marquardt’s feature debut “She’s Lost Control,” the protagonist Ronah (Brooke Bloom) works as a sexual surrogate while completing her master’s thesis in psychology in New York. She seems to be isolated from her own family ― her mother is ill and her brother is rather weary of taking care of her alone ― and often dines by herself in her depressing flat where a leak leads to a huge hole in the bathroom wall.

The film, which won the Best Film prize in the Forum Section of this year’s Berlinale, was screened in competition at Jeonju International Film Festival earlier this month. Some parts of the film, such as the hole in Ronah’s bathroom wall which it takes her months to get fixed, come directly from the Berlin-born, U.S.- and Germany-based filmmaker’s experience of living alone in New York. But “She’s Lost Control” goes way beyond tackling today’s urban life. It is a product of extensive research and contemplation of human intimacy, as well as what we consider private and professional when it comes to relationships. 

A scene from “She’s Lost Control” by Anja Marquardt (JIFF)
A scene from “She’s Lost Control” by Anja Marquardt (JIFF)

“The core of the idea of making this film really goes back to an article I read in a science-related publication about a geriatrics facility in Japan that was using robots to take care of its patients,” the filmmaker said. “Not only did robots help lift the patients and wash them, but also ‘caress’ them with a special glove, emulating humans in a way. I became interested in exploring the question of what is intimacy and how can it be practiced and what is the difficulty of getting someone to open up when she or he cannot naturally do it?”’

The plot of the film develops as Ronah begins to be intrigued by one of her volatile clients, Johnny. Unlike Ronah, who is detached from her family, Johnny, a medical doctor who can barely make eye contact with Ronah during their first session, is taking care of his invalid sister. 

German-born filmmaker Anja Marquardt (left) speaks during a Q&A session after the screening of her film “She’s Lost Control” at JIFF. ( JIFF)
German-born filmmaker Anja Marquardt (left) speaks during a Q&A session after the screening of her film “She’s Lost Control” at JIFF. ( JIFF)

“The types of professions we choose reflect our own characters,” the filmmaker told The Korea Herald during an interview in Jeonju. “There is a correlation I think, you know, with Ronah’s choosing to be someone who heals other people, but maybe she’s the one who also needs some healing. When working with Bloom on the character (of Ronah), we decided we would approach Ronah as the patient (not necessarily Johhny).”

The bigger context of her film is how “professional intimacy has taken over our real intimacy” in the modern, urban world. Ronah becomes emotionally engaged with her client, while one of her close friends is her mentor, who works in the same career field.

 “You know, there are many interactions that I have on a daily basis with people I work with -- the strangers who are professionally intimate. We try to work on a project together, or try to sell an idea. It becomes very intimate very soon. There has to be an ability and willingness to open up emotionally to the other person and share something -- or else it’s just not going to work,” said the filmmaker. 

“But it doesn’t mean that there are any consequences from that in your own life when you go home. It is like a skill to open up from zero to a hundred; it’s very unnatural, I think. And it can also be exhilarating and fun because you have the same feelings maybe that you would have in real intimate (relationships) but doesn’t have any precautions and is even easier because there is no limit to it and no boundaries to it.”

The biggest challenge for Marquardt as a first-time director was, in fact, finding Bloom, who played Ronah in the film and whom the director would love to work with again. After the actress agreed to work on the project, the two together flew to Los Angeles to meet a number of real-life sexual surrogates who have had the career for many years. They use intimate physical contact or sexual activity with their clients for therapeutic purposes.

“We were looking everywhere for her (Bloom). It was a challenge because it needed to be an actress who is experienced enough and old enough to really carry the role,” she said. 

“I didn’t want to cast a 25-year-old but wanted someone who is in her 30s. At the same time she needed to be independent enough as an actress and fearless enough to play this role because it was scripted as full nudity. And that type of actress is very hard to find because most actresses that are good, strong and in their 30s have their representation and are heavily protected by them. So it becomes hard to negotiate for full-nudity unless you are an experienced director or have a lot of money to offer.”

Marquardt, who said she is curious to learn what Korean audiences thought about her film ― “She’s Lost Control” had its Asian Premiere at JIFF ― said she is thinking of a thriller that takes place in the U.S. and Latin America as her next project.

This year’s JIFF wrapped up on Saturday, featuring a total of 181 films from 44 countries, including 40 world premieres.

By Claire Lee (
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