A young woman is sitting naked in a bathtub. The room is dark, the tub almost empty. “A board game that represents the life of a woman in our century,” her voice sounds off-screen as she stares at the camera. “You roll the die and then land on fields such as’ Manipulative Friend – pay 2,000 for therapy after you break up ‘or’ Sexual Assault – go five steps back ‘,’ Pregnancy – miss two rounds’, ‘Eating Disorder – lose two Life points’. You win if you still live in the end. “
The scene comes from the film Searching Eva, which celebrates its premiere at the Berlinale. The documentary, produced by Corso Film in collaboration with VICE Studios, has accompanied Eva Collé through the ups and downs of her life for five years. From drug excesses to intimate moments with her boyfriend to underwear shoots with her mother. The Italian is a writer, model and sex worker, shares her life with Tumblr and Instagram with the whole world – and is both loved and despised for it.
Eva was not born with this name, she gave it to herself. It does not believe in outside control, it creates its own reality. And is thus the incarnate example of how a whole generation of young women create their own identity through self-portrayal on the Internet, apart from social norms and sexist role stereotypes. We spoke to director Pia Hellenthal and author and creative producer Giorgia Malatrasi about the intense shoot that has changed her life.
What fascinated you so much about Eva?
Giorgia Malatrasi: Eva and I come from the same area in Italy and have mutual friends. I found her blog on her Facebook page and was totally fascinated. The way she talked about her body and her sexuality seemed like they were just normal subjects among many. She talked about her vulva as openly as she did about meeting someone for breakfast, sleeping with a guy, or taking drugs. She looked almost like an alien to me.
Pia Hellenthal: It is like a mirror that reflects your prejudices and moral ideas on you. We found that exciting.
There is this scene where Eva meets one of her Sugar Daddies and has sex on camera. So I doubted whether this was really a documentary or if the guy wasn’t an actor after all. How did you manage to get this on camera?
Giorgia: We are asked this question again and again. One of the levels of this film is that you keep asking yourself the question: is it real or not? In many situations, we also didn’t know how much staging was involved. That’s why we tried to keep it as open as possible.
Pia: At the beginning of the film there is “This is a film” and “This is the main character”, and the main character also knows that she is the main character. And you are obviously the viewers watching this. Everyone has a role and it is important to us that you understand that the whole thing is a game. It will never be the truth, just what you make of it.
In another scene, Eva pulls up a heroin shot. Didn’t you feel like you had to protect them in some situations while shooting? And whether it be by simply not showing some things in the documentation?
Pia: No, never. She is so reflective and self-aware that I felt she was always one step ahead of me anyway. Censoring her would have felt to me like standing over her, like being smarter than her – which I am not. Nevertheless, there were moments when we asked ourselves how much pain, how many traumatic childhood experiences, how much drug use we can show in the documentary without letting it tip into a psychological drama.
Giorgia: There have been moments when I was worried. There were times when she wasn’t physically well, but then she didn’t meet us. She had really bad lows, it would have been too much for her to have to turn.
She shows sex between Eva and her customers and a close-up of her vulva. Nevertheless, it never has a demonstrative or humiliating effect, but is rather respectful and encouraging. Have you consciously thought about how a “female gauze” on sexual content in the film could look like?
Pia: We talked a lot about it, but in an abstract way. We didn’t just want to break Eve’s story down on her as a person, which has been done with many stories about women. Of course we need Eva’s story for the film, but it is representative of other stories, other women. It says something about the social and cultural context in which she grew up. Not necessarily what your personal background is. As for the camera, we did it based on gut feeling. And with Yana Höhnerbach we also had a very good editor who understood exactly what we wanted to do.
Giorgia: We definitely wanted to do something different. Eva is not a heroine, rather an antiheroine. She is not a pleasant woman. So let’s find out if an antihero can touch people differently than the typical poor girl who has had a bad life. There will be people who don’t like this character. And after the press screening, a middle-aged white guy really got up and was furious. “It is a shame that our taxpayers’ money is used to produce such shit. It is so narcissistic!” Said the.
Pia: It’s easy to put the film in those drawers because then you don’t have to deal with what she says. Many seem to have hoped for the kind of film that we don’t want to make: “This is the real Eva Collé behind the facade, which she shows on her blog. This is the story of these poor prostitutes.” You want to take a look behind the curtain, so to speak. They don’t get that. And that frustrates them.
Giorgia: I’m annoyed that people think they can judge Eva. Judgments about the director or the other people who were involved in the film. But the girl didn’t decide what was shown and what wasn’t. People who are now saying “The poor girl!” or “She is sick!” don’t understand what we’re all about.
What should viewers take with them from Searching Eva?
Pia: We showed the comments of your followers in the film. They ask her the same questions that come from the viewers of the documentary: “Do men think it’s good that you are so thin?”, “You had a lot of sex partners this year!”, “Why don’t you get a real job ? ” We put that in the film to make the dynamics clear. A young woman shows who she is, and that’s how society responds. You condemn her for everything she does.
What did you learn about yourself during the shooting?
Giorgia: You don’t need outside approval to feel comfortable with yourself. Eva is much more extreme than me in that regard. But even in my small, comfortable middle class position, I noticed that I only accepted a lot of things because they have always been that way. Only when you really question them will you understand that there is no reason to keep doing it. Not that I didn’t know that before. But she exemplified how you can stand by yourself – and that it can work.
Pia: Once you understand that every life around you is an invention, a construction, and the way you look at yourself is just a construction – you can construct your view of yourself. And just say goodbye to the rest of the shit.