Nikias Chryssos on Dark Fairytales, Cults and His Latest Film, ‘A Pure Place’

Ed Meza

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Following his acclaimed debut feature “Der Bunker,” Germany’s Nikias Chryssos’ returns to dark fables with a timely tale of a mysterious cult in “A Pure Place.”

The offbeat coming-of-age tale follows two young siblings who live in a secret community on a remote Greek island, isolated from the rest of the world, which they consider impure and dangerous.

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Chryssos, who stems from a Greek-German family, describes “A Pure Place” as a “magical, poetic” story inspired by Greek mythology that explores “the contrast between light and darkness, cleanliness and purity.”

In the film, the pristine community on the island is served by child slaves who toil down in the darkness below. The young boy Paul, played by Claude Heinrich, must challenge the obsessive community in order to free his sister Irina (Greta Bohacek) from the nefarious machinations of the cult leader (Sam Louwyck).

Like fairytales that offer allegories of the real world, Chryssos says there are timely parallels, not only with the cult’s obsession with hygiene but also with its totalitarian aspects, particularly in how its members negate everyone who doesn’t believe in the one belief system that their leader promotes.

In researching cults of all kinds with co-writer Lars Henning Jung, Chryssos said he was very interested in how cults create their own microcosms and realities along with contradictory elements as well as how group dynamics develop over time in communities that tend to provide followers with answers and security.

The film expands on themes explored in his previous film, Chryssos added. “‘The Bunker’ was much more claustrophobic because of its setting underground, with only four people living there, but there are also cultish aspects … and the element of heightened reality. The new film is an expansion on that theme of structure in small societies or small environments but I think the tonality is a bit different – it’s a bit more sweet than ‘The Bunker,’ which was darker and more bizarre.”

For producer Alexis von Wittgenstein of Munich-based Violet Pictures, the project offered an ideal opportunity to work with Chryssos and even at an early stage, the script spoke to him. “It was kind of a parable of what was going on in society at the time – shutting off from the outside, trying to build a fortress. … It was definitely worth telling the story, especially with Nikias, who has a very unique capacity to tell stories in a really weird way, but in a way that you really like to watch it.”

In making the film, shot entirely in Greece, in and around Athens and on the island of Aegina, Chryssos sought out talented collaborators in cinematographer and German Film Award winner Yoshi Heimrath (“Berlin Alexanderplatz”) and composer and European Film Award winner John Gürtler (“System Crasher”).

“Yoshi has a very good eye and is known to have pristine images and that was something I really liked because we wanted to have this contrast between the two worlds that we have. We wanted to play with these contrasts.”

Chryssos was also impressed with Heimrath’s work on Adrian Goiginger’s 2017 drama “The Best of All Worlds,” a film told from the perspective of a child who imagines himself in a fairytale world while his mother suffers from drug addiction. The cinematographer’s experience, particularly working with children and on challenging shoots, likewise made him an ideal collaborator, the director added.

Chryssos praises Gürtler for his intense work on the film’s score. “He got so into it. I was happy every day that I visited his studio in Berlin. He showed me all the strange instruments they used. They would record at night in the staircase to get some weird reverb effects. He really did a great job constructing the music for this film.”

“A Pure Place” was one of a number of titles presented by ARRI Media Intl. at this week’s Marché du Film.

Koch Films is aiming to release the film in Germany in early 2021.

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