Interview with Eileen Byrne (Director of Touch Me)

Hello Eileen, thank you for agreeing to this interview. Firstly, I’d like to ask how you’d describe the plot of the film?

‘Touch Me’ is a story about the way that breast cancer affects a woman and her partner. Alice has been diagnosed with breast cancer and has already lost one breast. She is afraid of losing her hair due to chemotherapy and when she actually does start to lose it she decides to hide it from her boyfriend, out of fear of losing him. For me it is a story about a woman who is scared of losing her femininity and at the same time about the struggles of a couple to understand each other and keep their love alive while faced with this aggressive disease.

Breast cancer is a vitally important subject to discuss and your film does so with a great deal of sensitivity and realism – why do you think it is a subject that isn’t covered more in the media?

There are a lot of films about the tragedy of a cancer diagnosis, but I have indeed not seen many movies about breast cancer, especially one that shows a mastectomy. I think not a lot of people have actually gone so far as to ask themselves what the consequences of breast cancer are, besides the obvious life threat and the side effects of chemotherapy. And this is of course understandable. I also think that this is something that most people wouldn’t want to talk about because it is so intimate and because they shouldn’t be complaining about these little things when there is a much greater danger. But I think sometimes the fear of dying can be so abstract that it is easier to struggle with the smaller side effects, like losing a breast or your hair our your sex drive. But of course these are topics that we generally don’t like to talk about.

What was the casting process for the film like?

At the very beginning I wanted to shoot the film with a very good friend of mine who is an actress. But she had to cancel a few weeks before shooting. I then went on to cast a few actors but I didn’t find the right ones for the parts. A few days before shooting we decided to reschedule the whole shoot three months later. This was a very hard decision to take but when I found Max and Kristin I knew it had been the right decision. I had known Max from an earlier shoot and a casting director recommended Kristin to me. The work with them was very easy and such a gift for me as a director. We had three days of rehearsals during which I let them improvise some scenes of the character’s lives and I got them to meet a gynaecologist who guided them through a diagnostic consultation. The rest happened on set.

Do you have any particular directing influences?

I was definitely influenced by many directors but I don’t have that one person I would say influences me the most. I am more strongly influenced by specific films I saw, films that moved me, had a special style or camera work or great acting. But I was also influenced by directors I had the chance to work with during workshops at film school and through my work as a script supervisor on feature film productions. When I sit next to a director and ask myself: What did I think about this take and what would I do to make it better – and then compare it with the actual director’s decision. You learn a lot from that.

What do you hope audiences will take away from this film?

I want people to see the ‘side effects’ of breast cancer and I want them to be emotionally touched by the story and the characters. Breast cancer attacks a woman’s relationship to her body and her sexuality and thus challenges her in her self-awareness as a woman. I think that it is easier for women to identify with Alice’s character, because (unfortunately) I think every woman has her own problems with her body and the fear of not being beautiful or attractive enough to be loved. I think that it is more difficult for men to understand the character but that is okay because Moritz’s character struggles as much to understand her. But I still hope that the movie is able to show men

What has the reception to the film been like?

I have had a lot of positive reaction to the film. People are usually very moved. I’ve also had feedback from several women and men who have lived through a similar situation and they are usually very moved by it and thankful. I’ve had negative reactions from a few people who weren’t able to identify with Alice’s character and that can be disappointing because then I seem to not have been able to reach them with the story. But luckily they’re only few.

How does this film compare to other films you’ve worked on?

This has actually been the first drama I directed. My earlier short films were all dramedies with a dramatic plot but lots of funny moments. Personally I found those easier to direct. In ‘Touch Me’ I was always scared that the audience wouldn’t be able to empathize with the characters. I was also very much aware of that thin line that separates emotional drama from melodrama. I love movies that move me and I want to tell emotional stories but an emotion is gone very quickly once it feels to melodramatic. I am still not sure if I got it right in this film but I really hope I have.

What future projects have you got planned?

I am currently working on three different projects in different stages. One is a children’s movie that I am writing, another is a tragicomedy about my generation. And I also have an idea for a road movie I would like to shoot with the two actors from ‘Touch Me’, Max and Kristin. There are many more ideas but there’s only so little time to write them all down. So I will have to attack them one by one.

With thanks to Eileen Byrne.

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