Review Fix chats with director Eileen Byrne, who lets us know what makes her latest film, “Touch Me,” an intriguing look at the human psyche.
Review Fix: What inspired this film?
Eileen Byrne: A few years ago a very close friend of mine was diagnosed with breast cancer. As we had already written a few scripts together, it was her idea to write something about a woman who has this disease. I soon discovered though that I wanted to put my focus on the relationship of a couple. I had heard that most of the couples break up after this kind of diagnosis and it really intrigued me to understand why that was possible. By trying to understand what goes on in a woman when her body transforms and how this affects both her partner and their relationship to each other I came up with the story of ‚Touch Me‘.
Review Fix: How difficult was this film to put together?
Byrne: Short films are never easy to put together But we were lucky because we did have a proper budget and were able to pay the team and cast a minimum salary. What was more complicated was to find the right cast. I searched for a long time and organised some castings but we eventually had to postpone the shoot because I didn’t find the right actors for the parts. It was especially difficult because a silicone prosthetics of the main female character’s upper body had to be created and this process took at least a month’s time. But six months later I had Max and Kristin and couldn’t have been happier with these actors.
Review Fix: What films have inspired it the most?
Byrne: In terms of the relationship between the two main characters, I was deeply influenced by the movie ‚The Broken Circle Breakdown‘ by Felix van Groeningen. The couple in that film feels so real and I love the lightness in the way they interact. At the same time, the pain they share feels so brutal. But we also talked about the movie in terms of colours and set design, it feels very lively and real.
In terms of camera and light, we were influenced by movies like ‚Three Colours Blue‘, ‚In the Mood for Love‘, ‚Blue Valentine‘, ‘Black Swan‘ and others.
Review Fix: What have you learned about yourself through this entire process?
Byrne: That is a really good question. I guess on the one hand I have learned to be more self-confident, trust my guts more and fight for what I think is right for the movie. Not that I always did it, quite the opposite. There were moments when I gave in on demanding another take or cutting a shot out because of time issues. I am very sensitive in terms of my team and cast being happy on set and it’s not always easy to go against that. But I’ve regretted some of the choices later on in the editing process. I still like the film though. I would totally change everything now, of course, but that’s a good sign, I guess – it means I’ve moved on and learned a lot since the shoot.
Review Fix: Tell me about the cast.
Byrne: As I said earlier on, the casting process wasn’t easy. For me, it was clear right from the start that the success of the film was depending on the right actors and the right cast in terms of the combination of the two actors. I had known Max from an earlier shoot (that I worked on as a script supervisor) and fell in love with the honesty that I saw in his way of acting. Kristin was recommended to me by a casting agent. I met her for a cup of coffee and knew right there that she was the right actress for this part. Our meeting soon turned into a really deep and intimate conversation. Furthermore, Kristin and Max already knew each other from an improvisation workshop, which was a great opportunity because during the rehearsal process they were able to get into the matter and the relationship very quickly and in a very deep way. The rehearsal process mainly consisted of improvising situations in this couple’s life. We also went to see a friend of mine, who is an actress but mainly works as a gynecologist. She improvised a scene with them, where she led them through a first diagnostic consultation which helped them emotionally to understand what it’s like for a couple to have to handle this kind of situation.
Review Fix: What was the feeling like on set?
Byrne: Quite frankly, I think it was extraordinary. It was really important to me that the actors have a quiet and focused atmosphere to be able to let their emotions flow and because most of the scenes were really intimate. And the team was incredibly supportive and patient in that way. I am really grateful for that.
Review Fix: Why is the topic of this film important today to you?
Byrne: Well, as I said in the beginning, I was deeply touched by the topic myself when my friend was diagnosed with breast cancer. Furthermore, my grandmother died of breast cancer when I was a child so it’s always been present in a way. But it was only when I heard about most couples splitting after this kind of diagnosis that I understood how this specific kind of cancer affects a woman and her partner beyond the ‚obvious‘ consequences. Even if most women are cured in most of the cases, the disease leaves its traces on their bodies and in their souls. It changes their self-awareness, as a woman, as a partner. And this affects relationships in a very deep way, I guess. That is what I wanted to show because I feel that it’s a topic that is not really talked about because it is so intimate.
Review Fix: What’s next?
Byrne: I am in the process of writing the screenplay for a children’s movie. I am also developing ideas for a feature film and a series, but they are still at the very beginning of the process.