I realized in 2014, finding myself obliged for the first time of my life to spend Christmas alone and in Berlin, that there were many other people in my situation, and not just the ones I had expected. Some have rich social lives but have no family to celebrate with; others are foreigners, like me. Some do not celebrate for religious reasons and more. Many others are part of marginalized groups.
My original intention with this film was therefore to picture another kind of Christmas in Berlin through a crossed portrait of many very different people. We explore not only the variety of persons who can end up in Berlin alone at Christmas, but also the ones who deliberately do not celebrate and those who have chosen to do so outside of the traditional family context.
Who are these people? Where do they come from? Why do they find themselves in this special situation during the holidays? How is their “Christmas time" influenced or not by current international conflicts?
What is it like for "normal" people to end up alone here, without points of reference, friends, family...? In my case, the unusual loneliness connected me to people I would have never met in another context. This is what gives these moments a special color, something magical and worth exploring.
Asking these questions yielded encounters with many interesting people. But throughout the process, I realized that the film would be limited if it focused only on the Christmas “outsiders.” It became clear to me that I must also develop what these encounters mean to my main character, Mélanie.
Through the adventure that connects her to her fellow Berliners, Mélanie feels less lonely and somehow gets closer to herself. Berlin, a city that truly never sleeps, is quiet for once during Christmas — it has a strange, metaphysical quality to it. This peace gives time for reflection — and so Mélanie reflects on her life as others share their own advice and answers with her.
Her discovery of another kind of Christmas and another kind of Berlin is really a re-discovery of herself. She must come to accepts herself, despite that she is at the end of her 30s, single, without children, giving all to her passion to music though it does not pay the bills, and friends with a lot of people yet still alone on this intimate day.
Last but not least, she sees that the death of her grandmother is perhaps the end of a chapter, and she needs to move through the shadow of her loss in order to reach the next step in her life and become who she is meant to be.
The audience follows a story like in a classic fiction, having the feeling that it might all be real, without ever knowing what is real or not. What is real are the people: they are all themselves with their stories and their special Christmas or non-Christmas.
But how Mélanie receives these stories should not seems like a formal interview: it should feel natural – we do not want to see the documentarian behind the camera. Thus the documentarian is hidden within a character who is front of the camera (Peter).
Notably, Ich bin an Weihnachten allein in Berlin is black and white, which gives a feeling of timelessness. Mixing the genres for this film was also one of my precepts for the project. I like the idea that on the one hand, I shoot like Dogme films and give this authentic docu-style touch; on the other hand, I also want to bring the viewer into a kind of modern fairytale, and the black and white allows that by making the images less direct, more cinematic.
The process of creation is also experimental in the sense that there is no script, just an idea of a logline and key scenes going into filming. This method leaves room for the actors — and the city — to surprise us, creating a story that is more organic, unexpected and authentic than we could have created with a more traditional filmmaking model.
In the end, we have Ich bin an Weihnachten allein in Berlin, a twisted, arthouse, Christmas fairytale, a mockumentary at the crossroad between fiction and reality that begins as a tragicomedy in the week before Christmas and becomes a road movie through the streets of Berlin on Christmas Eve, as Mélanie, lonely as she has ever been, crosses different worlds throughout the city. In the end, she goes out of herself, opens her mind and finally finds some inner peace.
— Charlotte Roustang