Midway through Berlinale 2012, Irish director Kirsten Sheridan (daughter of Jim Sheridan) sends her new film 'Dollhouse' clattering amongst Berlin’s cosy, chilled out vibes, landing like a firework in a picnic. As such, her story about a group of drunk, drugged estate kids trashing a house was received with a clash of admiration and irritation; a vibrant portrayal of youth fitting the times, or a needless homage to nihilism. Whichever side audiences lean, the film sticks stubbornly in your mind. Dazed Digital grabbed Kirsten in Berlin to get her motivation for the film.
If the teenagers in the film are lost, I wanted the audience to feel lost, and I didn’t mind that. It is a bit of a risk because you risk losing your audience at that moment
Dazed Digital: Dollhouse was quite anarchic, did you go in to the shoot with a very specific story?
Kirsten Sheridan: Yes, I went in with a story based on five different revelations, all happening over one night. So there were things that were very constructed, all those secrets that were kept from the cast. I’d done very controlled films and you start getting in to the formula of it all. Dollhouse was just a reaction against all of that, just to do something new and just experiment and it was also just for me a totally physical story.
DD: Did you try to avoid a message about estate kids?
Kirsten Sheridan: I definitely didn’t want to have a soapbox, worthy message. The message, I suppose, is that people don’t connect. There was just one moment of connection at the end of the film, but it was brought about by a very physical event. I tend to shy away from, and am suspicious of, intellectual theorising and stuff like that.
DD: They do spend the entre film trashing a house, though.
Kirsten Sheridan: I wanted to start them on a stereotype at the start of the movie and then break them down a little bit by the end so that you see a little glimpse in. I couldn’t go too far because that’s then not realistic, you’re not going to end up with six people divulging this huge life story by the end of the night.
DD: Were you very conscious of how drug scenes had been done badly before?
Kirsten Sheridan: I did have that conscious approach. I’d seen a really good scene in Boy A where he’s off his head on E and he’s dancing, but the whole scene is about him being free and it’s all about character, the whole drug taking thing didn’t matter at all. I suppose I learnt it’s best to stay in the character’s brain when they’re on it, so that’s what I was hoping to do.
DD: Did you have a specific back-story written for Jeannie?
Kirsten Sheridan: I had ideas of what her back-story could be, but they were all a little but too neat. There’s only one line where she says, ‘I never felt like I was really here.’ I’m not sure if that was about the parents or just about being a teenager in the modern world. I don’t think any of the characters feel like they’re really here, and for me it’s only a moment at the end where they do feel like they’re here, then they’re gone.
DD: What role did ambiguity play?
Kirsten Sheridan: If the teenagers in the film are lost, I wanted the audience to feel lost, and I didn’t mind that. It is a bit of a risk because you risk losing your audience at that moment. You’re not holding their hand saying, ‘this is the story, stay with me I know what I’m doing.’ If they feel disconnected, then the audience should feel that too. I think everyone has experienced to some degree or other feeling lost, so it’s how it manifests itself is what the difference is. And it manifests itself always in a lack of connection.