The idea is to disturb

I didn’t know how the film would end, or rather how the two individual stories would end, but as you develop the material I then decided what would be right for Olga and what would be right for Pauli.

In the screenplay Pauli was going to end up working as an actor in porno films but it turned out that would have been entirely superfluous and unnecessary.

The film walks a fine line between documentary and fiction. Do you see much of a distinction?

Both interest me. The authentic, the documentary is very exciting but there’s also freedom in fiction, in creating things, but what I think is most exciting is to have a fictional plot but embed it in a documentary context.

The result of that is you get maximum authenticity but you also get surprises which makes the film more than the sum of its parts. At times this feels more like a documentary than fiction.

You’ve said in the past you like to disturb the audience...

The idea is to disturb but not in a negative way. What I want to happen is for the audience to come out of the cinema different to how they went in. It’s a constructive path in that sense.

What was it like filming in the Ukraine?

It was unimaginable to discover in winter that thousands of people live without sufficient heating or no heating at all, where it’s almost as cold inside as it is out.

Your Ukrainian assistant director says he only saw you smile under extreme circumstances. Do you thrive on those conditions?

The case with extreme conditions is you get great scenes out of them, great images, which, of course, means I’m in a great mood when that happens.

Of course, you could interpret it the other way round, that I always laugh when other people suffer, but that’s not how I see it.

Interview by Mark Salisbury