There are more than a couple of good backstories to the making of “Meet Me in Montenegro,” the peripatetic romance directed by and starring Alex Holdridge and Linnea Saasen that played Toronto last year. There was the crazy Australian subletter who held their hard-drives for a ransom of 800 euros. The very friendly sex club in Berlin. Shooting in London in the middle of the 2012 Olympics. And stumbling upon their co-star, Rupert Friend, because it’s so hard not to notice an actor in L.A. when he’s reading a book.
But the real back story behind “Montenegro” is the story of “Montenegro,” which hews so closely to fact that it could be categorized as a documentary.
Three years in the making, largely because its directors shot in so many cities and lived out of backpacks, “Meet Me in Montenegro” is about Anderson (Holdridge), a struggling filmmaker who meets Lina (Saasen) in Berlin; they have a fling that takes them to the Balkans, before Lina disappears, leaving only a note.
Years pass. Anderson has to go back to Berlin to sell a Hollywood star on his latest project. He runs into Lina. Romance is reignited.
It all basically happened to Saasen, a dancer and performance artist, and Holdridge, best known for directing “In Search of a Midnight Kiss” back in 2007. Making their story into an only quasi-fictional movie involved some daring, certainly, especially since the film evolved as they made it. “Fiction and reality,” Saasen said, “kind of blended together.”
Like the characters, she said, they met randomly, in a Berlin café but “clicked instantly. We kind of decided to jump on a train together bound for the Balkans, not knowing each other, and it was really nice. But at that point, I was going to art school, Alex was going to work for a Hollywood studio. We thought it was a nice summer romance that was going to end and then I found out the art school wasn’t going to work out, and Alex’s movie…”
“Yeah,” Holdridge said. “Big surprise. A movie wasn’t going to work out.” But after they reunited, they joked about making a film about their experience. Little by little, matters coalesced.
“I had a little bit of money for the first time in my life,” he said. “I’ve always been just incredibly broke, but I was out of debt because I sold a script, so I figured…” They would do what filmmakers do?
“Let’s spend it all!” Saasen joked.
“Let’s get back into debt!” Holdridge laughed.
The experience took them back and forth from Berlin to L.A. to Montenegro, then back to the Kit Kat Club in Berlin where a 60-year-old leather fetishist celebrated her birthday by dancing all day for DP Robert Murphy’s camera and where the woman whose apartment they had rented and painted “freaked out,” broke in and made off with all their raw footage. The police helped them get it back. But they were forced to reshoot the scene shot in the apartment, which Holdridge said wound up better than it was.
“Sometimes problems become a way of reinventing things,” he said.
Not every couple is going to make a movie about their relationship; not every couple should.
“I’m not sure if I’d recommend it,” Saasen said, smiling. “I would recommend taking a chance on doing something you’re scared of doing, and just do it. I’m not sure everyone who’s had a relationship should make a movie about it.”
Holdridge agreed. “It’s either going to bond you, like you’ve been in a plane crash together. Or you’re going to die.”