Monday, July 28, 2014

Interview with Frauke Finsterwalder and Christian Kracht on FINSTERWORLD

NOT Frauke Finsterwald and Christian Kracht
Back in May, I was able to speak with Frauke Finsterwalder, director of FINSTERWORLD, and Christian Kracht, with whom she cowrote the film, when it was shown in New York City during the KINO Festival of German Films. The exquisitely crafted film is filled with richly detailed characters and an intriguing narrative structure, making a conversation about the film with its creators an immediately enticing prospect.

While preparing for a discussion with the pair, I  made a glaring oversight, failing to learn the ever so slightly significant the detail that the two are husband and wife. This made for some unexpected but interesting turns in our conversation. I asked about this relatively unique working relation and how it may have come to affect the film. We also discussed the process of constructing the narrative and its intriguing set of characters, who Frauke and Christian have clearly given a lot of consideration both during and after the completion of the film, and how they are used to represent themes of the story and also possibly the creators of the film themselves.

MondoCurry: Are there parallels between being marriage partners and writing a film together?

(Frauke Finsterwalder) Yeah, I think for a successful marriage you need to have teamwork. And maybe for writing as well you need that. I think we have a good marriage, and maybe we are good writing partners as well.  You need to trust the people you work with. For me as a director, that’s true of anyone you work with, not just the writer. Who would I trust more than my husband? There’s no showing off the way you might do with a stranger.

(Christian Kracht) There are dubious ways of manipulation that come up when working with people you’re not related to. (Working with someone you’re married to), you’re actually more centered.

MC: You’ve worked primarily in making documentaries before. Was FINSTERWORLD a big departure from your previous work?

(FF) In terms of the subject, not really. It’s something we have both dealt with in a lot of our previous works. For me, the whole process of making a film with actors and a big team instead of only 3 people, was very different but I enjoyed it a lot.

MC: One of the character in the movie is a documentary filmmaker….Did this character represent aspects of your own life?

(FF) The character had nothing to do with me personally. Perhaps I wanted people to ask about this, as we share a similar name. Maybe with this character I was making fun of problems that a documentary filmmaker has. They cannot control what people do in front of the camera. They will not do what you tell them to do in front of the camera. They will just be themselves. But she is really an ignorant person. If we had a lot in common, I couldn’t do films. Nobody would want to work with me.

(CK) Maybe creating this character was like exorcising a part of you…a part of you that you’d like to get away from…because now you like to create fiction…

(FF) Yeah, like I had to get it out of my system. But I’ve never been like that.

(CK) I’m more like that.

(FF) I’m more like Claude, the pedicurist. I’m a very sociable person that likes to take care of others.

NOT Frauke Finsterwalder
MC: The title is interesting in that it is so similar to your name. Is there a playfulness to coming up with this title

(FF) We decided in the early stages it would be like a fairy tale, although somehow connected to Germany and within a modern society in general. The title tells you that you’ll be going on a journey into a certain world. It could be mine, the director’s world…Or it could just be ‘finster’ meaning dark world. ‘Finster’ means dark in German. There are all these references, like the children reading ‘Ghost World,’ the comic book. I kind of stole from that.

MC: One of your previous documentaries seemed to be about people doing something unusual in the public eye. FINSTERWORLD also has characters with attributes that would be considered out of the norm by many standards, Are you drawn to dealing with fringe people or characters in your work?

(FF) I have to say the (subjects of my first documentary) building the pyramid were quite normal. They just wanted to make money. Some were business people, some were artists who thought it would be a funny idea. They were normal and just used this shocking idea to get attention for their cause. Or just to get attention in general. So, That film dealt more with another subject we talked about in Finsterworld which is daily facism and how power structures work among people…They went into a small village and the village people were not happy about it. And then this whole struggle began.

(CK) I think one of the themes that you like to think about is humiliation. You had hierarchical structures where people placed themselves within the structure and humiliate others…

(FF) And that’s what happens in Finsterworld. It starts right at the beginning when the policeman and the pedicurist meet. There are all these moments about humiliation. Even in the film before this…That had a large influence on this film actually. That was a film about a summer camp. There is a character that really gets bullied. It’s a really sad, terrible film actually. That film has a really big influence on what happens to the young people in Finsterworld.   

(FF) It was a documentary but a lot of people thought it was fiction. I got so close to the young people at the camp, nobody could believe they allowed us to film. The way I edited and used music made it seem very much like a fiction film.

MC: What was it like now that you could make up characters and control what they do in order to tell your story?

(FF) It was like a self-fulfilling prophecy. It kind of just had to be the way it is now. It’s hard to say ‘why.’ It wasn’t that we just sat down and said ok here are 12 characters and let’s plot it out with a flip chart…

(CK) The process of writing was completely intuitive. We weren’t going on a trajectory that would then lead us somewhere. We would just start and then see what happened. We would sometimes speak to each other as these characters, like in restaurants. There really wasn’t a structure we were following.

(FF) We were thinking a lot about a classical tragedy, for example. And one big thing in that is there is someone who hasn’t done anything, but through coincidence or fate becomes guilty. So that was something we required.  We never really thought about it but somehow it had to be in the structure of this film about darkness. A person who had to kill happens to be the only innocent person. That’s something that is a very classical theme in tragedy. If you read enough books and think about books, there is something that just had to be like that.

MC: When writing the characters, did you start out with a central one and branch out from there? It seems like there is equal significance among all of them.

(FF) Claude was the one we invented first but it was clear he wouldn’t be the only one. Then we came up with the youngsters who were visiting the concentration camp. It was very clear that their story was going to be a part of it.

The working title for the film was ‘Autobahn.’ We started out thinking we’d have this very German thing where everyone could drive without a speed limit. It looks like a skeleton. We don’t have a lot of untouched nature like here in the United States. It’s a tiny country and everyone drives a car. So we would have all these characters driving on the highway. But it was very clear to me that this would be horrible because you don’t want to see people just driving cars all the time. Especially on the not so beautiful Autobahn. Also we would’ve never been able to shoot that film because the automobile industry in Germany is so powerful. It’s really hard to get streets cleared for film shoots. So I was very glad we didn’t have that many scenes in the car.. That’s where the idea for the couple, the parents of Maximillian, came into being, though.  

NOT Christian Kracht and Frauke Finsterwalder
(CK) It’s very odd because you rent this car and you get in the passing lane and you’re going so fast. You get in this adrenaline zone and in your brain, you don’t even realize you’re going that fast. It’s like a rocket…

(FF) That was also a concept of the film that we were coming up with. We thought of  the idea of people being alone in this bubble and very lonely. And then the bubble would crack and something would enter the bubble and catastrophe would happen, or maybe not… For Klaude something wonderful happens…There are characters that get what they wanted while others get punished. Others get away with things they have done.

MC: It’s interesting that you decided to make this film while living away from Germany. Was making a film about German society something you’d long had an interest in doing?

(FF) (Christian) has lived there for very short periods but has been away more than living there. At the point of writing the film, I’d been away for two years. Actually after doing this pyramid film I’d really had enough of Germany and couldn’t imagine doing another film with East Germans. When we came back I felt like my first fiction film should deal with it because it’s part of me and my history. Even if I live in other countries it will always be a part of me. So is the language. When I first confronted Christian with this, he wasn’t very happy because we had planned to do a film in Argentina, where we lived at that time. I said I’m sorry but I’m afraid we have to do a film about Germany. I’m not done with Germany. Christian was very angry at first. When we started talking about it, we both really thought it was a good idea. Maybe that’s why I really had to do a fiction film where I could control the story in order to say what I wanted to say. Now I can move on. I’m definitely not going to do another film about Germany.

MC: Can you describe your relationship to the characters now that the story is finished?

(CK) Since we spent some time with these characters, they are part of us. A lot of their idiosyncracies are lifted from parts of our very own feelings. Sometimes even though this film is now finished, we still talk to each other as these characters sometimes. We catch ourselves. It’s interesting how they live on in our relationship.

(FF) I’ve watched the film hundreds of time since it was finished. I actually enjoy watching it again because every time there is another character whom I draw more attention to. And I like all of them. And we have discussed that maybe we would make another film with two of them. But now I’ve decided I’d rather do something else. It could be possible though, to have a little TV series. For example Claude going on a cruise ship…Or we were thinking about putting the yuppie couple into a situation where they go to Nepal or some third world country, looking for enlightenment…it would be very funny, but maybe someone else has to do it.

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