The temperament of images
by Ruediger Suchsland, German Films Quaterly
- Born in Duesseldorf in 1959, Philip Groening began to work for film and television productions in various capacities
Stories always emerge suddenly. "In a single evening, overnight, the topic is suddenly there, the characters are there, and so are all the key scenes." There are few German filmmakers as unconventional as Philip Groening. Looking at the six films that Groening has made over the last 20 years, one is quite amazed at the diversity and range of this director’s interests: The father-son story Summer, the quiet, concentrated style of which reminded many viewers of the works of Bresson; the 35-minute Stachoviak! – whose label "documentary" can only be understood ironically –, an introspective view of an amok-runner captured in extremely subjective, fragmentary images; The Terrorists!, a heated film about group-dynamics and the suppressed bourgeois tendencies of a group of radical leftists planning a political assassination; the cool romance L'Amour, L'Argent, L'Amour; and finally Into Great Silence, a philosophical meditation on the sensuality of escapism.
Sometimes Groening uses a hand-camera, sometimes he films in Cinemascope; for Into Great Silence, coarse-grained Super 8s and high-resolution HD digital images alternate with each other, developing their own rhythm. Groening’s images can be faded and experimental, or crystal-clear. But despite this variety, his style and specific standpoint are unmistakable: "The temperament of the images and the temperament of the story have to match." Groening works his way into the material, doing considerable research, writing page after page of scene- and working-material, and in this way he always tries to find the form that is entirely appropriate to the film. "The characters you are presenting to your viewers move in the film. And in formal terms, I believe that a film must have exactly the same movement. That determines the style and the approach." The same thing happens once again when it comes to editing – "you have never shot the film that you wanted to shoot. Or I never have." Instead, it is about developing the voice of the material. Groening definitely sees himself as an author filmmaker, as one who generates a certain vision of life, of the world and of the cinema in his films, and who attempts to realize it with remarkable consistency. It is no coincidence that in French, a director is called a "réalisateur", someone who realizes things.
From the beginning, people abroad also acknowledged this: Summer was a great hit which was widely discussed and praised. There was political dispute about The Terrorists! because the German Chancellor at the time felt personally attacked, and – unsuccessfully – tried to damage the film. L'Amour, L'Argent, L'Amour received its first award in Locarno, and then won the Max Ophuels Prize. The film was a sign of hope on the German film scene: unconventional, surprising, dream-like and wonderful; the meeting of two disabled people in Berlin and their trip to Normandy – a touch of Seberg and Belmondo in German cinema. Here, as always with Groening, it is not so much the stories that are crucial, but the images and the feelings that they trigger. Love as a journey into the unknown, simultaneously sorrowful and beautiful. Here, and also in Into Great Silence, his characters are outsiders, "people who live in their own universe and have conflicts with the outside world." Philip Groening, who once wanted to become a psychiatrist, knows that cinema is only interesting when it alters our perception. Even after his fourth full-length film, he is still young. Groening has the potential to become one of the greats.
With the collaboration of German Films Quaterly