"Cynicism has no place in cinema"
by Boyd van Hoeij
- Two of Germany’s biggest names talk about the difference between the Houellebecq novel and the Oskar Roehler adaptation in which they star
German actress Franka Potente conquered the world as the titular red-headed runner in the hit Lola rennt (Run, Lola, run), in which her athletic prowess was needed to save her boyfriend, played by Moritz Bleibtreu, from a lot of trouble. Both have since gone on to become huge stars at home and increasingly recognisable faces abroad. Director Oskar Roehler reunited them again in The Elementary Particles [+see also:
interview: Franka Potente & Moritz Ble…
interview: Oskar Roehler
film profile], in which Potente plays the first and only love of Bleibtreu’s brother in the adaptation of the controversial Michel Houellebecq novel Atomised (US title: The Elementary Particles). Cineuropa met with the two stars in Berlin.
How would describe your character’s relation to the story?
Moritz Bleibtreu: Like so many things in life, [the film] is both dramatic and comical, though for Bruno, the events that happen to him are very dramatic. He is not alone in this position, however, as a lot of men seem quite confused when it comes to sexuality right now. We have come to a point where sex has become a very visual thing, like a status symbol. It has lost its innocence and taboo and is now used to tell something about who you are. When you are lacking the most important thing in sex – intimacy between two people – you will probably end up like Bruno, who tries to compensate what he does not get by taking more. Like with any addiction, really.
Franka Potente: Normally a person consists of the unity of a body and a mind, but in Houellebecq’s work these two things have been separated into two people [Bruno and Michael] who are [half-] brothers, like one person with two heads. It gives Houellebecq the possibility to focus on both in more depth and it also explains the fascination of the two brothers for each other: they cannot be without one another.
You have both read the book; could you talk about how you perceive the differences between the novel and the film?
FP: Once we started working on [the film], I completely forgot about the novel entirely. A book is something that functions in a completely different way than a film; [the latter is] a collective experience in a theatre that is more indoctrinating than a book. Reading a book alone is a subjective experience and one that is frequently interrupted – a film is best seen in one go. For me it was a good choice to leave much of the cynicism and pessimism out of the film, because it would have changed it into something I would not have wanted to watch. In film, cynicism closes the door in your face, when in fact a film should open up.
MB: The film is in fact way more human and more romantic than the book, which was quite important for me. I was not interested in putting what was in the book directly onto the screen. I do not think that that kind of provocation and cynicism have a place in the cinema. For the people who have not read the book, it will be just a film, and in any case it would have been impossible to film directly what Houellebecq wrote, because it would have been something like a porn film with suicides and violence. I think he is probably right about most of the subjects in his book, but even so, I do not want to see this at the cinema and I do not want to admit that he is right. It would be too depressing. It was just clear from the beginning that the story needed to display a certain love towards people that the book did not have. To be honest, for me as an actor I do not really see the point in telling stories that do not have any hope at all. I am not interested in telling stories that say: "Life is useless, all go and kill yourselves".
Was the precise extent of the sexual content of the film ever discussed before you decided to take the role?
MB:For Elementarteilchen, though it deals in a great part with sex, it was clear from the beginning what I was willing to do and not do. I had already done a previous film with Oskar Roehler [Agnes and His Brothers] so there was never any doubt about what I would and would not do. Oskar knew this from the start.
Which moment in the film rings most true?
FP: I really liked the scene in which Cristiane and Bruno sit in a taxi and they say to each other "I think I love you". It seems to be so much more true to say "I think..." rather than "I do...". It is such an honest thing to say. When you say to someone "I love you", it is really a projection of a longing that you have. I think it is through Cristiane’s character that Bruno starts to heal and feel better. Basically she says: "You can be you, that is fine with me". Bruno really needs this other person to say that to him. It is a very real moment in the film.