A man of stature
by Annette Maria Rupprecht
29/10/2006 - He is a debutant who has proven himself a professional in the best sense of the word with his first feature, aesthetically consistent, moving, great narrative cinema from a youngster
The film world was surprised: Who is this man who stands out among so many, who has demonstrated such mastery with his first film, The Lives of Others [+see also:
film profile], for the cinema? Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck is no master from out of the blue. He began practicing early, consuming narrative European literature with tremendous enthusiasm: an "addiction to education" that came upon him as puberty developed ("compensation for a lack of coolness"). He discovers the whole canon of literature - Thomas Mann, Stefan Zweig, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky - and loses sleep at night because he knows no more than a couple of essays by Kleist. He needs the complete works!
The desire for perfection has remained; the desire to think everything through, to reach everything and everyone. The audiences came in droves (1.3 million by June), the German parliament went to the cinema en block, and even the German President Koehler flew to the old capital city Bonn to view the film together with school children.
The 33-year-old filmmaker was aware that the topic of Communist dictatorship would give rise to discussion, and what is more - that is exactly what he wanted. No system of spies in the world, the director knows, is as comprehensive as that of the GDR was: more than a quarter of a million people were employed by the "State Security" (Stasi) to sound out their fellow citizens. This is a bitter truth that has now - in the 17th year after German reunification - been examined in a feature film for the first time. Donnersmarck did not make his material into a didactic film, but backed a technique of emotionalizing personification. The director experienced the Stasi-debate "as something necessary for Germany, but also as something sad. I can imagine that the success of, shall we say, Run Lola Run was a reason for pure celebration for Tom Tykwer. For me, there is also a sense of despair over The Lives of Others [+see also:
film profile] and its victory march. Daily, I receive letters from people who tell me how they were mistreated and how they recognize themselves in the film.
With characteristic decisiveness, he counters isolated critics' verdicts that The Lives of Others is a populist, consensus film: "As if it was an argument against a film that it appeals to almost everyone, and thus to very different people! Those who repeat this verdict presumably want Germany to be lumbered with the kind of mediocrity that has induced so many 'consensus people', from Wilhelm Weiller to Wolfgang Petersen, to flee the country! If 'consensus film' is supposed to mean the same as 'trivial' or even 'bad film', then I want to make a lot more bad and trivial films in my career. What would those critics say of films like Casablanca or Godfather Part II? They must be the worst films of all time, for absolutely everyone thinks that they are good, and not - as in my case - almost everyone. I wish that The Lives of Others was much more of a consensus film!"
Donnersmarck currently lives in Berlin, but he does not belong to the so-called 'Berlin School'. "I don't believe that there are 'schools' for good directors. Directing means establishing one's own taste as the sole measure of everything. And not that of any school members or of some teacher or other. The very nature of the profession means that a director has to be an extreme loner. The term 'Berlin School' is a forlorn attempt to use Berlin's 'hipness' in order to create a virtue out of necessity: the aesthetics of underfinanced (and for that reason often underrated) films."
When Donnersmarck received his Lola for the Best Direction, he said rather succinctly: "Somebody had to get it." Of course, he is now among the most frequently wooed directors in the country. That is all very nice, but not important. "The only thing that has really changed in my life," he says, "is that I have left behind that Don Carlos feeling; a sense that my life is passing year after year without me being able to create and find my audience. I have lost the fear that I am composing poetry for the hard-drive. And that was a terrible anxiety."