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Thomas Arslan • Director

"Unknown territory"


- The German filmmaker deciphers his atypical western Gold, presented in competition in Berlin.

For the first time in competition in Berlin after two selections for the Panorama and four in the Forum, the German filmmaker met the international press after the screening of Gold [+see also:
film review
interview: Thomas Arslan
film profile
 (review). Selected extracts…

Why did you choose to make something which is almost an anti-western? 
Thomas Arslan: I would not define it as such, but not as a pure western either. In any case, my original intention was not to stage an abstract concept. I found photos of the Gold Rush fascinating, and I started to do some research. In the accounts and notebooks that I read, I was also struck by the fact that individuals thought they could leave everything behind and create their own destiny. I decided it would be even more interesting if a woman was in the middle of it all. There are some classical elements and themes of the western in the film, but, in 1898, at the time of the story, legends had already been written and borders already drawn. There are only a few marginal echoes of this in the movie. The narrative is more about an exhausting journey and a group’s reactions to these conditions. To make a Billy The Kid or Calamity Jane type of movie, with gunshot, would have been a bit odd for me. Others do it much better than I do. I had to find my own path and I did it through the German connection.

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How did you create this link with Germany?
In those days, many Germans emigrated and undertook this journey. I integrated many details into the screenplay which I had discovered during my research. These historical elements were important to me, but I had to leave some aside because fiction needs its own space. I used my artistic freedom so that the constellation of characters would function well even if it was a group; these are characters who are together out of necessity.

What difficulties did you have to face during the project? 
For me, this was unknown territory. I had never made a historical movie. The screenplay’s style helped me a lot because 90% of the account happens in the midst of nature, so sets and costumes were not as essential as when you have to rebuild small towns completely. We used the landscapes more or less as they were. In any case, we would not have had the budget for reconstitution. But the filming was difficult. I had seven actors and eleven horses, and it was sometimes a real challenge to get them to function together. It is also physically exhausting to be on horseback all day long, and the actors had to make huge efforts. But as we filmed more or less chronologically, this had very positive repercussions on the film because it in fact deals with exhaustion and obstacles to be overcome.

How did Nina Hoss come to join the project?
I thought about her when the screenplay was being written. She was not an experienced rider, so she trained in Berlin before the filming. Fortunately, the presence of several experienced cowboys during the shooting really helped the actors. They looked as if they had jumped out of a history book and gradually passed on to the actors a great sense of calm and confidence, which was indispensable because we did not want to give an impression of townsfolk playing cowboys.

What about Dead Man’s influence, especially on the music? 
I decided very quickly that there would be an electric guitar, and I think the music is quite different from that of Neil Young for Dead Man, which is a much more stylized movie with a degree of irreality, which is not the case at all for Gold. But if you want to make a parallel, why not, it's not a problem.

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