Film Director Andreas Dresen: “The Essential Things in Life”
Andreas Dresen always takes a close look at things. But he is not one to dissect his protagonists from a safe distance. He traces their movements and tries to understand what makes them tick. His observations are always marked by genuine interest and almost affectionate sympathy. “You do not have to like characters,” he once said, but you do at least “have to understand them a little.”
Everyday life and its stories
There is no other director in Germany who has devoted himself so intensively to everyday life and its stories as Andreas Dresen. And nobody else manages to captivate filmgoers so successfully. He told the Hamburger Abendblatt that for him, “cinema is the place for existential themes and the essential things in life.” And the intensity with which he approaches these themes makes him “perhaps the most important younger German film-maker,” according to the Neue Zürcher Zeitung.
As so often in Dresen’s work, Halt auf freier Strecke had no script. The theme was developed and improvised in front of the camera following in-depth research together with amateur and professional actors. A man is diagnosed as having only a short time to live and his family experience the last phase of his life with him in all its facets. When the film was premiered in Cannes, Dresen was “almost deaf with nervousness.” Then came relief. People came up to him, weeping and embracing him. The critics were deeply moved. “The actors’ impressive portrayals were almost unbearable,” wrote the Neue Züricher Zeitung. Der Spiegel was impressed by the “calm short scenes” of a film that had no need for “elements of shock and scandal,” and the Stuttgarter Zeitung saw the work as being the most courageous and probably best film of the year.
Precision and improvisation
Andreas Dresen was born in Gera in 1963, the son of theatre director Adolf Dresen and actress Barbara Bachmann. The director has been captivating audiences with his combination of precision and improvisation for more than a decade. After studying directing at the Konrad Wolf Academy of Film and Television, he worked for television. But since his film Nachtgestalten (Night Shapes) (1999), a story with loosely-interwoven narrative strands accompanying six people in nocturnal Berlin, he has been at home above all on the big screen.
It is his themes and the special focus of his observation of everyday things that captivate audiences, drawing them into his stories. Since Nachtgestalten, which enabled them to enter into the lives of homeless couple Hanna and Victor, heroin addict and prostitute Patty and her client from the country, and businessman Peschke, who meets a young refugee from Angola at the airport, they are only too happy to follow him. For example, to Frankfurt an der Oder, a city marked by reunification, where, due to their partners’ unfaithfulness, two couples experience a crisis that turns their previously routine everyday lives upside down (Halbe Treppe, Grill Point, 2002). Or to Berlin, where two friends battle with love, friendship, solidarity, unemployment and loneliness (Sommer vorm Balkon, Summer in Berlin, 2004).
“You make a film to discover something”
The compelling performances and strong actors are frequently commended. Again and again, Andreas Dresen surprises us with his choice of themes. Back in 1991, in Stilles Land (Silent Country), he devoted his attention to the interplay of political and private life, portraying the repercussions of the fall of the Berlin Wall from the point of view of the actors and director of a provincial East German theatre. In 2008, he dealt with love and sex in old age in Wolke 9 (Cloud 9) in a way many felt to be astoundingly open. “I was tired of seeing how society is getting older and older, yet lacks the corresponding images,” he told the German Press Agency (dpa) on the subject of the film. “Love and sex seem to stop existing after a certain age.”
The film Whisky mit Wodka (Whisky with Vodka, 2009) is about getting older, but also about self-delusion and ultimately about the love of film-making. The main character is an ageing star who ever more frequently turns to alcohol to drown his frustrations. So a back-up of all his scenes is made with a younger actor, just in case. This was Dresen’s most expensive film to date. What he has the director say concerning a film’s message reveals a great deal about his own attitude to his work: “There may not be any message at all. You see, you don’t make a film because you have all the answers, but to discover something.”
Andreas Dresen is a member of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities and of the German Film Academy. While he works mainly in cinema, he does do television work now and again (Herr Wichmann von der CDU, Vote for Henryk! 2003, and 20 x Brandenburg, 2010). He has also produced works for the stage, for example with Schauspiel Leipzig and Deutsches Theater Berlin. In 2006, he staged Don Giovanni at the opera house in Basel.
The director, who never developed the sense of glamour usual in his industry, has been inundated with national and international awards. The German Film Award in Silver for Halbe Treppe and for best director in Wolke 9, a Berlin International Film Festival Silver Bear for Halbe Treppe, the Cannes Film Festival’s Coup de coeur du Jury for Wolke 9 and Un Certain Regard award for Halt auf freier Strecke are among the many awards on his shelf. Andreas Dresen received the Master of Cinema Award at the 60th Film Festival Mannheim-Heidelberg in 2011.
is a freelance journalist and writer. She writes for publications including daily newspapers and city magazines.
Translation: Eileen Flügel
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
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