Rory MacLean meets Ingo Rasper
'My father was a travelling salesman who drove around small-town Germany selling designer clothes to older, fashion-conscious women,' Rasper told me when we met in Berlin. 'Blue vests with gold buttons, sensible shoes and traditional skirts; my father knew what women wanted and in return his clientele were loyal to him.'
'But when I was 18 years old, my father was caught speeding and lost his driver's license for four weeks. To enable him to keep working he asked me to be his driver for the month. I refused of course. The last thing on earth I – as a young, gay man -- wanted to do was to help to sell clothes to old ladies. So my father played his trump card, telling me, "If you don't drive me around, I won't pay for your university tuition." I had no choice but to agree.'
Fifteen years later those four weeks formed the basis of Rasper's Fashion Victims (Reine Geschmackssache).
Rasper – who was born in Hildesheim – never wanted to be a salesman. Instead he longed to live a creative life. For a time he apprenticed as a carpenter but the work bored him.
'I never wanted to follow other people's plans. I realised that I wouldn't forgive myself if I didn't take the risk to do…something different.'
During his year of compulsory public service, he worked in a home for disabled people. While there he discovered his passion for films, while sitting up with the night watchman until dawn.
'I loved the work of Stanley Kubrick, John Carpenter and so many other directors,' he recalled. 'I loved how those creative individuals invented new and different worlds. I stayed up all night analysing storylines with the night watchman, discussing editing techniques, dissecting performances and the rest. We -- being little smartasses -- debated how we could make each film better.'
During that time Rasper set his heart on becoming a film director himself. 'But coming from Hildesheim, the chance of landing a job in the German film industry seemed as remote as getting one in Hollywood.'
Rasper began to hound Studio Hamburg for a post. He was advised that the fastest way into the business was as a Promi-Praktikant, a celebrity-sponsored intern. One of his father's distant friends was in contact with the celebrity television newsreader Dagmar Berghoff. Berghoff agreed to put Rasper's name forward, although she'd never met him. The next day he was offered two posts at Studio Hamburg.
'Suddenly I was on a real film set. I was in Heaven,' he said.
His first short film – about an asylum night watchman and a mad inpatient who claims to be sane -- landed him a place at the Baden-Württemberg Film Academy in Ludwigsburg. Once there he discovered a love for comedy, especially after making his film Dufte (Aroma).
'I'd conceived Dufte as a thriller about smugglers but at the premiere the audience couldn't stop laughing. I realised that I had to explore the balance between comedy and suspense.'
After a series of further short films, Rasper had his breakthrough as a feature director. Fashion Victims recounts provincial fashion salesman Wolfgang Zenker's struggles to come to terms with a new competitor, the loss of his driving license … and his son's coming out. Set in an imaginary small town Germany, the film unfolds with a hilarious series of mishaps, money problems and ornamental pond dunkings. It had a successful, limited theatrical release and went on to win three awards at the Saarbrücken Film Festival.
Rasper said, 'I used my own story for the basic plot but spiced it up by introducing a young competitor, and then by having the son fall in love with him.'
Often first time directors can struggle on the set, especially if they are as sensitive and self-effacing as Rasper. 'I was lucky enough to have as lead actor the gifted Edgar Selge. Edgar saw that I was struggling with myself, that I didn't want to be arrogant, that I wanted to be open to others' ideas and not to be dictatorial. Thanks to him I learned that – as director – I didn't necessarily have to have the best idea, but I did have to pick the best idea. It was a very liberating experience.'
More feature films followed including Father's Day – Granddad Stays the Night, BlitzBlank and most recently, Lonely Emma, a winter comedy set in a Berlin supermarket and scheduled to premiere in the autumn. In Lonely Emma Dagmar Manzel plays a lonely cashier who steals clients' wallets solely so she can telephone them and invite them to her house to collect their 'lost' property.
'Lonely Emma is a comedy about individual frailty,' said Rasper with a gentle smile. 'I guess audiences will laugh only two or three times during the film. But I don't believe that one has to laugh all the time. It's a matter of suspense, of getting the right balance in comedy.' He paused and added, 'My night watchman friend and I discovered that during those nights long ago. Back then, when this dream job of being a film director seemed to be unreachable.'
Ingo Rasper added, 'Movie making is still my dream job. Even when it's tough, even when everybody on set is stressed out, screaming and yelling, and it feels like working in Hell, as a director, I have the best job in Hell.’