An Interview with Leander Haußmann: “All of My Films Are About Me”
The director Haußmann: “There’s some dynamite in it” (Photo: Dominik Baur)
20 April 2012
In Germany, Leander Haußmann has received a great deal of praise for his film Hotel Lux, but also some criticism. Now, the Berlin director will present it to the Australian public. We spoke about history, festivals, cave painting, lots of money, and words of praise from Michael Ballhaus.
Mr Haußmann, the Goethe-Institut has invited you to present your latest film “Hotel Lux” at the Audi Festival of German Films in Australia. Can you tell me what the film is about in three sentences?
Haußmann: It’s about a German comedian who emigrates from Germany too late. He has to flee from Nazi Germany and wants to go to Hollywood. But, because the American passports have run out, he first has to take a whistle stop at a hotel in Moscow, which we then learn is the hotel of the Communist Internationale, and things begin to go wrong for him because of a mistaken identity. In a nutshell: it’s a comedy.
You have described this film as your most multifaceted. Why is that?
I meant that quite literally: the film has very many facets and that involves some challenges. For one, it deals with a very bleak theme in an extremely brutal and uncompromising time that we want to tell as a comedy without deriding the victims. Then, I had to communicate the complex circumstances of this special hotel to a public for whom the historic background is to the most part new. In addition, when handling such a sensitive subject matter, one has to be historically unassailable. There’s some dynamite in it. It’s not for nothing that they don’t want to show the film in Moscow.
So, the film is also a bit of a history lesson?
History lesson sounds a little too didactic, but of course we can’t circumvent it altogether. Ultimately there are also positive examples of filmic history lessons, for example “Schindler’s List” or “Titanic.” And I wouldn’t mind if the audience finds out a little more about this or that context because of my film. It’s our job to tell the stories that history is made of. Of course, we have to fib just a little.
Audi Festival of German Films: The festival website
In an interview Michael Herbig describes the main character he plays in “Hotel Lux,” Hans Zeisig, like this: “He doesn’t consider any consequences. And he makes everything a little ridiculous. But in a very charming way.” Are you a little bit of a Hans Zeisig yourself?
By all means. All of my films are also – to various degrees – about me. “NVA” and “Sonnenallee” certainly; even “Herr Lehmann” is a little like me in the film although the character was invented by the writer Sven Regener. He wasn’t all that thrilled about it, but I can only make convincing films if I am telling something about myself, too. Even if it’s merely a fantasy about how I’d like to see myself.
Is it true that “Hotel Lux” was originally supposed to be made by Helmut Dietl?
The idea was his originally. For a while he also wanted to make it himself, but eventually he sold it to Constantin, where producer Günter Rohrbach revived the project and came to me with it.
The reviews of “Hotel Lux” were very varied: There was lots of praise, but also a few scorchers. Do you follow what the papers write about you?
It was really very interesting in this case. There’s never been such a wide spectrum of reactions: some papers were positively rapturous, while others were all the more spiteful. But do you know who is a big fan of this film? Michael Ballhaus. For me, that’s enough of a reward.
What kind of responses do you expect now in Australia? Although the plot takes place to the most part in Moscow, “Hotel Lux” does tell a very German story.
You’re mistaken there. It doesn’t become a German story simply because Hitler and the Nazis are in it. The film shows what can become of a young democracy and in particular it asks the question, what would I have done? How far does one’s own loyalty go? What side would I have been on? My characters are always a little capricious and also cowardly. They are perfect projection screens for these questions, because it’s easy to identify with them, perhaps even more so overseas than in Germany.
Have you ever been to Australia?
But, you have made a film of an Australian book.
Not that I know of. Which one?
The non-fiction book Why Men Don't Listen and Women Can't Read Maps by Allan and Barbara Pease.
I see! Yes, you’re right; they are Australian. That was even one of my more successful films. In the meantime I have made it so much my own story that I was not aware of it.
Now you’d have an opportunity to meet them...
That’s true. I’d like to know what they think of the film. The book was a wonderful template. Still, we made our own story of it and even poked some fun at the tone of the book.
What significance do film festivals have for you?
I am happy that I am invited and recognized and always find the dialogue on site very interesting. But, ultimately, I wouldn’t overestimate it. Of course, it also depends very much on the respective festival. It is important that you can really get to know people and are able to talk with them. That is what makes a good festival. Sadly, this aspect is increasingly lacking today. You can experience it the most at the students’ festivals.
For some directors the attention they receive at a festival helps them gain funding for new projects. How important is money for a good film?
That depends on the film. I quite frequently draw from chaos and from poverty. Something can evolve from that. What are 500 people on a market square opposed to an empty market square with autumn leaves wafting across it? In a film, 500 people are still not many, but cost an awful lot of money. And I sure can never top “The Lord of the Rings” or “Titanic.” For films like that, money is extremely important. But, I would like to have a lot of money available, of course. Or as Sammy Davis Jr. once said: “I have been poor and I have been rich. Rich is better.”
What was the budget for Hotel Lux?
11 million euros.
That could buy a couple of houses. Is that kind of responsibility a burden?
No. Of course, grandma has to knit a long time for that kind of money. But, it’s relative. Films are the cave paintings of our times. Maybe cave painting was a little cheaper back then, but perhaps their price was very high – compared to what time was worth back then. Maybe the guy who painted them was always very tired out and ultimately eaten by a sabre-toothed tiger because he spent all night painting in the cave.
Do you, as a cave painter of our times, have an idol? And please don’t say Ernst Lubitsch or Billy Wilder!
It would be Quentin Tarantino. Many consider him only an action film director, but for me, he is a great writer of dialogues. He never takes the easy way; his characters never talk about the plot of the film in their dialogues. That is a great art.
Leander Haußmann was born in Quedlinburg in 1959. He comes from an old artistic dynasty; his father was actor Ezard Haußmann and his mother is the costume designer Doris Haußmann. After being trained as a printer, Haußmann began acting in the 1980s. As such, he celebrated a variety of successes on the stages of the GDR. After reunification, he switched to directing. In the 1990s he caused some sensations with in part controversial productions in various German theatres. He was theatre manager of the Bochum Schauspielhaus from 1995 until 2000. Since then, he has mainly made films, among the most well known of which are his first film Sonnenallee (1999) and Herr Lehmann (2003).