Dominik Graf “Protect the individual scenes”

Scene from “Komm mir nicht nach”.
Scene from “Komm mir nicht nach”. | Photo (detail): Julia von Vietinghoff © ARD

Love triangles, police genre, essayistic items: Dominik Graf’s television and cinema films always stand out from the rest. This exceptional filmmaker turned 60 in September 2012.

A man is meticulously loading the dishwasher. He is a perfectionist. He cooks. He's handsome. He's a witty and clever business partner, and in general is just perfect. Still, Vera and Jo don't want to have anything to do with him. In Komm' mir nicht nach (lit. Don't follow me), the second part of the Dreileben trilogy, Patrick is the more interesting one. Unbeknownst to each other, the two women both had affairs with him during the same summer all those years ago in Munich, but he had continually kept them at a distance. Images of their ominous lover come back in fragmented recollections.

An award-winning series

Dominik Graf works primarily for television and internationally he is more or less anonymous. In September 2012, he turned 60 and a retrospective event at the Zeughaus cinema in Berlin honored his life's work. He has produced over 50 cinema and television works that have been regularly distinguished over the years including an impressive 10 Grimme prizes.

The most recent Grimme came in 2012 for the TV trilogy Dreileben, a collaboration between Graf, Christoph Hochhäusler and Christian Petzold, each of whom was responsible for one part of the series. Graf's part (Komm' mir nicht nach) tells the story of a love triangle between Vera, Jo and Bruno that is affected by an invisible fourth person (Patrick). A crime and the subsequent getaway by the alleged culprit in the eastern German town of Dreileben connect all three stories; Graf touches only peripherally on this element of the plot in his segment.

The dialog as a centerpiece

Komm’ mir nicht nach combines many elements of the unique and diverse works of the filmmaker. The police genre permeates the film and forms the basis upon which the autonomous love triangle unfolds, while interpretive flashback sequences and small memory landscapes provide an associative affirmation of his hometown in München – Geheimnisse einer Stadt (lit. Munich – secrets of a city). Like in Der Felsen (lit. The rock), there is an objet trouvé that triggers the recollections here. The figures speak through one another, quickly, naturally and bluntly. Graf co-wrote the script with his author Markus Busch. “Dialog is the centerpiece of a film,” says the director, and love triangles feature frequently in his works.

Graf had the idea of portraying a love triangle in nouvelle vague style back in 1974 when he was at the HFF, a university for television and film in Munich. For his entry examination, he wrote about a student who discovers a nude sculpture of his own girlfriend in his art teacher's studio. Judith Früh recalls these years at the HFF in an article on the first book dedicated to Graf: “He was not only an extremely productive filmmaker, but also a prolific writer of texts and books.” It is “high time” for a volume like this, claims Christoph Hochhäusler in his introduction to Im Angesicht des Fernsehens (lit. In the face of the television – a play on words with a famous Graf TV series).

Readings from the annotated filmography of co-publisher Chris Wahl are a nice way to get into the collection. It is not organized as a simple list of the many films. Instead, it insightfully follows the personal continuities and disruptions in Graf's work: from the scripts and music – to which Graf often contributed his own compositions –to the editing, actors and camera work. This study is then complemented by a long interview with Graf and an introductory article from Wahl that gives the reader a chronological look at the director's development.

The freedom of TV

Based on critiques, viewer numbers and comments from Graf himself, it becomes clear why the director often prefers working in television rather than cinema. On television there is more freedom for someone like him, who loves genre cinema and who loves going beyond the limits in general. Die Katze (lit. The cat, 1988) with Götz George was ultimately a big hit in the theaters while the edgier police film Die Sieger (lit. The victors, 1994) was a flop at the box offices. Graf has realized that you should not, “let just one film damage you over the many years of decision processes.”

Heeding his own advice over the protestations of others in 2010, Graf came out with Im Angesicht des Verbrechens (lit. In the face of the crime), an eight-hour cinematic saga disguised as a TV series about the intrigue within the Russian mafia in Berlin. He wanted to “protect all of the individual scenes.” For Graf, a weapon that you see once doesn't necessarily need to be used. A figure that you see once doesn't necessarily need to show up again. Michaela Krützen touches emphatically on this in her comparative piece about Graf's first episodes of Fahnder (lit. Investigator, 1985) and Cassandras Warnung (lit. Cassandra's warning, an episode of Polizeiruf 110, 2011). The richness is in the detail and the world keeps on turning.

Unfortunately, there is no article in the book about Komm’ mir nicht nach, perhaps because attention is so often paid to Graf's examination of the “Berlin school” and because the film magazine Revolver published the e-mail exchanges of Christoph Hochhäusler, Christian Petzold und Dominik Graf.´

Graf's next project – this time for cinema – is about the young Schiller and “his relationship with the Lengefeld sisters”. Once again we have a love triangle, a “complicated and idealistic story of love letters between the three”. There will also be a period piece – a stepchild of German cinema, like the police film.

Chris Wahl, Marco Abel, Jesko Jockenhövel und Michael Wedel (ed.):
Im Angesicht des Fernsehens: Der Filmemacher Dominik Graf (Edition Text und Kritik, Munich 2012)