(Blickpunkt: Film) Interview to CONTRA´s director Sönke Wortmann
Sönke Wortmann will be in the cinemas with "Contra" from October 28th . At the beginning of next year, two more films by the successful director will be released. We talked to him about the culture of argument and the right timing for comedy.
How did you come to the project or how did the project come to you?
SÖNKE WORTMANN: About the connection between Constantin Film and the French makers of " The First Name ". They were very satisfied with our adaptation and offered us another film, "Le Brio" in the original, which was released in 2018 in the summer of the football world championship under the title "The brilliant Mademoiselle Neila" came out and went down completely. So that, in my opinion, this important topic was as good as not occupied and I decided on another adaptation.
What attracted you to the topic? Has it become even more topical as a result of the "Cancel Culture" debate?
SÖNKE WORTMANN: Yes, I would have preferred it to be different, but the film is actually becoming more and more topical, it has not lost its explosiveness.
What do you think of the culture of debate in Germany? Does "Contra" make a contribution to this, is it a political film?
SÖNKE WORTMANN: "Contra" is definitely a political film. The culture of debate can no longer be called culture. What's going on there in social media and also at demonstrations, and not only there ... You don't listen to each other anymore, it's getting louder and louder, it's no longer about arguments, but only about being right.
You always look closely at the socio-cultural environment of your characters, but never tell in a didactic way, but always in an entertaining way. What's your approach?
SÖNKE WORTMANN: The whole dictatorship of the index finger is of no use if a film is not entertaining. That is very important to me. Early on in my professional career, I tried to tell stories in a different, more entertaining way. I believe that it is more sustainable if the audience does not feel instructed, but takes note of things that are entertainingly served to them.
Her films are often compared to "god of carnage" style chamber plays . Is that true, do you take that as a compliment?
SÖNKE WORTMANN: I think it's meant as a compliment. I don't think the film is that good myself, there are better chamber plays for me. I am amazed that this example is always mentioned. But it is meant nicely, I can live with it.
One of your main ingredients is wit and bitter humor. How important is a really well-written script to you? Sometimes you have the feeling that this is a problem with German films.
SÖNKE WORTMANN: Not only for Germans. The script is the foundation of every film. The better the script, the fewer mistakes you can make as a director. Ideally, you have a good script and make a good film out of it. But you can't make a good film without a good script. I try to be as precise as possible in the script draft, because there is little time to try it out at the location. I am a big believer in the most intensive preparation possible - a day of shooting is incredibly expensive. Improvisation is not the order of the day. In a comedy in particular, being well prepared is the best. Of course you can still bring in ideas during the shooting, improve something. It's never too late for a good idea. But for me, improvisation means starting from scratch and trying something completely different.
Is timing really that important when it comes to jokes?
SÖNKE WORTMANN: "Contra" is not a thoroughbred comedy, but rather a drama with comedic elements. But it's true that timing is even more important with comedy than with other genres. The very high approval rate for the test screenings that we did shows that we did something right with the comedic elements.
The cast also creates tension, the decision to combine Nilam Farooq, a relative newcomer - who was awarded the Bavarian Film Prize for her role - with the old hand Christoph Maria Herbst . Thematically, that is also part of the film.
SÖNKE WORTMANN: Exactly, one of the central topics is how the student fares in the confrontation with the professor. Nilam held up really well against the old hand. Incidentally, Christoph Maria sees it the same way. He wants to be challenged, the better someone plays with him, the better he can become. It was a real acting duel, fueled by their original verbal battles.
The part is also an expansion of his range of roles for autumn.
SÖNKE WORTMANN: He usually works in the comedy spectrum and was happy that he was able to show something else.
After "The First Name", "Contra" is already the second remake of a successful French film. What is it like for a director to do a rerun or a new version? Do you look closely at the original or do you avoid it and try to get away from it?
SÖNKE WORTMANN: I have to intervene briefly: In Germany there weren't any successful films, otherwise we wouldn't have made any adaptations. "The first name" had 100,000 viewers in this country when it came out in 2011, our 2018 over 1.2 million. "The brilliant Mademoiselle Neila" was also unsuccessful with us. In terms of approach: I've seen the original once, then never again. We wanted to create something independent. I only met with the screenwriter Doron Wisotzkyand discussed with the producer. A lot has changed there.
By adapting to German conditions?
SÖNKE WORTMANN: On the one hand that. But we also wanted to introduce new aspects, and I am glad that it worked. The test screenings showed that the most popular scenes were based on our scriptwriter's own ideas that do not appear in the original: Her Islam tube and the dance between the two.
Do you enjoy working with a well-rehearsed crew, the same editors, producers, etc. Are you a team player?
SÖNKE WORTMANN: There are an incredible number of advantages when you know each other and how the other person ticks and works. But that doesn't mean that I'm not open to new constellations. When in doubt, I am in favor of the variant that you already know each other.
The film has been finished for a long time, the start had to be postponed again and again due to the corona. How are you doing with that?
SÖNKE WORTMANN: We actually wanted to start last December. In comparison, however, it is not a disaster for the film and those involved in front of the camera. I feel sorry for the cinemas that haven't had any income for so long. That we couldn't contribute anything makes me sad and frustrated.
Did you also consider doing without the theatrical release and assigning the rights to a streaming provider?
SÖNKE WORTMANN: As far as I know, not ...
You are a director spoiled as a visitor millionaire. With over 6.6 million viewers, "The Moving Man" was one of the most successful German films in post-war cinema, "Deutschland ein Sommermärchen" and "Das Wunder von Bern" each had well over three million viewers. Today one can only dream of such numbers. How will it go on?
SÖNKE WORTMANN: Of course the streamers have become competitors. But there are always exceptions to the top, like 2019 "The Perfect Secret"with five million viewers. It is still possible. Times haven't gotten any easier, but I wouldn't speak of a turning point. "The first name" also had 1.2 million visitors, which is not a small number. "Contra" was seen in the same category before the pandemic. All of that is now obsolete, nobody knows what the box office results will be.
Are you staying loyal to the cinema or are you also planning trips to the Netflix or series world?
SÖNKE WORTMANN: I would be very happy to, cinema is the supreme discipline for me. Which does not mean that I exclude the other. Some subjects are better told as a series. There are things that I would also be interested in. I made one for ARD, it was also fun.
How did you get through the pandemic times? Your shooting was not currently affected by the lockdown.
SÖNKE WORTMANN: I was lucky in that no film was interrupted. I wanted to use 2020 to write. But the plight of the cultural industry, of which I am part, hits my mind. It has an effect when the others are unlucky.
You yourself were very productive. In the meantime you have shot the sequel "The Last Name" , again a Constantin production that is due to hit the cinemas on January 20, 2022. Is the material also based on a template?
SÖNKE WORTMANN: No, that is our own invention. It is a sequel with the actors from "The First Name", the script comes from the same author,Claudius Pläging . Two years have passed, Dorothea and René invited the family to their holiday home in Lanzarote for the weekend to announce something. But actually everyone has other worries: They became parents, ran out of money, had marital problems or just quit their job. I was amazed at how much explosive there is in what can be achieved with dialog humor, speed, exotic location and a great acting ensemble. It has to do with inheritance law, with what will be written on the tombstone one day ...
In post-production is " Included Society " for Sony Germany . Also a satire, with Florian David Fitz , Anke Engelkeand again Nilam Farooq, based on an original radio play by Jan Weiler . The theatrical release is planned for March 10th.
SÖNKE WORTMANN: You don't have to explain a lot about a subject by successful author Jan Weiler. It's a comedy that casts a satirical look into the staff room. You can see again that I like to work in well-established constellations.
Is your fondness for literary material due to the fact that you read a lot?
SÖNKE WORTMANN: Above all, because of my great affinity for the theater, I also produce there from time to time, most recently at the Düsseldorfer Schauspielhaus. "Frau Müller muss weg" is based on a play, and so is "The First Name". "Contra" also has theatrical elements. The common denominator is theater rather than literature.
For "Contra" you were able to persuade Joy Denalane , the German Queen of Soul, to reinterpret the Bill Withers classic "Use Me". How important is music for timing, for emotion?
SÖNKE WORTMANN: The script is crucial before filming, music and editing are important afterwards in order to arouse the right emotions. Music can add an incredible amount to this.
Do you have access to music yourself?
SÖNKE WORTMANN: No, unfortunately I was never forced to learn an instrument.
The interview was conducted by Marga Boehle