(Blinkpunkt Film) "A Whole Life": A cinema project like no other
by Thomas Schultze
"A Whole Life" by Robert Seethaler was a worldwide bestseller. Now Hans Steinbichler has started filming, based on a screenplay by Ulrich Limmer; Production partners are epo-film and the newly founded Munich branch of Tobis.
You hold the novel by Robert Seethaler in your hands, which is actually nothing more than a little book with its 185 pages and still dares to call itself "A Whole Life", and you wonder how that's supposed to work. Then you start reading. And don't stop until you're through. A reaction that many people around the world must have had. In German-speaking countries alone, the Austrian's fifth novel has sold more than 1.1 million copies since it was published in 2014. It has been translated into 40 languages, received numerous German, Austrian and international awards and has been described in reviews as a "novel of the century" and a "little literary miracle". In an interview with the Stuttgarter Zeitung at the time, Seethaler said: " Every life is reduced to pure existence, that's what interests me, the core of existence, if there were one. Almost all people face sickness and death at some point, and suffer terrible losses. I always wanted to know how an individual deals with such a challenge. I believe that you can and must get through it - and that you may even emerge stronger from such events. That's not romantic, that's the idea I have. Ultimately, it's all about the same thing - survival, love and death." how an individual deals with such a challenge. I believe that you can and must get through it - and that you may even emerge stronger from such events. That's not romantic, that's the idea I have. Ultimately, it's all about the same thing - survival, love and death." how an individual deals with such a challenge. I believe that you can and must get through it - and that you may even emerge stronger from such events. That's not romantic, that's the idea I have. Ultimately, it's all about the same thing - survival, love and death."
were early tooDieter PochlatkoandJacob Pochlatkofrom the Graz epo-film became aware of "A Whole Life" after they had previously acquired the rights to Seethaler's previous bestsellerthe tobacconist"had secured, which was adapted in 2018 by Nikolaus Leytner with Simon Morzé and Bruno Ganz in his last film role. "'A whole life' spoke directly to us in its humility, greatness and strength," the Pochlatkos say. "We are all the more proud that, after this long and intensive development period, we were able to unite a great team of creative partners in front of and behind the camera to now begin the cinematic realization of this piece of world literature. And we expect great cinema that is capable of to reach an audience similar to the original." It was the Austrians who commissioned a screenplay from Ulrich Limmer, and they also brought Hans Steinbichler on board as director. Because this is a massive film endeavor,
After the initially planned Bavaria Fiction had to leave the ship, Tobis Filmproduktion, a new, dedicated production partner, was immediately on the spot. As a co-producer and distributor, Tobis had already brought "Der Trafikant" to the cinemas with great success and had already been confirmed as the distributor for "A Whole Life". This step was crucial for the project to really take off. It was imperative to actively participate in the production, she thinksTimm Oberwellandwho along withTheo Gringel,Tobias SeiffertandSkadi LisAs a German producer, he is responsible: "'A whole life' is a project that we appreciate very much. Of course we knew the novel by Robert Seethaler, we are big fans. We signaled to our friends from epo early on that they were looking forward to us when they are ready to start looking for distribution and production partners, which we look forward to." The material also turned out to be an ideal project to launch Tobis' Munich branch. "We are convinced that 'A Whole Life' is made for the big screen," notes Oberwelland, "great, rich cinematic material with impressive images and a temporally relevant and very emotional story - great cinema, precisely because it is a is a very special and distinctive project, that cannot be compared to anything else. We believe in cinema! But then you also have to make films that allow cinema to unfold its full power, its full magic."
It tells the life story of Andreas Egger, from the age of four until his death eight decades later. It is a life full of hardships and deprivations, there is violence, war, poverty. But there are also short moments of happiness and even a great love, which are enough to turn Egger into a person who loves his life. "'A Whole Life' is a universalist parable about the essentials in our lives and with this premise holds up a mirror to our restless achievement-oriented society," says director Hans Steinbichler, describing the broader framework. "In Egger's life there are two fundamental experiences that shape his existence: love and contentment. Egger will then carry the short time of his great love through his whole life. After losing that love, Egger's other ability comes into its own. From now on he only demands from life what is necessary for a simple existence: he is - in other words - satisfied. Screenwriter Ulrich Limmer also sees the story as an "alternative to today's world, where we are drilled for performance, for achieving goals, for projects that we want to realize". Egger is one, he says, who actually leads a Buddhist life without ever having come into contact with the concept of Buddhism; a foundling who grew up in a rural environment under the harshest of conditions, who lives his whole life in extreme solitude."The greatest fate in his life is the loss of his beloved wife," says the scriptwriter Egger goes to war, which he experiences as senselessly as one can only experience it. After years in Russian captivity, he returns to a changed world and finds his place there again. He ends up in a cavernous hut, without any possessions, without having achieved anything in his life.
"After all, before he dies, he says to himself: When I look back, it was a happy life," explains Limmer. "I find that unbelievable. That's the appeal and fascination of this book, which is probably what made it a bestseller, apart from the fact that it's brilliantly written. Robert Seethaler was incredibly precise, he's a fine engraver of words, of people and situations. 'A Whole Life' is a book that really gives its reader something. You read it and think about your own life plan. And you ask yourself whether, when the time comes, you should also look back can say it's been a good life." Director Hans Steinbichler is no less impressed by this final insight. " This film narrative fits incredibly well into our time, when the lockdowns forced you to think about what you have and what is essential: family, children, partner and a home. And in this supposed restriction one found the essentials again: to love and to contentment with the life that was given to one. In Seethaler's parable, this task in life, to constantly reflect on love and contentment with who you are and what you have, is taken to extremes," reports Steinbichler. "So Andreas Egger writes the following at the very end: 'I loved and got a glimpse of where love can lead. I've never had the trouble of believing in God, and I've never been scared of death.'" These three sentences, said Steinbichler, said everything for him. In them Egger summarized how a whole life can be successful.
Limmer admits frankly that the adaptation was a huge challenge: "The book breaks all dramaturgical rules. And I'm a big believer in certain dramaturgical rules. I had to break with my own habits and it was a pleasure , to do that." It was an amazing experience, he continues: "Because I value the book so highly, I decided to stay as close as possible to the original text and only change things to enable the narrative to flow. It's tricky, because the book is written almost entirely from the point of view of his main character and there is almost no one he communicates with, who he confides in. So I had to find a way to bring his inside view out." In the novel it is mentioned that Egger writes a letter to his deceased wife, which he buries in the ground. "That was the solution for me: to have him write letters explaining his situation. That way I could make his inner workings understandable, bring them to life."
Limmer visited Robert Seethaler in Berlin and discussed with him whether he was on the right track with his approach and whether he understood the novel correctly. "That gave me the courage to create a framework for the plot in the film that does not exist in the book: the longing for lost love holds the film together like a bracket. Another meeting with Robert Seethaler took place after he had read the finished screenplay. Limmer explicitly wanted to know from him whether there were passages that he definitely didn't want to accept like that: "He had one comment, a sentence from Egger's mouth, which is also in the book, but which he said seemed too pronounced in a film. So I deleted him. Seethaler is a very radical author, he says he would prefer it if Egger didn't speak at all. Although that's exactly what he does in the book, inside and out." For Limmer, it was a meeting that couldn't have been more successful: "I was happy because he was happy with the script. He thought it was great. A stone fell from my heart. My biggest fear was that he would look me in the eye and say: You didn't get the novel."
Ulrich Limmer, who himself has experience as a producer and has been Managing Director of Collina Film for many years, was unequivocal when he spoke to the producers about the adaptation at a very early stage: "I don't take any production considerations into account! I would approach the work with a pair of scissors in my head ", important things were lost. The director and you then have to say later what works and what doesn't. I'll just sit down now and try to write the best possible script, even though I know I'd have sleepless nights if I did would later have to implement it as a producer." A film that spans more than 70 years of a life cannot help but be complex, says Limmer. The avalanche alone that swept Egger's hut away is a logistical nightmare: " At the time I was visiting my niece who lives in Innsbruck am Berg. An avalanche had just gone off. The aisle that the snow masses had torn was unbelievable. You first have to convert this sheer force of nature into a film." Hans Steinbichler doesn't mind that. He goes into the shoot - together with the team - well prepared. Together with his DoPArmin Franzen(with the Steinbichler 2021 the third season of "The boat" made) he prepared 80 percent of all winter pictures with storyboards based on exact location photographs and with a shooting order. Otherwise the highly complex winter logistics in the snow at over 2000 meters would not have been possible. Steinbichler's goal for the cinema film is "A whole life". clear: "I want to make a film in which the people who know and love the novel recognize the book immediately and don't miss much. At the same time, however, people who do not know the original should have an overwhelming cinematic experience that changes their view of the world and their own lives for a moment or even makes them falter."
Steinbichler has a close connection to the work of Robert Seethaler. In 2008 he had for ZDF "The second wife" shot with Monica Bleibtreu and Matthias Brandt based on a screenplay by the Austrian, who lives in Vienna and Berlin, from which he then developed his second novel "The Further Prospects". Steinbichler naturally became aware of "A Whole Life" when it was published. " I was after this book like the devil is after holy water...", he laughs. At first it seemed impossible because he was told that an Austrian had to film it. "But I've loved this book for so long and so much wanted Markus Zimmer, who was still with Bavaria at the time, to assure me that he would get in touch if anything changed again in the commitment to Austrian direction. One day I got the call: Imagine! Now it works! It is an incredible gift for me to be able to tell this story. There are substances that are comparable to others. But this stuff? It doesn't look like anything else. 'A Whole Life' is a stand-alone project..." The director describes the novel for its brevity and conciseness as "the smart of the great novels - a book maximized to the minimum. Everything you could wish for is in this novel. It will be interesting for us how one can grasp all this. It will be important to capture the essence, to find the right visuality, because our film shouldn't be more than 100 minutes long and yet be the kaleidoscope of a century." But this stuff? It doesn't look like anything else. 'A Whole Life' is a stand-alone project..." The director describes the novel for its brevity and conciseness as "the smart of the great novels - a book maximized to the minimum. Everything you could wish for is in this novel. It will be interesting for us how one can grasp all this. It will be important to capture the essence, to find the right visuality, because our film shouldn't be more than 100 minutes long and yet be the kaleidoscope of a century." But this stuff? It doesn't look like anything else. 'A Whole Life' is a stand-alone project..." The director describes the novel for its brevity and conciseness as "the smart of the great novels - a book maximized to the minimum. Everything you could wish for is in this novel. It will be interesting for us how one can grasp all this. It will be important to capture the essence, to find the right visuality, because our film shouldn't be more than 100 minutes long and yet be the kaleidoscope of a century." what one could wish for. It will be interesting for us how one can grasp all this. It will be important to capture the essence, to find the right visuality, because our film shouldn't be more than 100 minutes long and yet be the kaleidoscope of a century." what one could wish for. It will be interesting for us how one can grasp all this. It will be important to capture the essence, to find the right visuality, because our film shouldn't be more than 100 minutes long and yet be the kaleidoscope of a century."
Above all, Steinbichler praised Ulrich Limmer's screenplay: "For me, there are two things that characterize the screenplay. Firstly, you read it and it is clearly the novel 'A Whole Life'. That is amazing to me. Seethaler measures in two sentences, six years. How do you want to translate that into a film? Ulrich Limmer has succeeded. Everyone who has read the script agrees with me: it is incredibly beautiful, incredibly simple. And secondly: Seethaler leaves people in one language speak that is not rural or regional, but has an essayistic quality, as if Franz Xaver Kroetz had written the dialogues." Limmer, on the other hand, does not skimp on the director's praise. It was a very pleasant cooperation, carried by mutual high respect," he notes. " Hans Steinbichler approached me at a premiere, when I didn't even know that he had been sent the script, and told me how much he liked it. Everyone was very happy with it." Timm Oberwelland also knows that the right man has been found in Hans Steinbichler to direct: "Even during the preparations, he was extremely committed and absolutely convincing, and that has now been confirmed during the first days of shooting."
"A Whole Life" will be shot in two blocks. The starting signal for the ten-day winter shoot was on February 8; A comprehensive second block will follow in the summer, in which the scenes that take place in the story in the summer and autumn will be implemented. "The film couldn't work if we didn't let it take place in at least three seasons," explains Hans Steinbichler. "Because we are shooting in East Tyrol, we find winter in very different stages. Egger's hut is at 2,000 meters, another location is at 1,000 meters. This means that different seasons can be covered convincingly at the same time. When we then continue shooting in May return, basically the mountain winter still reigns, but we can then already cover the spring and summer via the different altitudes. Only on the one important day of shooting, which will take place in the fall, will we have to fake it a bit."
The main role of Andreas Egger is played by a total of three actors. From the age of 18 to 47, so to speak as almost the sole protagonist, Egger is played by the hitherto completely unknown Viennese actorStefan Gorskiembodies, which Steinbichler found a year and a half ago together with caster Nicole Schmied in Vienna in an extensive casting. "The epo and I agreed that Egger, the figure of the century, must be played by someone who, in principle, has never been seen and who, thanks to his physique, is able to distinguish Egger between the young 18-year-old boy and the completely destroyed Russia -to play a returnee of 47." Steinbichler continues: "In Stefan Gorski, as the samples from the winter shoot show, we have found a protagonist who, with his Terrence Malick factor, will be the face of this film and thus stands for a character and the peculiarity of a cinematic figure that stands for my feeling has not yet been told." After that, from about 60 to 80 years, Egger vonAugust Zirnerplayed in the cinema last inwhat doesn't kill us"andWackersdorf"was to see. Then there is eleven-year-old Ivan Gustafik, who plays Egger as a boy. In addition, the Who's Who of Austrian actors are in front of Armin Franzen's cameraAndrew Lust(And tomorrow the whole world",The Ibiza Affair"),Julia Franz Richter("undine"),Maria Hofstatter(Paradise: Faith") such asRobert Stadlober, who recently appeared in "Das Boot" andLeberkäsejunkie"was to see.
Hans Steinbichler and Armin Franzen dealt with the visuality of "A Whole Life" in many tests for months. The decision to go full format with Cook's anamorphic lenses was then the decision as to which way this film would go in terms of expression. Armin Franzen: "In order to create a strong image of our characters in the breathtaking natural force of the mountains, it is very important to us to work with a characterful in-camera look. A look that is not created in post-production and our perception is immediate sensitized and changed in the moment of making. A symbiosis of history and the present that transports the timelessness of the novel." The budget is around seven and a half million euros. On the German side, the film was funded by FFF Bayern, the DFFF and the FFA; from the Austrian side are the ÖFI (script development, production funding), ORF, FISA and CineTirol, as well as IDM Südtirol. Tobis comes with an all rights guarantee. In conclusion, Tobis producer Theo Gringel says: "It won't be a particularly dialogue-heavy film, it communicates itself through large images and sparks a very special emotionality. We also believe that the film, thanks to Hans Steinbichler's staging, has both feet on the ground and now will stand. It not only depicts the difficult life of this Egger, but also reflects the questions of our life today in this life story." Especially in the Corona period, people asked themselves many elementary questions about what the meaning and meaning of life could be, why we are so unsatisfied and always strive for more. "'A Whole Life' asks these questions: This man lives and finds greater satisfaction and fulfillment in the few moments of happiness that do come his way than most people in our society do in their entire lives. That is the message of the book . And I think we'll be able to implement that very well in the film."