Tag Archives: road movies

Gold: Interview with Nina Hoss

Gold_ copyright Emily Meyer_

Format: Cinema

Release date: 9 February 2013 (Berlin International Film Festival)

Director: Thomas Arslan

Writer: Thomas Arslan (screenplay)

Cast: Nina Hoss, Marko Mandi&#263, Lars Rudolph, Uwe Bohm, Peter Kurth, Rosa Enskat, Wolfgang Packhä;user

Germany 2013

113 mins

In the summer of 1898, a small group of German immigrants set out on a journey to Dawson City to find their fortune in the Klondike Gold Rush. The mostly inept travellers include a snobbish, mercenary news reporter, Gustav Müller (Uwe Bohm), who intends to report on the trip for a New York-based German paper, an older couple who take care of the catering, and a poor carpenter (Lars Rudolph) looking to make a better life for the large family he left behind in the city. Joining them at the last minute is Emily Meyer (Nina Hoss), a stern, self-reliant and hands-on divorcée, who soon turns out to be the most driven member of the group, willing to push ahead at all costs as they trudge deeper and deeper into a menacing wilderness, forging through dense woods and across raging rivers. Though determined and sensible, Emily’s focus seems to shift slightly as she starts talking to Carl Boehmer (Marko Mandi&#263), the charismatic (and only competent male) packer and horse guard, who eventually confesses to her that he is on the run after killing someone.

The man who claims to be able to lead them along the rough and steep way is shady businessman Wilhelm Laser (Peter Kurth), who holds their money as well as their hope in the form of some gold nuggets he insists were found at their aimed-for destination. But not only is the group badly equipped to handle the gruelling terrain, the tension between them soon gets the upper hand, and the accidents, injuries and mental exertions of their dangerous adventure gradually minimise their number as they move on.

Carefully constructed, weirdly chaste and slow in pace, Thomas Arslan’s Gold is essentially a German-language Western with a fierce sense of authenticity at the expense of action and drama. It’s beautifully shot and benefits in no small part from Arslan’s meticulous eye for characters continuously in motion, here carried by yet another remarkably restrained performance from Nina Hoss in the lead role. As precarious as their trip across uncharted territory may be, Emily’s certain of one thing – there is no going back to her old life, no matter where their journey comes to an end.

Pamela Jahn talked to Nina Hoss at this year’s 63rd edition of the Berlin International Film Festival in February, where Gold premiered in competition.

Pamela Jahn: Although the film is labelled a Western, it feels more like an adventurous road-movie at times. Did you approach it that way?

Nina Hoss: Yes, I think so. It’s much more about the path, the journey, than big shoot-outs, or whatever else you consider to be in a classic Western. Of course revenge is a motive, and there are other elements in the film that you find in a typical Western, but the plot is more like an adventure, or a road-movie with horses, maybe.

Have you ever shot a rifle before? What was it like to brandish one?

I learned how to shoot recently for a vampire movie I did, so it wasn’t all new to me. But it was exciting, because you don’t really get to shoot much in German movies unless you’re playing a detective or a cop. And what helped me with my role here is that Emily comes from the city, and she is going on this trip and experiences something she’s never done before – like she doesn’t know how to handle a gun, she doesn’t even know how to ride a horse. So she is learning all this throughout their journey, and I could learn with her, which took some pressure off me and made me feel more comfortable with the situation.

The film also tells a part of German history that probably no one really knew much about…

That’s right. I think this was actually part of Thomas’s personal approach for telling the story. I mean, we all knew that, at that time, there were lots of Germans emigrating to the United States and Canada, as they did from many other countries. But it’s interesting to see this group of Germans trying to make a new life for themselves, whereas now Germany is considered a place where people go to in the hope of making a better living.

But looking at it from today’s perspective, we all have to go on that path again in a way, because no one knows really how this financial crisis is going to end. So it was interesting for me to tell a story that shows that there is always hope. Even if you forget about why you’re on this path, and you don’t know whether you’ll ever see real gold in your life, the only thing that counts is that you keep on going. And maybe throughout that journey you change, which is what happens to Emily. She becomes more and more free and confident and self-fulfilled, and that is already a success.

What was the most challenging part for you during that journey?

It was a tough project, because it was a low budget movie, so as actors, we really had to deal with the horses all day long in between shooting. We did have two wranglers, but they couldn’t look after ten horses all at the same time. So whenever we took a break from shooting, we had to stand around with the horses. I wasn’t used to taking care of them at all. Horses get very tired after ten hours, just like us, and then it becomes dangerous because they do things you can’t predict – we had several dangerous moments. So for me, working with the wranglers was like a therapy of some sort, because I learned how to always stay calm for the horse. As soon as I got somehow excited or angry or tired, the horse would react immediately. So you always had to be in this ‘om’ zone, which was an amazing experience for me. I never thought I’d say this, but what impressed me most was the work with the animals. I really had to work hard to make it through the shoot. At the end of the day, we weren’t professional riders. I learned to ride a horse especially for this film, I had never done it before. But I wasn’t afraid… just very respectful.

There comes a moment in the film when Emily has to make a decision whether she wants to go on or not. Was there ever a moment in the process of the production where you, or Thomas Arslan, thought, ‘Stop. That’s it. I am not going any further.’

There was one moment when we were really worried that we had to stop. We were shooting in the Fraser River Valley, and there was only one gravel road out of the valley. Otherwise, you had to use a ferry to get on the other side of the river, but this was also miles away from where we were. One day we heard helicopters flying around and we couldn’t shoot because of the noise they made. And then suddenly we heard our producer through the walkie-talkie saying, ‘You have to stop immediately and leave…now!’ And if a producer says that, you know that something really bad is going to happen, because it costs them a fortune to break a shoot. So we tried to stay calm and started packing, and all that with these horses. So we had to guide them up this tortuous road to where the trucks were parked. And as soon as we got to top of the hill we realised what was happening, because we saw smoke, and then the fire. So we had to rush out of this valley through the fire, literally. Like there were trees falling down around us and what not. So we thought: ‘Oh god, will we ever make it out of here!’ But also, the question was really whether we would ever be able to go back to the set. We lost a couple of days because of this fire, but luckily we were able to return and finish the shooting.

Do you actually have a favourite Western movie?

I love the John Ford movies, which I first saw when I was still a kid. But I watched one recently that I hadn’t seen before, which is Monte Hellman’s The Shooting, which is really an incredible Western because it’s so simple in terms of the story and even the way it is shot, but extremely effective – I loved it!

Was it difficult for you to swap directors and work with Thomas Arslan instead of Christian Petzold? Is there an open conversation between those directors, who constitute this particular ‘Berlin School’ of filmmaking?

It was an exciting project for me, but not because I ‘left’ Christian Petzold for this film, as I have worked with other directors before. But what was interesting, first of all, was the fact that Thomas Arslan, as a German filmmaker, takes on Canada to make a Western. As a German actress, I never dreamed that I could ever be part of a Western. So this was very tempting. And of course it was also interesting for me to experience a different kind of working relationship with someone who comes from the same background as Christian. Christian knew before I did that Thomas was going to cast me for this role, because they are friends, so Thomas wanted to make sure that wasn’t a problem – which I think is a bit odd, because of course we can all work together. Christian thought it was great, because he had this idea very early on that there would be a big ensemble around these Berlin School directors, like a pool of people who work and develop things together. But he’d realised that wouldn’t quite work out because all of these directors have big egos. So I was quite excited that it was sort of happening, but I am also already working on my next film with Christian again, which I am looking forward to.

How do you and Christian Petzold work together as a team? What is your working relationship like?

I am always as prepared for my next role as one can possibly be. I already know all about it because I am part of the process, not necessarily of the writing, but of constructing the story. So I get the first 20 pages of the script and then the next 20 pages… I am very much involved and so I can go on that path with him. I can do my research and read the books related to the subject, which means I don’t have to hurry up to prepare right before we start shooting. So I am really in an ideal position with him.

Interview by Pamela Jahn

Watch a clip from Gold:

Road to Nowhere: Interview with Monte Hellman

Road to Nowhere

As Monte Hellman’s legendary Two-Lane Blacktop is released on Blu-ray by Eureka, we publish an interview with the director on his latest film.

In Road to Nowhere (2010), his feature comeback after 20-odd years, Monte Hellman deftly blurs the line between cinema and reality: the film depicts a young director shooting a crime drama based on a true story, using the actual locations as a source of inspiration. During the shoot, he falls in love with his lead actress, who uncannily resembles the real-life crime’s femme fatale, and soon things get alarmingly tangled up, especially in the mind of one imaginative member of the crew. Although there is no denying that its decidedly artificial touch and wooden dialogue make this a flawed film, the director’s approach is complex, intriguing and worthy of attention. Ultimately, Road to Nowhere amounts to little more than a series of bravura noir scenes in which the tension and emotion sometimes build up too slowly, but a great meta-B-movie feel and fitting cinematography make it an enjoyable watch.

Monte Hellman talked to Pamela Jahn at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in July 2011 about how it feels to be back on set, what it takes to let things go and other things you don’t usually learn in film school.

Pamela Jahn: Road to Nowhere is your first feature film in over 20 years but in the meantime you had been working on various other projects that didn’t come to fruition. What was different this time?

Monte Hellman: My daughter decided that we would stop waiting for other people to give us permission to make movies and instead do it ourselves. So she went out and raised the money. She fell in love with the script and that was something that fascinated me because it’s a movie about my life in the sense that it’s about the process of making movies – it’s a film about the making of a film.

How important is the process of making a film to you as compared to the final outcome on screen?

Both things are important to me. In this case, the process was exciting because we tried something different. Filmmakers are control freaks, but we tried to give up this whole idea of controlling every aspect of it. I guess I got tired of it. Instead we tried to pursue something that was less intellectual and more emotional. I tried to get everybody to turn off their brains and let the subconscious take over. It’s not an easy thing to do, particularly for people who like to understand what they are doing and why they are doing it. Actors are trained to examine themselves like, ‘what was I doing 10 minutes ago’ and ‘where am I going with this’. And all this is very much about control. But we tried to find a way to forget about all that and just let this thing happen. It requires an awful lot of trust, of course, and faith. Both their faith in me and also their faith in themselves. But it worked. It was amazing.

How did it feel to be back on set after so many years?

It’s always the same for me. Before starting any movie I feel like I don’t remember what to do and how to do it and I am always terrified until the moment I get on the set. And it was the same this time. It’s been over 20 years… well, not really, because I directed a segment in a film called Trapped Ashes in 2006. But I get on the set and think, ‘This is where I belong to’, and I feel comfortable, and suddenly all the fear is disappearing.

Is there a relation between Mitchell Haven, the director in the movie, and yourself? How much of the young Monte Hellman do you see in him?

It started out that way. When we were sitting together working on the script, people would just shout out certain eccentricities that I have and put them into the script. But as soon as I hired an actor I realised that this was a mistake, particularly since he’s an actor who loves that kind of thing and I didn’t want to give him that comfort. And so, fortunately, he agreed not to do that and he even rejected some of the things that remained in the script.

Road to Nowhere is actually based on quite a simple story if you look at it a certain way, but on first viewing it can be a rather baffling experience.

I never thought of it as difficult or delusive or anything. We’re seeing this movie within the movie out of sequence but there is so little to that story, and actually we see the same scene over and over again. I didn’t expect it to be as hard to unravel as it turned out to be for some audiences.

It’s very film noir in its look and spirit.

Yes, and this is something that does attract me. The fact that no one can ever figure out the most difficult movies of the genre, like The Big Sleep for example. Even Howard Hawks said he could never figure it out. But that never bothers me, because I’m not really interested in figuring things out. I’m interested in entering into a dream world, it is partly my own dream and partly the movie’s dream, and I’m just letting things go and I’m going with it. That’s the way I relate to Road to Nowhere, and I unconsciously expect the audience to do the same thing.

Was it easier for you to have your daughter producing the film than, for example, Roger Corman?

Roger Corman was a good producer for me because he left me alone. My daughter was much better though because she not only left me alone, but she kept me unaware of the financial crisis and anything that would not be part of my creative process. She kept me really isolated so I could do my work. And she did her work, she was great.

Do you need complete isolation in order to work?

I don’t want to be worrying about things that are unnecessary for me to worry about.

Roger Corman produced several of your early films. How did the collaboration come about?

My wife at the time was an actress working with Roger, so I met him socially and he invested a small amount of money in a theatre company that we had. And when this theatre was disbanded because we lost our venue after it was sold and converted into a movie theatre he said that we should take that as sign and I should start making movies. He asked me to do one and there was no looking back after that.

Your most critically acclaimed film to date, Two-Lane Blacktop, failed at the box office in America at the time of its initial release but has long reached cult status. Where you disappointed that it didn’t become the breakthrough film for you that it was meant to be?

I don’t remember it as such. I was angry that they did such a bad job of distributing the film. Especially because it was a big thrill for me to see the success of Two-Lane Blacktop in London at the Islington Screen on the Green. So much so that I invited my London agent to come to the screening and then he couldn’t get in because it was totally sold out. That was fun. But in the end, I just went on to my next project which, I think, never got made. Well, most of my projects didn’t get made [laughs], but I just kept plunging on.

When you did Cockfighter, it also failed commercially on release, but then Corman tried re-editing it. Where you aware of it at the time?

Yes, Corman did recut the film in a version called Born to Kill, which is weird because chickens are not born, they are hatched. I knew he was doing it. But luckily the original was restored afterwards, when they put it out on video they asked for the original version. So there’s now a good DVD version available in the States.

Of all the projects that never got made in the end, is there a particular one that you are hoping to still be able to do at some point?

I am currently working on an old script but, yes, there is another one that I was hired for by Bert Schneider and Paramount in the early 80s, which is one of my favourites.

What’s the story?

It’s a film noir as well. It was written by Lionel White in protest at the fact that Stanley Kubrick wouldn’t hire him to do the screenplay of Lolita, so he wrote his version of it as a film noir. I have the script, though first of all I need to persuade Paramount to sell me the rights. But I really hope to do it some time.

You’ve also been teaching film for several years now. What’s the main advice you give to your young directing students?

To be honest, I think teaching film is pretty much a sham. It’s something that can’t be taught. So one of the first things I tell my students is the same advice the director gives in Road to Nowhere, which is, if an actor asks, ‘How do you want me to act?’, you say, ‘Don’t’. Students are trained by the system and by other teachers to direct, and I always say to them, ‘Don’t’. Most great directors don’t direct, you don’t direct actors. Like Clint Eastwood said, ‘How can I tell Morgan Freeman how to act?’

What was the first thing you have learned in your career?

Fortunately, I learned very early on not to expect that pre-planning would lead to anything, which was very interesting. And so instead of staying up all night and doing little storyboards, I get a good night sleep and I trust that I’m going to be inspired once I get on the set. And most the time that works!

Interview by Pamela Jahn