By Tom Mes and Joep Vermaat
Part 1, 2,3
After only three films, director Tom Tykwer is already being hailed as German cinema's bright new hope. His debut Die Tödliche Maria made people in his native country sit up and take notice, but now with the intriguing Winterschläfer (English title: Wintersleepers) and especially the high-speed, high-style Lola Rennt (English title: Run Lola Run), which already won the best foreign film award at Sundance, Tykwer is gearing up for an international breakthrough.
A man with a distinct style, who combines a fresh look at genre conventions with more personal cinema, his films leave an audience (and journalists) with lots to talk about. For some strange reason, though, we started talking about Hong Kong films...
Tom Tykwer and his twin brother.
Tom Tykwer: It's fascinating what they're doing in Hong Kong. I mean, there's also a lot of trash coming from there, it's not easy to separate, you can really get buried. There's one hundred films and ninety are not so interesting. But still there's a pretty high amount of very well done films. It's not that I see Hong Kong films every week, but I like them. The good ones.
JV: You're not influenced by them?
Tom Tykwer: I don't know, I feel more influenced by the films they were influenced by, to be honest. In a way they're very much people who learned to quote other films very well and to overdo it in a completely crazy way. So it becomes something with a quality of its own. I like that. If you're still aware of where you come from and what your influences were, but you make something of it your own, something that is special and has a unique quality and doesn't feel like a rip-off. Of course that's what I meant about trash, you know, there's a lot of just rip-off Hong Kong movies, or even Hong Kong movies that rip off other Hong Kong movies.
I think they are very strongly influenced by the American action films of the seventies, of the earlier seventies. Like the good Clint Eastwood films. And the only opposite is that they turn it absolutely around - of course this is also through comic strips - but American films of the seventies had one big difference: they were very slow. That's amazing you know, all these films we like very much, like Bullit with Steve McQueen, that's even from '68, or films from that era from John Boorman, people like that. It's amazing to see those films now, because they're so slow. But still, the effects they use and what we really like about them is exactly what Hong Kong directors took over, and even today they take over in America, and just speed it up. They speed it up extremely so you don't recognise it anymore.
JV: And the action scenes are more important than the rest of the film.
TT: In Bullit the action scenes were the central thing too, or The French Connection and all that. Of course what you remember about The French Connection seems to be the action. But I believe, and that's why I feel very close to these films, that they have this strength and they are classics because they have very fascinating characters. They have a realism in the characterisation which you rarely find today. For example The French Connection as an action film, it's amazing when you look at it and see Gene Hackman portraying this really horrible, ugly guy who's really a crazy character. But you care for someone who is so horrible. That's amazing. You kind of get into his frantic attitude about following this other guy. I really like very much that they were able to make us follow persons who, if you met them on the streets you'd hate them but through the films you get into their minds and you get very subjective in these kinds of films and through the subjectivity you care for them.
I mean, the most famous example is of course Taxi Driver, a film where you identify with a really fascist guy in a way. He's not ideological, he's just somebody who... It's interesting to see someone who, just because of his loneliness, turns into kind of a radical person. You follow him up to a very high degree of unpleasant ideas. Which is the alarming idea about this film, that you can identify with someone who is so strange and so cruel also. But that's the fascinating aspect of it, because you really get tempted by the things he's following and that makes you think for yourself how big that part in yourself is. So I think characters are very important to films generally. Of course I love watching Hong Kong movies, but in most of them I miss this personal aspect.
JV: The first film of yours I saw was Winterschläfer. It was a complete eye-opener. In that film there are also very strong characters and personalities who grow in the movie, while you're watching.
TT: Sometimes a movie doesn't offer you this opportunity, you can't change opinions about characters several times in a film like Lola Rennt, you know. You have to be clear about the characters in the beginning and then you just go for it, but in Wintersleepers it was really a different approach. You get to know somebody, then maybe at first sight you don't like him. In real life that very often happens, where you realise "Oh, he's not so bad, he's really a nice guy". And that's what I like, if you can manage to do this in films. It's really not very popular anymore to do this. Usually a film will give you a quick idea how someone will be and then the story continues and in the end you don't have any surprise about that.
An exception for example that I liked a lot was LA Confidential. I thought it was a good film. The amazing thing about the film was that you realise you weren't used at all to having characters develop during the film, always in different areas. The three main guys, you always switch your opinion about them during the film. In the beginning you think "Okay, it's the tough guy who's the hero" and then he turns out to be really horrible in a way and you really turn away from him and go with the other guy, the newcomer, and then he turns out to be really pushy against the others and then it's Kevin Spacey you really like very much. You start to really like him and then he gets shot (laughs).
I loved it. Of course I hated that he got shot, because you started to really like him and the movie was about him at that point, and then, bang, he gets shot. And that's great because the movie took some decisions that really have more to do with real life. Because real life doesn't always have this clear line that movies have to follow sometimes. It just goes like that. You get to know somebody, you lose them and you find them again. I liked it a lot. I wanted to do it in Wintersleepers. The guy who has the accident, who loses his memory. In the beginning I always realise the public dislikes him.
JV: Yes, because he looks kind of creepy. He's almost like Anthony Perkins in Psycho.
TT: Yes, and the more you get to know him, the more you realise he's quite a nice guy and he's desperate, he's a lost person in a way. And in the end you really care about him more than the four other guys in the film.
JV: I thought he was a very fascinating character, because he lost part of his brain and can't remember anything for more than a few hours.
TT: Yes, he's lost his short-term memory. There are different parts in the brain, there's long-term memory and short-term memory. It's also a sickness.
Go to part 2