Hitler was a cool guy
Film about the Hitler assassin: "Elser was a really cool guy"
The German director Oliver Hirschbiegel speaks to the "Presse" about his latest film, about Austria 70 years after the war - and about why he thinks eating meat is stupid.
You shot “Der Untergang” or “Diana”. Now it has become historical material again.
Oliver Hirschbiegel: I don't choose that. When in doubt, I choose the material that fascinates me and challenges me the most. I didn't want to go back to the Third Reich, but with “Elser” I thought it was a job. The man's story has not yet been told properly. What Klaus Maria (Brandauer, note) made in 1989 is a great film. It was then that Elser first came into public awareness. He was considered a madman who had gotten into the idea of killing Hitler. Klaus Maria portrayed him as someone for whom it was important in terms of content, out of conviction, to stop these people. Only you didn't have the information that we have today.
You also liked the aspect of the Heimatfilm?
The Heimatfilm was so dirty under the Nazis and fell into disrepute in the 1950s and 1960s for being viewed as shallow and almost ridiculous. The Heimatfilm is a genre that we - the Austrians as well - almost invented, and it's an exciting genre if you use it to authentically create what the time was like back then.
What was so different at Elser's reception than at Stauffenberg?
I have to say in advance that Stauffenberg and all the conspirators who supported him were ostracized after the war. They were considered traitors and were neither mentioned nor honored. This honor came much later, which is often forgotten. I think the Scholls were the first to be recognized as resistance fighters. But even they, who had an academic background, and of course Stauffenberg, who was an aristocrat, had a completely different lobby than a little carpenter who did it alone. It was so unbelievable, also the precision of the planning and the execution, that the slogan of the Nazis was adopted for a long time that Elser had been paid and instructed by foreign secret services. But he belongs on the same level as Stauffenberg, if not on a higher level. To be so clairvoyant in 1938 as to say: This has to be stopped. He felt that. He wasn't political. He always fascinated me without knowing exactly why, I didn't know that much about him. But he's just a really cool guy. One of us. A musician, a free spirit, an adventurer who wants to get out into the world.
If Georg Elser had succeeded in the assassination attempt, we would not know today what he would have prevented.
This question is sometimes asked. The whole time I want to talk to Professor Steinbach (resistance researcher, note) over the phone about what he means as a historian. I am sure that the Russia campaign would not have taken place. Certainly the Holocaust would never have happened. The whole leadership team would have been dead, only Goering, Bormann and the second and third team weren't there that evening.
That is probably silent heroism.
You always have to be careful with heroism. He is a tyrant murderer. He killed people. Can you call someone a hero who kills people? The church says it is allowed. If this happens without self-interest, eliminating a leader, a prince, a ruler who does not keep the promise to protect his people, but exploits and enslaved them, and with this one can save many other human lives, then that is permitted. I couldn't. But I have great respect for people like Georg.
How are you today when you see the state of affairs?
Well. I'm only talking about Germany now, I could say other things about Austria. As far as Germany is concerned, we can be proud of how decently we have come to terms with our history and deal with this guilt.
And Austria, where your daughters live?
It's amazing how much the topic is being pushed aside. If even one shot had been fired when the Germans came, you would have been the victims. But nobody shot. Not one. I think there is still Austrian work to be done. But I would have to be the typical German to teach the Austrians now. This is my opinion. Otherwise, I love this country, just that it's clear.
Do you still live in Vienna yourself?
No i'm in london No - oh, that's complicated. I don't actually live anywhere, I'm a nomad, I live where I shoot. My children live and study here. I was in Vienna for three weeks last year, I guess. Then in London for about two and a half months, and otherwise on film. And then in Munich. I can't tell where I live.
Have you ever considered staying in America for the rest of the world?
I don't think I would really want to live in Los Angeles. Los Angeles is a great city if you forget Hollywood. And still a reservoir for people like Elser. It's a young continent, and especially in Southern California, it's great how people feel. It is actually like being in the country, only in a megacity. That's a great combination. Then there is the desert, of course, the canyons are great for hiking, beautiful. The sea is here, San Francisco with Yosemite National Park. And I love vegan and vegetarian cuisine. This is paradise. It's unbelievable what kind of restaurants there are.
Are you vegetarian?
Nope. but I think it's stupid to eat meat because that's one of the main reasons our planet is in such a shitty state. Once a week used to be a luxury, and that's enough. Then you can eat a fish and then other wonderful things. I think if I ever settle elsewhere it could be over there. My brother lives in the USA and has just bought a piece of land in the Catskills. He is an assistant director.
Do your daughters want to go to the film too?
One has just been accepted at Angewandte, which is amazing, 18-year-olds don't usually take it. I am a proud father. Both are more graphic and visual, but I was too. I used to be a visual artist.
Are you still drawing?
I do my little drawings, storyboards. It's like playing the piano, you forget that, then you have to start all over again. The talent is not enough. Goethe said: ten percent talent, 90 percent discipline. My daughters are the best example, they are very hardworking.
You too. And there has already been very positive feedback on “Elser”. According to "Hollywood Reporter" it has even been sold worldwide.
There are also voices against it, as always: why now and why so, but that's a good thing. That was also the case with “Der Untergang”. Anything else would be boring. If you don't have any opponents, then you haven't made it. If a film like this triggers a controversy, a discussion, then half the way is always won, because that's what it's all about.
But that probably takes place on a different level than the criticism of "Diana". I imagine it will be painful to be motivated to go back to work afterwards.
So if you can't stand it ... there is no guarantee. You always do the best. And I found the story fascinating and the task of portraying someone like Diana. And how Naomi (Watts, note) did it, I found awesome, no matter what people write. It was actually only the English who were so angry in the end. And when the press tears it up, that's part of the game. If you can't stand it, you can't do it. The English press has already petted me a lot. For "downfall" they have declared me master. I don't know how many awards I got there. I really can't complain about the English.
Now you are working again on an international project with the Cold War series "Back to Back". Will it be shot in Berlin?
No, that is no longer possible, Berlin has changed it so much. I'll take a few shots there, neuralgic spots, and then edit that so that it looks like it did back then. We'll shoot the rest in Prague. Which I already know very well because I filmed “Borgia” there. There are great motifs that correspond to what it looked like back then. It's a six-part, and what's exciting is that it's about the 1970s. The seventies are a time that has hardly been told, but of course I know it. That's when I started to think, at 12, 13-14. It's about espionage and counter-espionage and only takes place in West and East Berlin. And it's about a pair of siblings who are practically separated when the wall is being built.
This means that you will not need an apartment in the foreseeable future.
No, for now Prague is all the rage. But it's OK. When you travel as much as I do, you realize that you don't need that many things. I have everything I need, including two suits and various shirts, in one suitcase. And then there's the bag for work and that's it. You really don't need more. That is a very good finding.
AT A GLANCE
Oliver Hirschbiegel was born in Hamburg in 1957. After “Das Experiment” or “Der Untergang”, “Elser” is his first German film in ten years. Most recently he shot “Diana” or the TV series “Borgia”, in the USA the finale for the series “Turn: Washington's Spies”. Next he is shooting the Cold War series "Back to Back" in Prague. "Elser" with Christian Friedel on the failed Hitler assassination attempt in the Bürgerbräukeller in Munich premieres on Monday in the Vienna Haydn cinema.
("Die Presse", print edition, May 9, 2015)
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