Dietrich Brüggemann

Cast, Director, Screenplay, Director of photography, Music, Producer

Beauty and Form and Unpredictability

A portrait of director Dietrich Brüggemann, German Films Quarterly 1/2014

Director Dietrich Brüggemann is a very special type of storyteller. For his graduation film "Neun Szenen" ("Nine Takes"), which ran in the section Perspektive Deutsches Kino at the Berlinale 2006, he put faith in the power of the moment: the nine scenes in which he dealt with family, parents and upbringing in sharp dialogues and situation comedy were each filmed as a single, static take. "It was a minor typology, like a show chart in biology lessons."

Indeed, Brüggemann’s films offer precise views of a microcosm, always approaching sociology rather than psychology. They are all about interpersonal structures, the enjoyment of lively discussion, and the significance of things unsaid.

The decision to present each scene without editing and using a static camera came from the "delight in a beauty of form", according to Brüggemann. "It was a small protest against that moronic screenplay theory that a film or a screenplay always needs to work this way and that. The many books of tips regarding scriptwriting are not completely wrong, of course, but they are based on analysis. If people try to use the analysis model as instructions for construction it is sure to be a disaster. At the start of the millennium there were a number of films, mainly from Hollywood, which had all been developed – and it was easy to see that – on the basis of the book 'The Writer’s Journey' by Christopher Vogler. I believe a film can also take the form of an advent calendar or a visit to the supermarket."

Brüggemann allows his narrative ideas to flow quietly into his films without brazenly overshadowing the content. In "3 Zimmer/Küche/Bad" ("Move") the topics of friendship, love and career are declined through simply on the basis of changes in apartments. However, it has not always been easy to convince film funding boards, broadcasters or producers of his concepts. "But I always pushed through my ideas somehow or other, although they became more and more idiosyncratic from one film to the next. In 2010, for example, I toured the festivals successfully with 'Renn,wenn du kannst' ('Run if you can') while I was getting one refusal after another from the funding bodies for 'Move (3 Zimmer/Küche/Bad)'. But it did work out somehow in the end. You keep banging your head against the wall until a door opens. Immediately after '3 Zimmer/Küche/Bad' ('Move') I took a conscious look at it and said to myself: right, now I’m going to change things and make my films more radical. My new film 'Kreuzweg' ('Station of the Cross') is a direct outcome of that decision."

"Kreuzweg" ("Stations of the Cross") tells the story of an adolescent girl who decides to become a saint. It is told in 14 scenes oriented on the 14 stations of Jesus Christ’s passion. After his up-todate tragicomedies, now he has filmed a transcendental drama. And although we might assume otherwise, actually Brüggemann has very little to do with the 'Berlin School'. Indeed, his attitude towards it is rather critical. "I don’t like its picture of humanity, which doesn’t seem quite coherent to me. I often get the feeling that art film displays a kind of artificiality in its representation of people; that it is a gesture of sorts which the filmmakers have agreed on."

But he is not really surprised at the success of such films abroad. "It may be that this rigid, clichéd quality in the portrayal of characters is veiled by a foreign language. Fassbinder, for example, turns everyone into statues delivering their text, I can’t bear to watch him; Fassbinder is great, true, but that’s where he always falls down for me. Abroad, his work is not perceived that way at all. I think when you have subtitles that quality is lost. I admire the Swedish director Roy Andersson, for instance. And yet I hear from people in Sweden that the effect is different in his home country, and that the people in his films all seem terribly artificial. You don’t notice that sort of thing at all in a foreign language."

Besides Roy Andersson, the Swedish grand master of the grotesque, Brüggemann admires directors like Stanley Kubrick, Woody Allen or the Coen brothers. "I think we should all appreciate things without trying to emulate them directly. But if there was any tradition of ideas into which I would set my own approach, it would have to be 'Monty Python’s flying Circus'. There are such boundlessness ideas and a certain human wisdom in it. There has been nothing to match it since!"

Brüggemann has definitely internalized that boundlessness of ideas. With every one of his films he attempts to re-invent the wheel – in a small, modest way. And to surprise even himself. He believes that many filmmakers establish themselves as a brand and then become very predictable because they repeat specific stylistic elements, narrative maneuvers, or their casting. "These days, films have become dreadfully predictable. The Berlin School do what people expect them to do and so does commercial cinema, of course. I maintain that a good film – no matter whether artistic or commercial – always shows surprising effrontery. Unfortunately, you don’t often find that." And that is the exact point where Dietrich Brüggemann takes things on.

Author: Cornelis Hähnel

Source: German Films Service & Marketing GmbH