A TENDANCY FOR EXTREME CONDITIONS
“I certainly don’t crave it,” Florian Gallenberger emphasizes. By this he means the now almost notorious stress he experiences while filming on location. The director made his Oscar ® -winning short film about two street kids, "Quiero ser", on the streets of Mexico City, his full-length film debut "Shadows of Time" in the slums of India (long before Danny Boyle’s "Slumdog Millionaire" ), and "John Rabe" – the first German cinema film ever to be made in China – in Shanghai. The making of all three films was “absolutely crazy, sheer madness,” as the director admits. Every time, he thought it couldn’t get worse. He got caught up in gang warfare while making "Quiero ser" and the film was almost confiscated at its premiere.
When shooting "Shadows of Time", entire sets were swept away by the monsoon and the director himself suffered a dose of hepatitis. And in "John Rabe" – the cinematic memorial to “China’s Schindler”, who saved 250,000 Chinese from the Japanese occupying forces in 1937 – Gallenberger was compelled to assert himself against another "Rabe"-project being made by a protégé of the Chinese government.
A different exotic backdrop to each film and shooting an adventure in itself: others would soon give up in those circumstances. But even though he claims the opposite, Florian Gallenberger seems to need this kind of kick. And aren’t all his films, just like the making of them, about solidarity in extremely adverse circumstances? “I simply love the adventure. Each film has given me a piece of this world in a way that no tourist could experience. The difficulties making the films were the price that I had to pay.” Gallenberger is the adventurer, the exotic character of German cinema.
This attitude to film has shaped him since he was very young. Literally. His first experience with the camera was at the tender age of four, when he was discovered for an advertising spot for washing machines. He was put into an agency’s books as a result, and from then on he acted frequently in series such as "Derrick", "Der Alte" or "Polizeiinspektion 1". Then his voice broke, ending this early career. But even then, the young actor was less interested in the films themselves and more in spectacular experiences: e.g. in a helicopter or even in a hot-air balloon. Filming has always been a borderline experience for him; one that widens his horizons.
He doesn’t miss the acting. When he performed in the school theater production of Romeo and Juliet (he was Romeo!) at the age of 16, he realized: “I don’t want to be an actor. I find it involves too much alienation of the self.” But when a teacher handed him a video camera, he discovered his true talent: “I enjoy telling stories as a collective activity.” At that time, he was actually aiming for a career as a professional tennis player. But it is no coincidence that his first film was entitled "Der Schlag ans Hoftor" (“Knock at the Gate”): film had the same impact on him.
Gallenberger also abandoned his studies of Philosophy, Psychology and Russian after only a year (he wanted to learn the language in order to understand Tarkovski’s films better), and applied to the Munich University of Television & Film at the age of 19 – “utterly naïve” as he himself maintains. There, among other things, he made his first “real” short film "Mysterium einer Notdurftanstalt" (which was immediately invited to 20 festivals), the documentary film "Die Gebrüder Skladanowsky" in cooperation with Wim Wenders, and finally his graduation film "Quiero ser". The fact that he coped with the horrors of filming his first short – and those later on – probably had something to do with his near career as a sports- man. “You have to be able to concentrate at the most important moment and shut out everything else. I trained with that in mind for years when I was a teenager.” That is why he is not only used to handling pressure; he even views it as a “strategy for survival” and is able to win intense moments from it. This is film as an extreme sport, as serious competition.
But there is something else that may drive him and possibly sends him abroad so much as well: his preference for great emotions. At first, all broadcasters blankly refused to support "Quiero ser", claiming that it was “pure kitsch” and that “no one wanted to see” that sort of thing. The accusation of kitsch was made repeatedly in the case of "Shadows of Time" as well; it was well ahead of its times perhaps, and predated the Bollywood-trend. “It annoys me that melodrama is considered such an inferior genre in Germany.” Gallenberger loves the melodramatic; he likes to be moved in the cinema and he is ready to admit it. Perhaps that is also a reason – albeit an unconscious one – why he likes to shoot his films “elsewhere” and let himself be influenced by foreign narrative traditions.
It may seem almost heretical – but could he imagine shooting a quiet, intimate story in a Berlin kitchen? Florian Gallenberger has to laugh at my question. He is considering two projects at the moment, but one of them is set in Mongolia – potentially, that could be even more problematic than "John Rabe" – and the other (Narziss und Goldmund ) in the Middle Ages. So it seems he is still seeking after adventure.
Author: Peter Zander
Source: German Films Service & Marketing GmbH