After having presented his last film Never Look Away while it was in competition at the Venice Film Festival, Oscar winning director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck got news that his film will be Germany’s Oscar candidate for this year’s best foreign-language film.

New Europe’s Federico Grandesso sat down in Venice with the German filmmaker, to discover his universe, which is inspired by art and history. 

In your movie, you don’t suggest that art can change the world. It can only comfort us, where does it come from?   

This a sentence I stole from the German artist Gerhard Richter, he was asked about the power of art and said, “when we see a work of art it is a manifestation of wounds that the artist suffered and he decided to turn it in something beautiful.”

This tells us that we can decide that the terrible things that happen to us in life are a chance to create something, to grow and develop our self. I think life is a tragedy in every single case. The characters all died, but we still have to find a positive. Art is a great guide in that it can show us not to look away from all the terrible things happening in life. Othe contrary, its says let’s embrace them and see them as opportunities for great creations. These were the thoughts of Richter during a very interesting interview he gave to the Louisiana Museum.

Did you learn something from the artist you met while doing this film?

One of the things that I found very encouraging, when I spent time with Gerhard Richter and all the artists that helped me in the making of this film, was that there is something that they all have in common…that they all know that they didn’t create something. They know they are more like a medium. You will create very personal art that has gone through your senses, but it will not be your creation. It is only your perception and you will become more like a medium.

Can you tell me more about the complexity of the project?

The complexity of the story is mainly in the background, but the plot is quite simple. You have a young man who falls in love with a fascinating.

This cynical man sees this young lover as weak and despicable and he decides to use all his power to destroy this relationship. At the same time, this young man has to find his path as an artist then through the fact that this man has to break free from his past and his father-in-law’s.

It allows you to tell the story of Germany in the 20th century and of the development of contemporary art. About myself, I take my long time to find an interesting story that allows me to dive into it for years. In this case I thought “I’m not going to run out of fuel here”. One of my greatest fears is embarking in a project that sometimes takes years…when you are inside it, you suddenly feel bored. There has to be enough in the subject matter. For this story, I found so many things to read and I knew I would feel alive while making it. But I believe in fiction, so it’s not a film about Gerhard Richter. William Randolph Hearst didn’t have a sledge called Rosebud either.

How did you insert the political elements and construct this architecture for the film?

I spent very long time, let’s say a year, just reading up on elements I didn’t know about those times in history and in politics. I was looking for defining elements, for example, if you go to the Nazi part, I discovered what their positions about politics on art really embody. 

At the same time, there was a cultural commissar in East Germany, who was a very smart Russian guy. He developed the philosophy of Socialist Realism. It was very interesting to see him struggle to say “I want Socialist art that has to be completely different from Nazi art, but it was not that different. So he tried to really explain how they were showing the workers and women differently, but in the end it was clear even for non experts that the two arts looked similar because the driver of the art in both cases was the government.