Germany’s Tom Tykwer is one of the world’s most interesting filmmakers and his latest film, “The International”, is a throwback to 70s cinema combined with a European aesthetic, an interesting combination for a Hollywood film. But the acclaimed director of the seminal “Run Lola Run”, doesn’t see his latest tilm as being necessarily a Hollywood movie. He talked to Paul Fischer in this exclusive interview.
Question: I guess the thing that’s certainly struck me about The International as I was watching it, was that it was a throwback to political thrillers of the ’70s. Was that the – is that what intrigued you about doing this?
Tykwer: Well, it was one of the elements, yeah. I mean, they were films that were quite relevant for my upbringing. And particularly the films in peculiar like Marathon Man, The Conversation, Three Days of the Condor, but also, you know, in the same time period in Europe, there was a very strong movement of political so I was quite interested in both these tendencies. They have a little bit of a different impact, ultimately and technically, they’re also a little bit different, but I think it came together kind of interestingly from here. At the same time, I also felt like we don’t have much of these movies right now, but we are totally living at a time where the whole paranoia object has just changed, but not the paranoia itself is gone, you know? The object has changed a little bit, from what it was in the ’70s – obviously what we were kind of paranoid about was more that system within the system, that was represented by the Secret Services and the FBI and the CIA, and all these kind of strange organizations. Nowadays, it has switched to the global economy, to banking institutions who obviously not only run their own business, but also our countries, at least behind the curtain. And we have no idea who they are. We have never elected them, we have never voted for them. And we don’t really know why.
Question: Were you kind of surprised, in a way, that this movie became a lot more relevant than it might have appeared when you first came across the script?
Tykwer: Sure. I mean, it was quite bizarre to experience.
Question: So you’re basically grateful for the global financial crisis.
Tykwer: Well, of course that would be quite cynical and definitely not. But let’s say the only upside of that crisis is that I think there’s more awareness about what’s going on. I mean, and – the movie, among other things, tries to state that very much, that it’s so important to try and understand the complexities of those – you know, business relations, to our daily lives. And I guess that is the only thing that we could say is an upside to this whole crisis. Because everything else, of course, how could I be happy about a crisis that brings so many people so much problems? So much pain?
Question: As a European filmmaker, did you approach this material very differently than had this movie been directed, perhaps, by an American? Do you think you give the film a very European tone, as it were?
Tykwer: You know, that’s something, of course, we don’t do with any purpose, you know? It is just the way you approach material, as the individual that you are. And I keep on making decisions in terms of storytelling, plotting and characterizations, that you do because you want to feel connected to the material in a way that it becomes your own. I mean, that’s what makes films, on whatever scale, individually identifiable, gives them personal style, and a particular voice. I mean, because I want to make films that are speaking in a particular language, that you can identify and that you can connect with a certain group of people that have created it. Which is, you know, let’s say, the creative family that I work with. That’s how it turns out, to have this language. I don’t really know how European it is. It probably is, because we’re all European.
Question: Well, I mean, geography is an additional character in this film. Given the fact that I’m sure you didn’t have a huge budget on your hands, what challenges were there for you, filming on location, and yet in a very budgetary, practical way?
Tykwer: Well, sometimes you just have to take decisions, you know? You have to say, like, ” Okay. There’s a sequence which is really demanding. It’s going to be one of the centerpieces of the film.” You have to be ultra prepared. You have to make big construction, and really put a lot of effort into it, and spend your money there, which is, obviously, a sequence like the Guggenheim shootout. And then you have other sequences like where you go to Istanbul, for instance, and you have a chasing sequence in the middle of the bazaar, of the ancient bazaar. And you go, like, ” Let’s just take the camera and run, and shoot guerilla style?” Which was the simplest of all solutions. We just went there. There were no extras. We just had the people that were really there. And we just sent Clive and Naomi into the crowd and tried to capture them. And, you know, you have to be flexible in your approach to every sequence. I mean, the sequence in Milan, for instance, where you see the assassination of the politician – that’s, of course, some kind of mathematical challenge, because you can’t do that without very well-organized extras, and a great amount of cameras, and very many positions in order to orchestrate both the geography and the characters.
Question: Is one of the most logistically complex films you’ve done in a while?
Tykwer: You might say so, but, I mean, honestly, I think – it was kind of on the same scale as Perfume was. I guess. I mean, it was really complex, in terms of all the different locations, in terms of all the traveling. In terms of, of course, trying to make it work within a certain budget. But I don’t feel that much of a difference on any movie, because any movie seems to me kind of – you know, everything seems to be totally new. And probably, I’m also choosing subjects, and scripts, based on – you know, that idea that it should offer many, many, many new challenges where we have not yet been.
Question: Did you always have Clive and Naomi in mind for these two characters?
Tykwer: Practically, yes. I mean, the thing is, you really want to go for two actors at that age which are really on eye level, who have both the down-to-earth qualities that they both really inhabit, in my opinion – you know, they’re not like, completely up in the sky, flying stars, that feels to be completely out of reach but real people. And yet, at the same time, they’re in a particular position and place in their careers, where I love it that they can really represent people with history. Clive kind of, plays a weathered guy and I really buy that he’s been through some tough shit in his life, because I also think that Clive has had kind of an up and down alley in his career. And I totally love the intensity that comes across through his realness, you know? And yet at the same time, these guys are both – you know, they’re late 30s, early 40s. They’re mature adult actors, who can play mature adult characters, with all these implications. For instance, that it’s not like – you know, a romantic couple that’s good-looking. They meet each other, they’re both single. So, let’s get married! You know, this is not anyone’s reality, you know? If you meet somebody when you’re 40 who could have been an option in your life to be with, at least one, or both – I mean, at least the other person, myself, or both of us, are just not available. You know? That’s the reality of life. And I totally love the kind of melancholy of the romance that cannot really be explored in their relationship. It’s something I really particularly admire about it.
Question: Do you think, Tom, that you would like to do another American film soon? What are your plans?
Tykwer: I’m not really thinking about where it comes from, because, I mean, I don’t even consider this to be an American film. I think it’s an international film. You know, the money comes from America, okay. But some money came from Germany. And, you know, a lot of the main characters aren’t American. None of the main members of this crew is American, except, of course, the writer and the producers. It’s quite an international film, so I guess that will be my future.
Question: Hence the title.
Tykwer: Yeah, in a way. But, you know, I feel like – you know, I feel like a cosmopolitan filmmaker. And that’s what I’m after. I’m looking for films that also – you know, that are interesting for people everywhere.
Question: Do you have a next project?
Tykwer: Well, I’m working on an adaptation of a novel called Cloud Atlas, which is by David Mitchell, a British writer, which I’m very, very interested in, and eager to pursue. And I’m working on that with the Wachowski Brothers.
Tykwer: Uh-huh [AFFIRM]. It’s quite crazy.
Question: You and the Wachowski Brothers. I can’t see it.
Tykwer: [LAUGHTER] Big fun, I’m telling you.