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Christoph Hochhäusler • Director

“The media mould our thoughts but few people know how they really work”


- Christoph Hochhäusler screened his new movie, crime thriller The Lies of the Victors, at the Rome Film Festival. A disturbing tale about how lobbies manipulate the mass media

Christoph Hochhäusler  • Director
(© Holger Albrich)

Four years after The City Below [+see also:
film review
interview: Christoph Hochhäusler
film profile
(selected at the Un Certain Regard Section at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival), Christoph Hochhäusler returns to recount power games in The Lies of the Victors [+see also:
interview: Christoph Hochhäusler
film profile
, his fourth feature screened at the 9th Rome Film Festival (16-25 October 2014), in the Cinema d’Oggi competition. Fabian (Florian David Fitz) is an investigative journalist who’s investigating a toxic waste scandal, together with young reporter Nadja (Lilith Stangenberg). Just when he seems to be on the right track, he receives evidence of another version of events from a fake informant (really a communications agency charged with covering up the scandal). In the end everything falls into place, or so it seems: the story will hit the headlines, but it won’t be the real one. 

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Cineuropa: How did you end up with this story?
Christoph Hochhäusler: I wanted to tell the story of a journalist in Berlin nowadays; a man who believes that he is in control but isn’t. More generally, the film came about because of my interest in showing contemporary issues that aren’t usually dealt with in German cinema: structures, institutions, how things work. My previous movie was set in the world of high finance. I wanted to focus on something that shapes our lives that we’re unaware of. The media mould our thoughts but few people really know how journalism works and the type of power it has. I had a particular point of view and I didn’t want to make a documentary. 

When creating the screenplay, did you base it on real events?
I did a lot of research, every detail relates to something true which I then re-worked. I spoke to lobbyists who told me some anecdotes, cases in which they found themselves meddling in the press because it posed a threat. In particular, while developing the project, with co-screenwriter Ulrich Peltzer, we drew on a series of real cases like the Envio contamination scandal, the lobbies’ struggle for the regulation of hazardous chemicals (REACH) or the News of the World affair in Great Britain. 

Not everything is explained clearly in the plot. Is this a challenge for the audience?
There were some scenes which we filmed that I didn’t use later on because I felt that it wasn’t necessary to know about everything. It took me a long time to find the right balance of intricacy and obscurity. In reality there are no conclusive answers; we don’t know about everything that’s going on. During my research, I spent a week at Der Spiegel and the journalists explained this to me: you might be able to uncover about 80% of what’s going on, after that you have to take a leap of faith and decide that that’s the real story… you might also get it wrong at times.

Humphrey Bogart and his famous quote “That’s the press, baby!” appear in the movie:
I didn’t want it to be a cinephile reference. Deadline U.S.A is a very modern movie; it describes modern-day journalism issues. In Hollywood, movies about journalism are one genre, but Richard Brooks’ film is pessimistic, since Bogart is the last possible journalism hero. I thought it would be ironic to quote that movie.

Why is your protagonist a gambler?
Because if you want to manipulate someone you need to know what their weakness is; be it a weakness for a woman, gambling or expensive hobbies. Everything’s a gamble; you’ve got big and small players like him. 

Florian David Fitz and Lilith Stangenberg: how did you choose the actors for this newshound couple?
I didn’t want them to have perfect chemistry, for it to be love at first sight. They’re very different actors. In Germany we make a huge distinction between theatre and cinema actors. Florian is a true cinema actor; he has been a protagonist on various occasions on TV. Lilith, on the other hand, has a background in theatre. I found this contrast interesting for portraying a sophisticated professional and an open-minded novice.

In terms of style, we see continuous, fluid and repetitive camera movements. Why did you choose to work like this?
I wanted to follow an almost mechanical camera movement. Nowadays we’re swamped with technical images; there are sensors everywhere. All we can do is interpret this type of language. So in some cases I wanted to reproduce the seemingly unbiased scanner movements; with no human perspective. I call these “scanning tracks”.

(Translated from Italian)

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