Ralf Huettner • Director
by Simon Kingsley - German Films
28/06/2012 - Unlike many people in the film business, Ralf Huettner is a self professed man of not very many words. Those he does speak he chooses carefully and economically. It’s not that he doesn’t have anything to say, mind, just that this writer-director’s preferred medium of expression is film.
His latest production, Lost in Siberia is “a comedy in which a simple man, a logistics boss, goes to Siberia, realizes life can be different and rediscovers his sense of humor,” Huettner explains. Something you would also need when filming in Russia, right? Huettner won’t take the bait, but his expression is worth a thousand words.
Given he wears two hats in his line of work, writer and director, we start with the former, the author’s motivations and what draws him to his material. “I look for two things,” Huettner says, “people and stories. It might sound obvious, simplistic, even, but genre is not important to me. I like to keep things very basic, whether it’s a crime film or a drama. I’m very flexible.”
Huettner’s starting point is “precise observation of the main characters: people drive the events, the action, not the other way around. When you’re making a comedy the small people are the ones with more comedic possibilities in them: they have goals, bad things can happen to them, too.” When he’s sitting in his special chair, the one with ’Director’ on the back, Huettner is always aware “my author’s voice has to have a say.”
Like many of his colleagues, Huettner came to film by a semidirect route, starting out doing theatre at school, continuing upon graduation. In 1980, while studying at Munich’s HFF film school, “I broke my leg very badly, doing seven takes of a jump.” Whether this was somebody’s fault or method acting gone horribly, tragically, wrong, he doesn’t say, but “it was the end of my acting career, so I decided to write and direct instead.”
Huettner’s breakout film was the 1993 comedy, Texas –Doc Snyder Hält Die Welt in Aten, which was released nationally by Senator Film. “It got me noticed,” he says with characteristic understatement, “my job was to get Helge off the stage and make him bigger.” Job well done, too, according to the critics and audiences. This was followed in 1994 by Voll Normaaal.
Both the above mentioned films are broad comedy with no pretensions other than to entertain, but even as early as 1992, with Der Papagei, Huettner showed he could handle serious political themes as well. The story of a small man with the gift of the gab, being hijacked by the right for their own purposes, used humor to underline its serious theme. It not only showed Huettner’s talents of juxtaposition, it marked one of the milestones in the career of legendary German entertainer Harald Junker, not without a struggle, either. “I wrote the script for him and pushed for him to have the role,” Huettner explains. “The broadcaster wanted a ’serious’ actor, not him. They saw him simply as a drunken comedian, but he was so much more than that.”
“It’s always good to have an actor in your head when writing,” Huettner continues. “I want to see truth. I need empathy with the character. The audience has to love and understand them, laugh with them and not at them. There are so many great actors but everything comes from the material. There has to be something that grabs, there has to be tension.”
Huettner continues: “I want to entertain people. That’s often downplayed in Germany. Art is rated above entertainment. Good filmed entertainment for 90 minutes is a big piece of art in itself. There have to be all kinds of film, of course, but entertainment is not that well appreciated in the industry here.” He cites Til Schweiger and Matthias Schweighöfer as two, “really the only two,” who are successful.
“I recently saw the French film Intouchables. It’s wonderful, great, intelligent,” Huettner says. “The American series Breaking Bad is another example, a chemistry teacher with cancer becomes a drug manufacturer. Nobody would suggest a story like that in Germany! We have clinic doctors in white coats! Characters in foreign projects are more modern, here there is a lack of courage.”
Some directors are better with women, others with men. Some just like to trash entire cities, planets even. Huettner is “happy to work with men and women, of course. As a director, the script comes first, music is another important thing. I have a soundtrack in my head. It also puts me in the mood, like Tarantino, I write to music.”
What about “normal life,” outside filmmaking? “My hobby’s cooking,” Huettner says. “I’m trying to make pasties and pies at the moment.” Yet another talent!