Baran bo Odar • Director
A Hollywood head on German shoulders
- The very discreet Swiss director established in Berlin, Baran bo Odar, tells us about his latest film, Who am I – No System is Safe, released last September in Germany
Sitting across the table in Berlin’s café Nola, Baran bo Odar is the embodiment of controlled undersell to create a quality image; he considers his words before he utters them, speaks in a measured tone and is a million miles from the clichéd way some in his position think they should present themselves. He is also very professional: he has a new film, Who am I – No System is safe [+see also:
interview: Baran bo Odar
film profile], which celebrated its world premiere this September in Toronto, and takes the opportunity to promote both it and himself.
“Who am I is a film about a young man,” Odar explains, “a nobody, an invisible guy. But when he starts playing with fire, he is soon being hunted by the German secret service and has to save himself. It’s essentially a film about the need and search for identity.” The project landed on Odar’s computer via production company Wiedemann & Berg. Having got inspiration, Odar pitched and won, co-writing with his wife, Jantje Friese. She also co-wrote The Silence [+see also:
film profile], itself “a film about outsiders and identity,” Odar explains. “I’m interested in normal, insignificant people suddenly getting into a situation and becoming heroes or anti-heroes. I like dark stories. I don’t like happy endings!” Unsurprisingly, given his grounding in commercials and music videos, Odar develops his characters in a “very Hollywood-like way. My wife is a big fan of enneagrams, developing a psychology and reducing the figures to archetypes. When you have the new archetypes you get the constellations of the characters, which is standard in Hollywood. We don’t write their diaries but we do try to understand them at the basic level: what do they want? What is their greatest flaw? That gets us to the story and from there we write the film.”
Once the script is locked, it is time for Odar to direct, a process that begins with storyboards “which I draw myself. It’s like a rewrite only more detailed, so I can see which scenes and transitions work or not.” Digging deeper into Odar’s working methods, he explains, “Sometimes I write for particular actors, other times I’m open. Casting is very important because you need to trust them with the space to interpret and act the character. I have a clear idea of what I want,” he continues, “but if I don’t try to give them the space then we are all limited.”
The actor Wotan Wilke Möhring could be called an Odar regular. Never anything short of versatile, Möhring here, in Who am I, plays a loud, aggressive punk. Who am I also features the superb Elyas M’Barek, the star of the ultra smash hit Suck Me Shakespeer [+see also:
interview: Jella Haase
film profile]. “He plays the other lead role, Max, and is very charismatic,” Odar says. Casting the lead was a non-brainer for Odar: “Tom Schilling! He fits perfectly, is a superb actor, the best of his generation.” What about the director’s often bugbear, the producers? Far from it, it seems, because Odar “had 100% freedom. Quirin Berg and Max Wiedemann and I would argue but they are known for making successful, commercial films and also understand the importance of telling good stories and letting the director tell them. We rarely argued but even then it played a positive role.”
Who am I was released in September in Germany, through Sony Columbia (topping the German charts on its first weekend), and Odar was already stuck well into his production slate, and what a slate it is! “There is Bad Girls, an action comedy with Working Title,” Odar explains. “The script is well on the way and we hope to film next year. I have The Hunt, with Universal, a feature film crime drama,” he continues, “a crime drama called Dark, for Channel 4. It’s about friendship.” Then it’s on to his favorite films, and Odar lists Bladerunner, Lawrence of Arabia and Michael Mann’s Heat, which “I have seen so often. It’s the perfect film for me on every level.” Odar admits there is one film that still eludes him: “I have always wanted to make Akira,” he says, calling the classic story of teenage gangs in Tokyo “the most exciting story ever narrated.” Odar is adamant, “but you need to have a Japanese cast.” You can tell he is still not going to give up.
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