Michael Hofmann • Director
by Bénédicte Prot
- Filmmaking as a phenomenal journey
The German director/scriptwriter Michael Hofmann, born in 1961, has written a lot and spent a long time in Italy, Great-Britain, Senegal, and France (where he studied at the Femis film school) before he finally directed his first feature, Trouville Beach (1998). His second film, Sophiiiie! (2002), in competition at Locarno, earned him and his actress Katharina Schüttler two Promotional German Film Awards. His third feature, Eden, a comedy depicting a young woman's passion for the chocolate of an overweight chef produced in Germany and Switzerland, will be presented in Rotterdam in the 'Sturm und Drang' section and in 'Passions&Promises', an event organised by the EFP.
Cineuropa: Your biography suggests that you are a passionate man fond of travelling, of women, of food maybe, and certainly of cinema. When did you decide to become a director and what made you choose that career?
Michael Hofmann: Well, when you are rather short and not very handsome, there isn't much choice if you want to live the above mentioned lifestyle!
More seriously, the need to direct came gradually —the whole process took forty years or so. As a child, I did some acting for the community theatre. When I was ten, I had the lead and we even went on tour. Later on, I studied at the French Femis, made some shorts and did some writing. But I also had many other jobs, such as nightwatchman or employee of a headache pill factory —which is an excellent background for a director, a goldmine for psychological observations and a lesson in dealing with people. A filmmaker has to know both how to work with a team and how to be a dictator, like a conductor who has to watch every single musician and eventually motivate and lead all of them. This does not mean that I am not flexible. In fact, I think 'vision' is overrated. What I like about directing is that when you put many talents together, new things come up that were not planned and are in fact better than what was on paper. This is why I avoid filming like I would slice a salami —I prefer long sequences in which the actors can express themselves. I like seeing what happens then.
What are your favourite movies? Do you have cinematic mentors?
I don't watch too many movies, lest they should influence my own work, but I do love Lubitsch (and old films in general), die for Cassavetes and really admire the Dardenne brothers, as well as Wong Kar-Wai. They all share a very special and deep insight on human behaviour. I like German cinema too, but as someone who has lived in many different places, I am more enthusiastic about the world outside mine. I like using filmmaking as a phenomenal journey and taking risks.
Can you describe the genesis of Eden?
Eden started with the idea to write about a big fat chef. Once, I had a ten-course meal cooked by a wild and crazy chef called Frank Oehler. He came to the table where my friend and I were eating in silence and said smilingly, 'It's better than sex, isn't it?'. We nodded speechless and I realised that a great meal can change your life (as any great piece of art).
As far as financing is concerned, it took between one year and a year and a half to gather the 1.8-million-euro budget.
Both your films are named after a woman, but if Sophie was confronted with the confusing reality of her pregnancy, Eden breaks out of her humdrum life by eating chocolate. Are you investigating femininity?
Oh yes, definitely. It is like visiting another planet, very challenging and always full of surprises. My film is indeed not really about food, but about people.
A sex-comedy called Les Choses Downstaires about a physically handicapped guy who dreams of having sex with a 'normal' woman. He seduces dozens of pretty girls on dating websites but they don't know he is disabled. So he sends his social worker to meet them on his behalf, but it does not go that well...
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