Interview with Xavier Koller
Fuori concorso – Reise der Hoffnung
Even if your movie Reise der Hoffnung was released more than 25 years ago, the refugee issue is unfortunately strictly current. How do you feel about that?
At the core of the problem, looking from the refugees’ perspective, nothing has changed at all over the years. The organizations that rip them off are bigger than ever, if before they were small groups now it’s organized crime. They make billions. My movie chose to show individuals, human beings, not groups that can become statistics. I wanted to do this movie against the statistics, I wanted to show real people. Otherwise it’s only numbers, and numbers are not emotional. My movie showed personal experiences, we can relate to them, it’s the only way people can know about what’s happening. I hope that this movie can fight xenophobia, the fear to get closer to these people. This is the only chance for assimilation. I hope my movie can stimulate the discussion, the debate. It would be great today to see a movie about this fundamental issue.
Which has been for you the most challenging scene to shoot in an emotional way?
Every scene in which I worked with silence and distance between characters. When the father goes to see his wife, and she’s looking for her son. The silence between them is the most dramatic moment in the whole movie.
Is there someone who inspired you in some way during the shooting?
The Hungarian director of photography Elemér Ragályi, he’s great at reproducing immediacy. I learned a lot from him, the way he looks through the lens and at the scene through the lens, basically he already watches the movie. If there was something missing in the image or in the scene he was aware of it, not only in terms of light or the set, it was about the action. He was the only director of photography I worked with who was really sucked into the image, he could feel in the moment if the image worked emotionally. Less technology, no fancy shots, more documentary style. The communication with the audience was straight, direct.
I have to ask you about the Academy Award as Best Foreign Language Film…
I know… It was weird, I’d say all the glamour doesn’t fit the movie at all, actually it’s quite the opposite! I never thought I could make a movie capable of winning an Oscar. I think it happened because everybody was so committed to this project that the movie was charged with everyone’s emotion, and this reached the audience. When we got the nomination we were really surprised, we got lots of calls. I went to Los Angeles a couple of weeks before the ceremony, there was a lot of press and PR asking what chances we had to win and I answered: «50/50». «Wow, you have a lot of confidence! It’s five movies competing!» «I know, but in the end it’s yes or no!» When it happened I didn’t prepare a speech. It took probably years to understand what it means winning an Oscar, because it doesn’t affect your life immediately. At the beginning it was a little embarrassing with everyone congratulating. Now it’s part of me, I can’t deny it but I really don’t feel special. It didn’t change my personality.
And then you made some movies in the U.S.. Which is the main difference between the European and American production system?
The actors. American and British ones come to the set knowing exactly the characters they want to be. You can agree with it or not, change something or drive them where you want to set the character, but they know how to play the role. Europeans want to be taught, they need to know from the director. The American actors come to set fully prepared, they bring something to the table and then they are flexible to other people’s opinions. I prefer this way, I prefer having a cast and a crew with ideas capable of improving mine.