Oliver Hirschbiegel’s “The Painter” sets the stage for Van Gogh’s film
German director Oliver Hirschbiegel, whose Oscar-nominated film “Downfall” shot his latest film “The Painter” in just four days. The docu-fiction, which premieres Saturday at IDFA, is a collaboration with German artist Albert Oehlen, who is played by Teutonic comedian Ben Becker (“Comedian Harmonists). Hirschbiegel and Oehlen are now working together on a film on Vincent van Gogh, he says Variety.
“The Painter,” the copyright of which is managed by Picture Tree International, follows the artist (Becker) finishing a painting for much of its 94-minute duration. Becker creates on camera what Oehlen does behind to show the process of the artist at work.
“It’s a genre film and a first,” says Hirschbiegel, who got on the project after Oehlen asked him for advice on the equipment. “You are looking at a painting that starts from zero and ends. This hasn’t really been done before in the history of cinema. See the whole process and the emotions behind it. Most films about painters show some scenes at work.
Oehlen and Hirschbiegel studied together at the Hochschule der Bildenden Künste Hamburg and have been friends ever since. Their careers have taken different directions.
“It’s because of Albert that I didn’t become an artist,” Hirschbiegel explains, speaking from an apartment in Rome where he starts shooting the migrant suspense series “Europa” on Friday. “I always knew he would be ahead of me. We have always had a friendly collaboration.
He has no regrets.
“My career has gone pretty well. When I made the first feature film at 26, I realized that was what I really wanted to do, to make films, ”he says.
There are differences between the two worlds.
“As you see in the movie, being an artist is very lonely. You have to be a warrior,” says Hirschbiegel. “Cinematic collaboration is energetic work with the actors. Painting is also energetic work, but it is more complex because it self-generates. It is linked to what happened before. There is a path that the energy takes, a flow to meet the person looking at a painting. The energy reaches you in a way, I’m not talking about bad paint.
Originally, a 30-40 minute documentary was planned. But, “It’s an old rule that I respect. The sequence tells you what it wants to be. A scene that ends for two minutes tells you that it has served its purpose, ”he says.
The film was shot over a three-day period in Oehlen’s studio in Hamburg, with one day of shooting in Hanover. It was a real collaborative process.
“I was a director and producer because I had made storyboards, and Albert was appointed writer and producer because he had written a page and a half,” says Hirschbiegel. “I’m not an experienced producer so I needed one on board.”
The project was presented to Mike Downey, president of the European Film Academy, and he came on board as an executive producer. “He got it right away,” he says.
“This challenge of a concoction is indeed the cocktail of a fascinating, entertaining, unsettling and insightful mixologist,” says Downey, “On the other hand, he’s also cheeky, experimental, funny, full of wicked irony and of tennis rackets – and very funny in pieces, disruptive, demystifying and multi-layered.
The next step was to send it to Charlotte Rampling, whose voice can be heard in the film.
“Charlotte is as sharp as a pencil. It was a test to send her the film but she got it, ”he adds.
Making the film was a turning point for Hirschbiegel. “It’s what I always wanted to do, but I never dared – just shoot,” he says. “We had freedom. It was exhausting but amazing. It was a very enriching experience, and I think it was imposed. I like the intensity that the film creates with the spectators.
Becker took an artistic license playing Oehlen. “He’s a brilliant actor,” says Hirschbiegel. “And he understands the process of painting. He’s a great stage actor, which helps. He creates something on the spot from a thought. He’s so good at improvising. I would say do it but more slowly. Albert would give him a line to say. He would change that sentence completely.
Hirschbiegel and Oehlen are already on their next project “Bad Painter”. “It’s loosely based on letters from Van Gogh to his brother,” Hirschbiegel explains. The cast includes Birgit Minichmayr (“Downfall”). “She is one of the top five actresses in Germany,” he says.
The film was shot in eight days in an area known as the Tuscany of East Germany, he says, about an hour from Berlin.
“Albert gave me ten pages for ‘Bad Painter’,” Hirschbiegel explains. I forced him to get Final Draft and put it in order.
It was “more of the same fun and also exhausting,” he adds.
The Hirschbiegel crew try to put on “Bad Painter” during the 120-day shoot for “Europa”. They can add a few days of shooting for “Bad Painter”.
As for the meaning of the title… “You’ll see,” he said.
The action for “Europa” takes place on a cruise ship loaned by Richard Branson. Real migrants play the role of extras in the suspenseful series Sky.
“In real life, they cross the desert and are held for ransom by their families so they can continue their journey,” he says. “It’s a tragedy that’s not going to end anytime soon. But this series is also entertainment.