Portrait of the Artist

  • There is no doubt that Andreas Dresen is one of the most important artists of new German film following the unification. It should be kept in mind that he comes from a wing originating from the former GDR, where he was born, schooled and where he gained his first professional experience, after which he joined the new German cinema. He was born in 1963 in Gera, and prior to his studies he worked at DEFA studio in 1986, as an assistant to one of the leading East German screenwriters/directors, Günter Reisch, in the making of the romantic comedy Wie die Alten sungen… After that, from 1986 to 1991, he studied at the film-TV school HFF in Potsdam Babelsberg, along with his classmate and namesake, cameraman/director of photography, Andreas Hoefer. Hoefer has been one of his reliable associates, alongside Michael Hammon, and together they form a creative director-director of photography team.

    During his studies Dresen made a dozen short features and documentary films, and after the unification, in 1992, he directed his first all-night feature film Stilles Land (Silent Country). It is a story about a young theatre director who puts together his own version of Becket’s Waiting for Godot, in a provincial town in East Germany, in anticipation of the dramatic events that led to the fall of the Berlin wall and the unification. The author of the original script was his classmate Laila Stieler, with whom Dresen would work on another three films as screenwriter: The Police Officer (Die Polizistin, 2000), Willenbrock (2005) and Cloud 9 (Wolke 9, 2008).
    Night Shapes (Nachtgestalten), dir. Andreas Dresen
    Dresen confirmed his talent in the film Night Shapes (Nachtgestalten, 1999), with which he became more widely established, demonstrating all the characteristics of his authorship and directing style. And the qualities of Andreas’s expression are: a docu-fictional structure of the film in observing contemporary society, the actors’ spontaneous performances, a hand-held camera approach to the shooting, grainy photography which gives authenticity to a film, mainly thanks to his director of photography Hoefer. The characters in Night Shapes are loners, children of urban alienation, searching for company, friends and love, dreamers of a better life and a little happiness, all in nocturnal Berlin. By entering the Berlinale, this film set Dresen towards global prominence, followed by new acknowledgements at world festivals.

    In 2000, Dresen made a new film, The Police Officer, again in cooperation with screenwriter Stieler, who adapted the novel by Anegret Held, and for the first time we see his other partner, director of photography Michael Hammon and his favorite actor Axel Prahl, while the female lead, the local police officer Ana, is played by the great Gabriele Maria Schmeide. In this film, yet again, Dresen demonstrated his strong attachment to his homeland, East Germany, more specifically to a coastal town of Rostok. In the ambiance of Rostok, Hammon, the same way Hoefer had previously done, captured the actions of a young police officer who solves delicate situations of characters in conflict with the law, and she does so with a hand-held camera in order to portray the documentary atmosphere of the town, using the adequate grainy photography, all of which are part of Dresen’s integral concept.
    Grill Point (Halbe Treppe), dir. Andreas Dresen
    A new participation in Berlinale took place in 2002, with yet another great film called Grill Point (Halbe Treppe), a new cooperation with Hammon. This is another low-budget film, shot, once again, in a town in East Germany. The story centers on four characters, two married couples who are family friends, with two of the characters engaging in a romantic relationship at one point, which is when the aspect of infidelity, both marital and between friends, is additionally burdened by a dimension of a moral drama which questions their relationships with all the possible consequences in life.

    The next, equally memorable film was Willenbrok, a new cooperation with screenwriter Stieler, who this time adapted the novel by Cristoph Hein, and also another creation of Hammon, as well as a new appearance of the actor Prahl in the lead role of a car dealer from East-German city of Magdeburg. Dresen follows the life and work of a relatively successful businessman Willenbrok in a post-communist ambience, who will, after being a victim of bullies in his own home, face a different side of capitalism, and this event will shatter the illusions of a carefree, safe life filled with the pleasure of success.
    Summer in Berlin (Sommer vorm Balkon), dir. Andreas Dresen
    The year 2005 brought more significant cooperation with Dresen’s teacher from the young days, Wolfgang Kohlhaase, one of the greatest dramaturges/screenwriters in the cinema of the former GDR, and at the time the DEFA studio. In 2010, at the 60th Berlinale, homage was paid to Kohlhaase, and on that occasion, Dresen’s Summer in Berlin (Sommer vorm Balkon), for which he wrote the script, was shown. It is a tragicomic drama which focuses on two women living in Berlin, neighbors in an everyday fight for survival, two women who spend most of their free time on a balcony, talking about their lives, and drinking a lot while doing that. It is a portrait of Berlin, painted from the aspect of rooftops and streets, with a 16mm hand-held camera, guided by the already established Hoefer.

    Cloud 9 (2008) brought about new international success followed by multiple awards to Dresen and his associates like Hammon, and above all a great acting tandem playing the lead roles of lovers at a ripe age. Dresen directs this delicate story with improvised dialogue and, most of all, with absolute freedom in the love scenes. The biggest acknowledgement was Coup de Coeur in Cannes, which was awarded to Dresen within the prestigious Un Certain Regard program.
    Whiskey with Vodka (Whisky mit Wodka), dir. Andreas Dresen
    Whiskey with Vodka (Whisky mit Wodka, 2009) brought new cooperation with the experienced, 80-year-old Kohlhaase, who provided the story of popular actor Oto, who, while playing in a new film, sinks into alcoholism, due to which the producer and director find an alternative. The story Kohlhaase offered came from his rich personal experience. In this film within a film, the symbolism behind the title suggests that the film business is in fact a double dose of a shot, which Oto will make a drunken comment on, as his bitter confession.

    And finally, last year’s Stopped on Track (Halt auf freier Strecke, 2011) is the latest affirmation of the great talent of Andreas Dresen, who, this time, leads us into a world of a complete life drama, whose eternal philosophy is – the question of life and death. And it is with the death of a person close to someone that the film opens, with the end of all ends, when the doctors (who are in fact authentic and who Dresen depicts in their professional reality) convey that their patient is suffering from an incurable tumor, and that he has little time left. The film is a vivisection of the facing of death, and because of his creative values, Dresen won yet another award in Cannes, for the best film in Un Certain Regard, presented by a jury chaired by Emir Kusturica.

    Blagoja Kunovski
    film critic and publicist, Macedonia