Matthias Luthardt zu Gast bei Katrin Bauerfeind, Berlinale 2008
Original Version (french)
Matthias Luthardt, the free radical of German cinema
Like Robert, the young piano player in his film pingpong, Matthias Luthardt strove for a long time for a career as a classical musician. However, he lacked the necessary discipline and, what’s more, the insane levels of ambition he saw in most of the young musicians surrounding him bothered him. So, at the age of 22, he gave up his plan of becoming a professional musician. He started studying literature at the University of Tübingen before going to Lyon. In France, his life took a new turn. Until then he had almost never been to the cinema. More specifically, his first association with the cinema was the American blockbusters shown in the “south German backwater” where he grew up. Like so many filmmakers before him, he becomes infected by the French virus of ‘cinéphilia’. So, instead of going to university, he uses his time in France to discover his first Wenders films at the Institut Lumière… his first Fassbinder, his first Godard, Truffaut… And he builds himself a shrine to unorthodox filmmakers such as Claude Sautet, Theo Angelopoulos, Emir Kusturica and Lars von Trier. He is deeply impressed by the Decalogue and writes a thesis on the films of Kieslowski.
A question of survival
Matthias Luthardt is not yet ready to become a filmmaker. He explores the idea of journalism, does internships at a public radio station and at the TV channel Arte… The thought of spending his life behind a desk, however, is a frightening one. And he senses that, for him, creative output has become something of an existential need. At the age of 27, he enrols in a directing class at the HFF film school Potsdam-Babelsberg near Berlin and makes his first short film. “It was a fragment of a longer story. I was not happy with it. I wanted to move on in a more decisive fashion.” Seeing the chance to produce films more rapidly and effectively, he turned to documentary filmmaking. This allowed him, he felt, to “tell a more complex story, with a smaller budget. I did not have the patience to wait for the funding of a long feature film.” He is currently making a film about German couples who produce their own television show for a public TV station called “Open Channel”: “A tragi-comedy about Germans and the banality of everyday life”.
The documentary has been sold abroad, “but in Germany,” he explains, “practically no-one was interested in it”.
Among potential financiers, in particular public TV stations, his first feature film pingpong had scarcely more success at first. Nobody wanted a story set in the milieu of the educated German middle class. “The TV editors preferred stories set in the suburbs, tough social dramas. But I’m stubborn. I wanted to tell a story about a world that I know well, a self-contained, isolated world with its own rules.”
The film was made, and since winning prizes at the Semaine de la Critique in Cannes, it has so far enjoyed a very presentable festival career.
Matthias Luthardt does not personally know the German filmmakers who “have labelled themselves the Berlin School”. He shares with them, “a will to avoid over-sentimentalising. But unlike their films, mine is not anti-psychological or anti-dramatic”. A free radical, indeed.