Ever since the Oscar for her film „Nowhere in Africa“, Caroline Link might be the best known German female director on an international level. Her latest movie though, “Der Junge muss an die frische Luft”, seems to be as German as it gets, as it is an adaptation of the autobiography by German comedy legend Hape Kerkeling, in which he writes about his childhood in the 1960s, his first interest in comedy and his mother’s suicide. But there is way more to this movie than the regional humor Hape Kerkeling stands for. It is a film about universal topics as post war society, family, queerness and childhood trauma.
EWA blogger Sophie Charlotte Rieger met Caroline Link in Berlin to talk with her about her film, working with a child actor on a queer character and, of course, women in the film industry.
This is the first time you didn’t write the script for your film. How did that happen?
There is nothing strategic to this. I just read the script by Ruth Toma and really wanted to do it. Just reading it already touched me deeply, how life and strokes of fate form this character Hape Kerkeling. And of course I have a thing for this kind of story. I mean, I don’t want to work with children all the time, but it comes easy to me. Also the script just had a tonality that I really liked: somewhere between cheerfulness and sorrow.
Obviously this is a movie about Hape Kerkeling, but putting him aside, what is at the core of the story?
I think it is a story about family. Family might be a bunch of crazy individuals, but for a child it is still a life saving place of comfort and safety. Even if something bad happens, there is always a helping hand for little Hape. I find that very beautiful.
I noticed that there are a lot of rather complex female characters in the movie. How come?
I think Hape was actually raised by and grew up with strong women. And as he says himself, in his memory the father and grandfather figures are a bit foggy. Probably they became close-lipped as a consequence of their war experiences – either because they didn’t want to bore anyone with their stories or because talking about it would have triggered trauma. They were mostly absent, while the women did all the work at home. In these days, the war was still quite close and the women were used to be in charge.
How did you find your amazing child actor Julius Weckauf?
If you’re making a movie with a leading part for a little girl, you will have thousands of girls applying. But if you are looking for a small, chubby blond boy, who is incredibly funny, you won’t have that many options. There were quite a few boys who applied, but in the end most of them were too shy. And they had to be funny enough to make the audience laugh, not just their moms.
How did you work with him?
We talked about everything, but if something was too much for Julius he always said: “Yes, I already got it.” He didn’t want to talk a lot about the mother’s death for example and I didn’t make him to. Instead we created the situation from the outside, the way he grabs the pillow in the night of the suicide, the way he talks. I didn’t tell him: “Everything is really bad now, be afraid!” I cannot do that to a child. That is abuse.
But then again with children it’s always the same: For about two weeks they are completely hooked and then they get more and more distracted. There were days when Julius wasn’t in the mood to shoot. He is just a normal kid. Thank God, because that’s what I’m looking for: normal kids instead of little professionals. Julius has something that a lot of experienced child actors have already lost: He is very innocent, not concerned with his appearance. He is not embarrassed for anything.
I’ve been thinking about exactly that, because Hape is not only a funny but also a queer character, cross dressing and performing feminine gestures. How do you work on this with a ten year old?
Julius is aware of Hape being gay and married to another man – whatever that means to the kid. I think, now that a year has passed, he thinks more about what his friends from school will think about the movie. That leads to mixed feelings, because on the one hand his face is all across town on movie posters but at the same time this is not a movie he can impress other 10 year olds with.
On an international scale you are one of the most famous, maybe the most famous female German director today. Is the women’s quota in film direction relevant to you anyways?
I don’t have a final opinion on that. In juries, I prefer to price the movies I like best, no matter if they were made by a man or a woman. Once I tried to give the Bavarian Film Award to five women at once – and had to face an angry backlash, while the only thing I was trying to say was: Look at all these great women!
At the same time: yes, the discussion about the quota is helpful. It creates awareness in the industry. And it’s just indisputably wrong that 50% of directing graduates are female while only 10% of employed filmmakers are women. Something has to change. I’m not sure though if a law is the right way to do it.
What’s the alternative?
When I’m teaching at film schools I tell my female students: “Dare do be demanding. You don’t have to be the good girls all the time.” My approach is to change their attitude into something like: “I can do this, I want to do this, I just do it!”