Cannes Q&A: Wim Wenders


Returning to Cannes Competition for the ninth time you'd think there'd be no surprises left from German auteur Wim Wenders. But his latest, the thriller "Palermo Shooting," is generating more excitement than anything Wenders has made in a decade. The story of a photographer who flees his hometown in Dusseldorf, Germany and rediscovers life in Palermo, Italy the film stars German punk star Campino. Wenders sat down with The Hollywood Reporter's German bureau chief Scott Roxborough in Cannes to talk about childhood, photography and the art of genre bending.

The Hollywood Reporter: You were really down to the wire getting this movie ready for Cannes. Is it finished?
Wim Wenders: I finished the end credits Monday night and had the final version delivered Wednesday. It's been a little nerve wracking. We knew that we were going to be late and that's one of the reasons we are at the very end of the festival. When we watched the opening of the festival on television we were in the medium stage of mixing. It was close.

THR: "Palermo Shooting" is the first film you've shot in Germany since "Faraway, So Close!" 15 years ago and the first you've ever shot in your hometown of Dusseldorf. What brought you back?
Wenders: Yes, I've never shot a film in my hometown, except for shooting some Super 8 as a kid. Partly it was my choice of lead actor. Campio is from Dusseldorf and he is a true Dusseldorfer and a local hero because his band, Die Toten Hosen, are the biggest rock band in Germany and they are from Dusseldorf. I wrote the story for Campino. Having in mind that he is not a professional actor at least not before the film, although now he is.
All we'd ever done together was shoot a music video -- a three-day shoot. But I knew he had a very enigmatic presence. Nobody knows him as an actor but he is exactly the kind of character I had in mind to play this photographer. I wanted the actor to be from Dusseldorf because Dusseldorf is the home of all the great contemporary photographers in Germany. The Dusseldorf school is the great German post-war photography school. My hero, being a photographer, had to be from Dusseldorf.

THR: Place and architecture always play a major role in your films. What was it like to shoot your hometown?
Wenders: The strange thing in filmmaking is that places you know best are the hardest to shoot and I usually go to places that I did not know like San Francisco or Lisbon or Tokyo or now Palermo. As a foreigner, a stranger you see places better than you would if you lived there. At least that's my theory. It is very difficult to see something that is so close to your heart. If you spend your childhood at the river Rhine and you come back 50 years later, it is hard to think of the river Rhine without seeing your own childhood and without thinking about your own childhood. And I didn't want to make a film about my hometown. I wanted to make a film about photography and about all the questions that contemporary photographers are exposed to and the one that they are most exposed to is the question of truth. There's no other profession that is facing the question of truth as photographers.

THR: "Palermo Shooting" is a thriller. You've often played with genre elements in your films, something that is becoming de rigeur among many art house directors.
Wenders: I've always played with genres, especially with the thriller -- with "American Friend" or "The End of Violence." I've never been able to make a film inside that genre, though and "The Palermo Shooting" is not a film that stays inside the boundaries. It is very hard to stay inside the boundaries of a genre film; I admire people that are able to do that. I just don't have the discipline.
What I like about genres is that you can play with expectations and that there are certain rules that you can either obey or work against. But genres are a funny thing. They're heaven and they're hell. They help you to channel your ideas and they are helpful to guide the audience but they don't help you in what you want to transport other than the genre itself. Genres get angry if you want to tell other stories -- because they are sort of self-sufficient. They like to be the foreground. Then it becomes difficult, because in my case I want to tell all sorts of stories.
But my next film will be a genre movie. Full on. It will be a horror film. It is going to be very exciting. Horror is one genre that is used much less than others to transport other things. Lots of people have used great thrillers to transport political messages but the horror film is rarely used to transport anything but fear. And that I think makes it very interesting to try. It's called Miso Soup and is based on a famous Japanese novel. Willem Dafoe is attached to star. We will shoot in Tokyo next spring. But I'm not telling you anything else.

Nationality: German
Born: August 14, 1945
Festival Entry: "Palermo Shooting"
Selected Filmography: "Alice In the Cities" (1974), "The American Friend" (1977), "Paris, Texas" (1984) , "Wings of Desire" (1987), "Faraway, So Close!" (1993), "Buena Vista Social Club" (1999), "Don't Come Knocking" (2005)
Notable Awards: Palme d'Or, Best Directing Bafta, Cesar nomination, Best Foreign Film for "Paris, Texas"; Oscar nomination, Best Documentary, European Film Award for "Buena Vista Social Club"; German Film Award, Best Director for "The Wrong Move" (1975), "The American Friend," "The End of Violence" (1997) and "The Million Dollar Hotel" (2000).