Q&A: Tom Tykwer


More Berlinale coverage

Projectionist-turned-wunderkind director Tom Tykwer has been for a touchstone for German cinema for the past 15 years. And he has been on Hollywood's talent-to-watch list since the international success of 1998's "Run Lola Run." But while his budgets and ambitions have grown with every film, Tykwer has remained stubbornly independent. Even "The International," his first studio film (from Atlas Entertainment, together with Sony Pictures), bears the unmistakable stamp of a Tykwer production. The Hollywood Reporter German bureau chief Scott Roxborough spoke with Tykwer ahead of the film's Berlinale world premiere.

The Hollywood Reporter: The plot of "The International" -- involving a nefarious banking consortium that manipulates debt and world finance -- seems ripped from the headlines. When you were shooting the film, back in 2007, did you ever expect it to be so current?

Tom Tykwer: I think the themes in the film are always current. It's just made it to the headlines now because the effects of these few financial players have become so catastrophic that it's become essential that we educate ourselves about this world and how it works. Even if we really don't want to know.

THR: How close to reality is "The International"?

Tykwer: The screenwriter, Eric Singer, is research-obsessed. The details in the film -- the connections between banking and organized crime, the arms business and so on -- is based on things he discovered. Of course, they have been altered and fictionalized but they are all based on real-life events.

THR: Isn't it ironic that you're doing a film that takes on global corporations and finance while that film itself is backed by one of the world's biggest media companies and a hedge fund, Reality Media?

Tykwer: The contradiction is inevitable. Relativity Media, is actually a film fund, not a hedge fund, but it is almost impossible to trace back to find where the money really comes from. It is pretty funny doing a film like this within such an apparatus – a critiqueof the system from within the system. But this kind of contradiction is part of our everyday lives. We try to be green but we know whenever we step into our cars, we are contributing to the problem. There's no escape.

THR: The International" was your first studio project. Did the demands of the bosses back in L.A. have any effect on the way you worked?

Tykwer: No. None. Not at all. But that's also because from the start, it was clear that the studio wanted the certain style, the specific film language that I represent. They backed me on all my unconventional decisions. I made the film with the same (German) team that works on all my productions. It was a condition from the start that, if you want me, you have to take my cinematographer Frank Griebe, my production designer Uli Hanisch, my editor Matthilde Bonnefoy -- this whole family that are responsible for our particular aesthetic. I can't do anything alone. Studio executives aren't stupid. They know the advantages of having a well-rehearsed crew. Look at "The Dark Knight" -- it's a blockbuster but it was made by many of the same people (director) Christopher Nolan has been working with for years -- like his cinematographer Wally Pfister and his brother (screenwriter Jonathan Nolan).

THR: There have been thriller elements in all of your films. Why did it take so long for you to do a full-on thriller?

Tykwer: The thriller is really the Champions League of filmmaking. Audiences have seen a lot of thrillers and they are experts in the genre. So it's very important when making a film like this that you make something people won't forget. It took me a long time to find an appropriate project. And it took a long time -- some six years -- to develop this project until it had the fluidity and clarity I thought it needed. Working with Eric Singer was great. He is one of the very few authors who can write to such a high standard but who still know when a film has to break free from the dialogue and develop on its own, on a visual level.

THR: "The International" and your last film, "Perfume -- The Story of a Murderer," were big-budget productions. Is this the direction you want to go in your career?

Tykwer: When a script's written, it usually is right there on the paper how much it will cost to shoot it properly. But a film's budget is really of little interest to me. If I find a script that engages me and it's an intimate play set in a single room, I'll do it.