On a fleeting visit to Australia, the Berlin-based filmmaker talks about his latest movies and his high regard for Australian cinema.
23 Apr 2012 - 4:17 PM  UPDATED 23 Apr 2012 - 4:17 PM

Years ago in a Berlin bookshop German writer-director Hendrik Handloegten discovered an obscure novel by an Austrian writer which had such an intriguing premise he just knew it would make an entertaining movie.

The premise: What would an individual do if it were possible to relive part of his or her life: make the same decisions or do things differently?

It took nearly two and a half years to finance the movie, Summer Window, backed by Zentropa Entertainment, the Danish production company headed by director Lars von Trier and Peter Aalbæk Jensen.

Based on Hannelore Valencak's 1967 novel Das Fenster zum Sommer, the film opened the Melbourne season of the 2012 Festival of German Film last Thursday and got a warm reception.

[ Read:
German Film Festival reviews ]

Budgeted at €3.5 million ($A4.5 million), it stars Nina Hoss as Juliane, who wakes up one morning to discover she's been transported back in time to when she was trapped in an unhappy relationship with Phillip (Lars Eidinger), before she met her current beau August (Mark Waschke) and before the death of her friend Emily (Fritzi Haberlandt).

The romantic drama was released in Germany last November where the director says the box-office results were “good but not like a rocket, not a super sensation,” and it's been nominated in three categories in the German Film Awards, the Lolas, which will be presented on April 27.

Danish-based sales agent TrustNordisk has sold the film to a bunch of territories including Scandinavia, Spain, Switzerland and the Netherlands. There's no distribution deal in Australia yet but Handloegten told SBS Film, “There were distributors in Melbourne, the interest is there, and they are starting to negotiate with TrustNordisk.”

As for Valencak's novel, he said, “Something magically drew me to this book. I read the synopsis and it was absolutely appealing. I think once in a while everyone asks himself the question of what you would do if you could re-live part of your life.”

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Handloegten wrote the film specifically for Hoss and Haberlandt, having worked with the latter in three films including his 2003 feature Learning to Lie, the tale of an average West German guy who can't forget his first, great romance, which ended unhappily.

Zentropa's Aalbæk Jensen was creatively involved in the production but not von Trier, whom the director met and about whom he observes, “He's as crazy as everyone thinks. He saw the film and his only comment was, 'You've got a lot of locations in there.'”

The filmmaker, who was born in 1968, speaks excellent English, partly the result of having spent his formative years living in Finland, Brazil, Switzerland and France, as his father worked for the Foreign Office. Yet he hasn't yet made the cultural jump to directing a movie in English for one obvious reason, “I have thought about it but no one has asked me so far.”

Handloegten was a relative latecomer to filmmaking. He spent three years as a clerk in a video store then a couple of years programming an independent cinema in Berlin in the early 1990s, where he screened one of his favourite Aussie films: Walkabout by English director Nicolas Roeg. It was the first time Roeg's 1971 classic had been shown in Berlin and the cinema had to import a 16mm print. Realising he wanted to make rather than exhibit movies, he studied at the dffb, the German Film and Television Academy in Berlin.

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Another Oz film he really admires is John Duigan's 1987 coming-of-age saga The Year My Voice Broke, which he says was a major influence on his debut feature, Paul is Dead, in 2000. That focuses on a 12-year-old boy who, during the summer holidays in 1980, sees a guy driving a Volkswagen that's identical to the one featured on the cover of The Beatles' album Abbey Road. The kid follows the man, an Englishman, and discovers he murdered Paul McCartney.

He's suffering from a spot of fatigue, having directed two movies back-to-back straight after Summer Window. One is Sixteen Oaks, a horror/thriller about a couple who seeks paradise in a gated community and finds hell, which stars Heike Makatsch and Mark Waschke. He co-wrote the screenplay with Achim von Borries, whose WWII drama 4 Days in May is also screening in the Festival of German Film.

Two weeks ago he finished shooting Fever, a telemovie about a cop who gets shot and is taken to a hospital where he discovers the entire health system is rotten.

Handloegten enjoys moving back and forth between TV and movies, observing, “The Germans really like their television but [with some exceptions] they don't really like their cinema releases.

“They'll go to see that French film The Intouchables but if Germany made a film about a rich white guy in a wheelchair and his black assistant they would say 'the story is OK but I want to watch it on television.' TV gives me a lot of freedom to experiment; it's not as conventional as filmmaking. It's not hard to finance a telemovie if you have the right people.”

After finishing the two films that are in post-production, the director says he intends to take an extended break “staring into the sky” in the German countryside. After that he's ready to tackle a big budget film which he accepts will take a long time to finance. Asked what that's about, he replies, “Ah, I can't tell.”

And after spending just four days in his first visit to Australia, he pledges, “I have decided already that I will come back.”