The New Wave of Political Satire — An Interview with Julian Radlmaier

For admirers of Buñuel and Godard, Julian Radlmaier’s brand of cinema should feel right at home while also offering a fresh take on well-trodden subjects. This new experimental filmmaker, based in Berlin, has impressed festival audiences and critics alike with his debut feature Self-Criticism of a Bourgeois Dog (which we have written about here), which won the Best First Feature award from the German Film Critics’ Association. Previously he had directed two mid-length films A Spectre is Haunting Europe (2012) and A Proletarian Winter’s Tale (2014), both being interesting showcases of his evolving style. When MUBI ran a special section on Radlmaier, we were introduced to his work which left us very fascinated with his use of dry humour alongside biting political commentary. We reached out to him for an interview and he was gracious enough to answer the few questions we threw at him. Julian Radlmaier Julian Radlmaier

 

Julian Radlmaier
A still from A Proletarian Winter’s Tale (Credits: MUBI)

1.  ‘Self-Criticism of a Bourgeois Dog’. The subject matter of the film is a comedic and satirical take on the protagonist’s journey as an experimental filmmaker, who at times transforms into a dog. What was your inspiration for such an outlandish concept?

The first film I ever bought as a teenager was a VHS of Luis Buñuel’s “The Phantom of Liberty”, which I had managed to mail-order from the UK – not so easy in pre-Amazon-times. I had read a description and was very intrigued by this strange sounding plot. Since then, I’ve always liked films that don’t shy away from using all the possibilities of fiction – as long as they are, at the same time, rooted in a thorough rendering and analysis of reality. I’m looking for a short-circuit between something almost documentary and something very playful.

2. The protagonist in the film, as played by yourself, is a devoted communist falling short of actions adhering to his ideology. How much of the character is actually based on yourself?

Of course, this fictional alter ego is not me! But we share some basic conditions and fundamental contradictions which I tried to push to a certain point of clarity in this character. Maybe more important than the question of the “political artist” is a question that concerns each member of the middle-class: Where does our solidarity end and where do we begin to defend our class privileges, maybe even against our own convictions? Julian Radlmaier

3. The film is a meta-cinema within itself. Why did you choose this technique over conventional storytelling methods prevalent in cinema? Julian Radlmaier

Reality is always shaped by the stories we tell each other about it. So all my films are concerned with the question: Which stories do we tell, and for what (ideological) purpose? I prefer to have a story showing its own construction, its own artificiality, rather than pretending to be a neutral reflection of reality. Besides, this has a lot of comic potential. I love meta-filmic comedies from Buster Keaton’s “Sherlock Junior” to the films of Korean director Hong Sang-Soo.

4. Many have been calling you the new-age Godard from Germany. How much does Jean-Luc himself and his work inspire you and influence your creative process?

This is a difficult question because Godard has been so fundamental in shaping my narrative and visual sensibilities that I almost can’t rationalize it: The combination of something very artificial and something very documentary, of playfulness and rigorousness, the comical and the political. But also his sense for the concrete: faces, voices, places, objects, light. And especially the way he frames images.  But also an ethics of filmmaking.This being said, other influences were just as important later on: Jean Renoir and Straub-Huillet, for example. Julian Radlmaier

5.  This may be a tad bit controversial, but what are your views on communism and its place in the modern world? And what would you say are its biggest strengths and weaknesses?

Please allow me to give just a modest answer: In times in which the neoliberal capitalist ideology presents itself as the only possible way, despite all the problems it creates, I’m interested in the re-thinking of alternative models of society. I’m attracted to more egalitarian ideas, based on solidarity rather than on concurrence, putting emphasis on the “commons” rather than on “private property”. One could say: The Marxist tradition. But of course, I am also absolutely critical of the extremely authoritarian, anti-democratic and often brutal rule of the Communist regimes of the 20th Century. That’s why my characters dream of a “Communism without Communists”, a notion invented by the French philosopher Jacques Rancière: A democratic Communism without leaders, parties and secret services imposing their will on everybody. However, I don’t think it’s the task of cinema to define concrete political models. But it can (and should) emphasize some basic values and ideas that might be worth exploring. Julian Radlmaier

6.  We particularly loved and were intrigued by Zurab Rtveliashvili‘s performances in both A Spectre is Haunting Europe and Self-Criticism of a Bourgeois Dog. How did you come to cast this Georgian poet in your films and what was it like to work with him?

I found Zurab by coincidence when I was looking for someone to play the Soviet poet Mayakovsky in my middle-length film “A Spectre is Haunting Europe”. I usually like to cast friends, but in this case, I couldn’t think of anyone even remotely fitting, and I started to be a bit desperate. But then, a friend of my DOP said he knew a great guy in Stockholm who had recited Mayakovsky’s poems during political protests in his native Georgia. Which, by the way, had actually caused him quite some trouble… This was Zurab, an anarchist-dadaist poet himself. He’s very impressive, you should see him perform his own works! But also a very tender guy. We became friends and I’m sure it wasn’t the last time we worked together. I like to have a “film family” with reappearing actors, and Zurab is definitely one of them!

7. Last but not the least, any word on any upcoming projects that your fans and the world can look forward to? 

I’m currently working on an anti-fascist beach-comedy about a Soviet actor falling in love with a German vampire. The script is finished, now comes the worst part of filmmaking: finding money for strange ideas… Julian Radlmaier Julian Radlmaier Julian Radlmaier

 

 

(YOU MAY ALSO LIKE: Archiving the Subconscious — An Interview with Jay Rosenblatt)

When not watching films or TV series, Shaswata can usually be found either reviewing them or battling writer’s block. His obsession lies with framing and composition in cinema, something he explores by capturing the most memorable moments through screenshots and sharing them on social media.

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