Fear and Attraction

 Interview with Elmar Wepper, actor, Germany

Elmar Wepper

Elmar Wepper

Nominated for EUROPEAN ACTOR 2008
written and directed by Doris Dörrie

When Trudi learns that her husband Rudi is dangerously ill, she suggests visiting their children in Berlin without telling him the truth. As Franzi and Karl don’t care much about their parents, Trudi and Rudi go to the Baltic Sea, where Trudi suddenly dies. Rudi is thrown out of gear, even more when he learns that his wife wanted to live a totally different life in Japan. Elmar Wepper plays the part of Rudi - a grieving man who embarks on a last journey, to Japan - and was nominated for the European Film Awards 2008.

How did Doris Dörrie choose you to play the part of Rudi?

Life is strange. Sometimes you don’t know why. Sometimes things happen for you and sometimes they don’t. The situation was that I played a very small part in Doris Dörrie’s film The Fisherman’s Wife. And I remember during the movie she said to me: “Could you imagine to make a movie with just a couple of people with a little camera - Dogme-like and in a foreign country?” And I said, “Oh, yes,” but afterwards forgot all about it.

And all of a sudden almost two years later, the script arrived and I read it. She didn’t call me beforehand - it just arrived. And I thought: Jesus, this is a fantastic story - so straight - so pure!

You know, I do a lot of television - where they speak, speak, speak all the time - but in this movie they do not speak so much. And it is not because I don’t want to speak [laughs] but you can express so much more with a face, or a look. You don’t always have to tell people how you feel. For television I sometimes get a script where your line actually is: “OK, I am standing up now.” But why would you say that when everyone can see that you are standing up?

The film portraits an old couple and with elderly people you often have a feeling that there is no need to speak that much because they almost know what the other person thinks….

Yes, such a couple doesn’t necessarily speak a lot. And when my character is in Japan, his English is almost as bad as my English! [laughs]

When I saw the film I couldn’t help thinking: you get the children you deserve. Do you think the way they treat their father is a reflection on how he has been as a father?

It is true and it is not true….What Doris wanted to show is that on the one hand you love your parents and on the other hand they totally get on your nerves.

For me, one of the most beautiful moments in this movie is a scene with my character and his lesbian daughter. We [the parents] visit them [the lesbian daughter and her girlfriend] in the shop where they work and live. There is this weird situation where no one communicates very well and we are leaving. You see us going out of the door and she [the daughter] is standing there and looks at us through the door, feeling all this sadness. She is feeling so helpless.


In that scene I see so many things. The camera follows you and your wife outside. And at the same time the camera follows the girls inside. Both parties seem so lost. 

Yes the parents are like these old people in a strange city. You can feel in your heart the misunderstandings and the conflicts between parents and children.

In Tokyo, where their older son Claus lives, there’s a scene where you see the wilderness between parents and children again. Claus is on the phone and says: “OK, what shall I do - he is sitting around and I do not know what to do with him. I hate myself for feeling like that.” And I think that feeling is so universal for children who suddenly have to take care of their parents or just to spend time with them.

Why do you think it is so difficult for children and parents to communicate?

Well, one reason for kids is [that you have] to get free of your parents to go make your own personality….

But they are no longer teen-aged kids.

Yes, but the distance can be there in spite of age. Just look at how the parents live in the village and the children live in the big city. Their lives are different. You don’t always know what to talk about with parents because you don’t develop in the same direction. But you always have a bond and a love somehow.

It s a movie with a lot of perspectives: It is a movie about a mourning husband, a movie about children and parents, and a movie about a man suddenly trying to understand his wife after her death . Why didn’t he know her when she was alive?

Well, he is a man who wants to be in control. A couple of years ago I read an article about how much people fear change. They don’t like change, they are anxious.

Rudi used to live in Munich - and there he met Trudi and was attracted by this paradise bird with her creative soul. But on the other hand he was scared of the situation. And there’s a scene where he says he didn’t like her dancing [Trudi dances Buto, a traditional Japanese dance]. And then came the children and everything was over. Luckily - he could control it in that way.

But at the same time he was fascinated by her dance.

We get fascinated by something and then get afraid of it - he doesn’t it understand so he controls it.

Then she dies and he develops his own creative side in a way, travelling to Japan which is where she always wanted to go…

It is almost incredible for him. He is in the house and he is totally paralyzed and he is sitting on a chair saying those words: “Trudi, Trudi, Trudi - where are you?” He recognizes there is something extreme working inside of him and he doesn’t know how to react to it. And maybe this feeling helped him to get up and go to Tokyo where one of his sons is living.

Not knowing what is going on, he takes his wife’s clothes with him. It is not just a visit for a couple of days - he is breaking up. Maybe this helpless feeling is the what encourages him - he is so lost and the only chance is to take this courage, make this little change, and go over there. He has nothing to loose and it is a way of feeling close to his wife.

It is a very detailed movie - every character is specifically drawn and the only person from outside the family is the daughter’s girlfriend. She has a broader perspective. She doesn’t judge and she sees what is going on….

Yes, when the children learn that their father died in Japan, wearing their mother’s clothes, they are disgusted. But she says: “Maybe he was happy…”

And, to be honest, it is horrible because in that scene you understand the big gap between parents and children, between human beings, and it is almost unbearable.

So, what does this nomination mean to you? 

A lot! I was shocked! In my age it is something special. If I were thirty years old, I’d be more afraid to carry this award - but now I am very pleased and very honoured. I feel it is very special to be a part of the little group of nominees.

What about the film, it has been released in Germany and other countries, how has the success been? 

In Germany, 1.1 million people saw our movie - which is fantastic! It has been sold in over 30 countries and everywhere it has been a success. This movie comes to the heart of people in every country - because it is not a German movie. It is a movie about us, all of us, families, conflicts, frustrations, grief, life and love and, well, human relationships as we all know them so well.


Interviewed by Frederikke Lett in Copenhagen, December 2008