Interview with director Jonas Rothlaender

Was it clear from the beginning that you wanted to make such a personal film?
From the start it was very important for me to make a personal, but not a private film. But since the film is also part of my personal journey, it was one of the biggest challenges to find the right balance for this while we were editing. An important motivation has always been the desire „to understand“ and not judge anybody. I have always found those films and stories the most valuable and intense that observe a specific microcosm and still manage to state some kind of universal truth. Regarding this project it has been my goal to take a personal story and discover moments of social relevance in it.

What was the reason that you wanted to make this film?
Everything began with the discovery of the old files of my grandmother.  After that I fell into a kind of identity crisis. What I learnt about my family there was completely shocking. In the beginning I simply wanted to make a documentary about my grandparents, but as time passed, I realized that this would be a film involving more generations of my family, and therefore it would also include me.

What did you find out? How did your whole family become part of the project?
The more I scrutinized the relationship between my grandparents and my mother, the more I realized that these were the same kind of conflicts my siblings and I also experienced. The family as an institution offers many positive values like support and comfort, but at the same time it embodies an inevitable fate: We are forever bound to our families – whether we want it or not. We cannot get rid of our family, even if we burn all the bridges behind us. The question, if there is a chance to escape this vicious circle, or if we are inheriting these conflicts within our families and are doomed to repeat these patterns forever, got hold of me.
What is the core of these conflicts within your family? I believe that the parents felt an emotional need or deficit and then shifted it towards their children. Even if the children are not able to cope with these needs of their parents, they will still try to satisfy them as much as possible. This is almost something instinctive: As a child you are dependent on your parents in order to survive. And to survive you will do everything to please the needs of your parents. While working on this film I also realized how my family is suppressing and rationalizing emotions. This strong need to control emotions, is in my opinion also part of a special german topic.

You mean that your family represents all german families in that problem?
I always have a hard time to simplify it like this, but during my work on this project there was a very important and central realization: To understand that even my generation is still affected by the impact of the world wars and especially WW II. My grandfather is a very good example for this. The trauma which he is carrying around with himself after the war. The inability to talk about it and rather cut of all those feelings in order to function and set up a new life in Germany. This unemotional side he is showing during the film is almost trained. And with this inability to express emotions - the only way he can do it is with money - a great emotional vacuum developed in my family and in many others, I believe. My mother and my grandmother then tried to fill this vacuum in a different way.

What do you think is the status within the german families, regarding that conflict? Can your generation solve it? Or do you think you have solved it already?
I read once that you need a certain amount of generations to leave the trauma of a war behind. And I also believe that every generation takes a step towards this direction. My mother also had the strong to wish to deal with things differently when she had her own family. It‘s not like she was not aware that there were things going wrong. But still she repeated certain patterns. Maybe my generation will also still repeat some of these patterns. The fascinating question for me is: will there be a way out of this vicious circle?

How has your mother reacted to the film?
My mother was very thankful for this film. I believe that she was also relieved that we brought these smoldering problems to the surface and talked about them. And on the other hand I am very thankful towards my mother that she opened herself to this conflict. That wasn't a given by any means, and I admire her courage for doing it.

Did something change in the relationship between your mother and you?
I think the most important thing is, that I could look forward again, after I had the conversation with my mother and not back anymore. Because I put my conflict with her into words it doesn‘t stand between us anymore. So the past can rest now, and in the present we can be in a much more unburdened relationship.

Why is family so important? Is there a concept of family?
For me the fascinating thing about family has always been that in a way it is a microcosm of our society. How we are shaped by our family has an important influence on how we will behave in an even bigger context. That‘s why I think it is very important to deal with family. In some sense every family is the core of our society.

But didn‘t the concept of family change a lot in recent years? What effect does that have on families?
That‘s a fact of course, but it doesn‘t mean that family as an institution would not be important anymore. It is just more diverse. Personally, I don‘t favor old patriarchal family structures, but the crucial question for me is always: How are we treating each other? How are we dealing with conflicts? What kind of values are we giving our children? A very good example for this are all the children of divorced or split-up parents: It‘s not the fact of the divorce that leaves the children with a damaged soul, but how the parents deal with the situation. It might start a new vicious circle again...

© dffb & Jonas Rothlaender, 2015      Imprint