A young German director draws on his memories of Auschwitz for a contemporary film about life in the shadow of evil. Martin Blaney reports.
It was Alain Resnais' 1959 film Hiroshima Mon Amour that provided the inspiration for Robert Thalheim's And Along Come Tourists.
Resnais' juxtaposition of the catastrophic impact of the atomic bomb with personal tragedy encouraged the German director to consider a film drawn from his own experiences in the town of Oswiecim (the Polish name for Auschwitz) in the 1990s.
'When I saw Resnais' film, it gave me the courage to make a film about Auschwitz without using flashbacks or a historical setting or reverting to the genre of the Holocaust film,' Thalheim recalls.
German director Hans-Christian Schmid, who shot Distant Lights in Poland, was a producer on the project and worked with Thalheim on the script. 'He has a very firm idea of how a film must be constructed and what a director's job should be,' says Thalheim of their working relationship. 'That made it harder for me to defend my own ideas, but I'm pleased about the dialogue we had.'
When the film was refused permission to shoot in the former Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, Thalheim was undeterred. 'I wanted to concentrate on the town of Oswiecim, of which the camp is just one aspect,' he explains.
This approach found favour with the locals. 'Usually, when film teams come, they just want to film the camp or ask the locals their opinion about living in the vicinity,' says Thalheim. 'With us, there was quite a different attitude and hundreds came when we had a casting call for the film.'
Shot for just $1.4m (EUR1m), the budget was nonetheless high for Thalheim, who made his debut feature, the comedy Net, for $4,340 (EUR3,200).
'Although we had much more money, I had less in a certain sense,' Thalheim suggests. 'When you are there with a big team and apparatus, you're not as light-footed as with a team of five or six people and a video camera.'