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Interview with Ralph Fiennes for The Guilt and Shame

Ralph Fiennes Interview
FEST-International Film Festival, Belgrade

A year 2009 has got a great honor for FEST-Belgrade International Film Festival www.fest.rs to have such a distinguished guest Ralph Fiennes to open the festival. Ralph Fiennes has visited Belgrade firstly to look for a convenient location where he is going to direct his first film, Shakespeare’s “Coriolanus”, the same time next year. Among the rest the film directed by Stephen Daldry “The Reader” opened the festival in great honor presented this impressively directed, superbly acted and emotionally engaging drama to Belgrade’s audience. Even so, the film practically screamed for Oscar, as being screened in Belgrade a night before Oscar Award in USA that someone might say deserve, if nothing, then a great attention as being written by the writer of “The Hours” David Hare.

“The Reader” made by Schlink's 1995 novel, The Reader, an international bestseller, controversially put in public as a relationship between a teenage boy and an older woman in order to explore questions about post-war German guilt for Holocaust. The story uses three time frames; the near-present to the past, starting with Hannah (Kate Winslet) a woman in her 30s, that seduces Michael (David Kross) a teenage boy. Michael enjoys casual sex and post-coital literary reading, she asks him to read aloud to her, and gets trapped in romantic, dreamy sappiness, for film to prelude further on with horrors of II World War and other side of Hannah. A decade later, after the war, Michael sees her again, from a distance to contrast romance, in the court, accused for a serious war crime of Holocaust. “The Reader” doesn't necessarily seek to make Hannah sympathetic, by presenting her through young and romantic Michael's eyes, as a figure of mystery and desire. But in the revelations later on, the film talks about her diminish and horrific deeds of Holocaust crimes of what she has done during the war. The film is redemptive, with whatever difficult possibilities to explore guilt and silence, dissolved into blandness, in order to presents a powerful examination of post-war guilt, morality and the weight of history.



In film “The Reader” you are playing a part next to Kate Winslet who interpreted the character of Hannah Schmidt, a guard in Nazi concentration camp during II World War. What was is like to play next to Kate Winslet?
-Well, I’ve always been a fan of Kate Winslet since I saw her years ago, in “Sense and Sensibility” and I think her performance in this film is extraordinary. Sadly, in this film I’ve only had one scene with her which is the scene at the end of film. I wish I had more important scenes in this film, and I’ve had seen the film 3 times and every time I see more layers in her performance. I think that she had very strong chances of winning the Oscar.



Regarding the subject of the film that explores the guilt of Germany for Holocaust it seems that director of the film Stephen Daldry have tried to make Hannah more sympathetic character?
-I think this is an interesting question. That was not an intention of the director, to make Hannah more sympathetic. I think that a good actor for this role is very important, because the actor is an advocate for his role. The actor job is to indicate aspects of the role whatever they (characters) have done, you have to show the completeness of the role. Some people find it distributing and they mistakenly misinterpreting Daldry’s intention to show Hannah sympathetic. Michael is very traumatized by Hannah. And again he is in the position to keep her on distance. He is disturbed by what she has done. At the same time, he also experiences another side of her and he can not let go of that either. The film is not only about character of Hannah but also Hannah’s effect on Michael. The intention was to show human being.



What has made you accept the role in „The Reader“?
-I think, the scene that made me want to play in this film is the one, where writer David Hare tries to show his understanding by conversation with Ilana, mother, played by Lena Olin. This line leapt out „Do not go to a camp to look for catharsis go to literature, theatre, there’s nothing in the camps now there’s nothing in there.“ I think that everyone needs to respond to those lines, to its black hole. And there is no enlightenment by obsessing about it. Here Michael’s meeting with Ilana is the first where there’s indication that they might understand him. So emotionally this is beginning to talk about it He has never being able to speak about this before, so emotionally, this is the beginning of being able to talk about it. At the end of the film he starts to tell his daughter and I think that being able to talk about trauma, being able to give utterance to experience that has wounded him is the beginning of life, is, somehow, the beginning of the healing. And its interesting to compare, if you think about truth and reconciliation in South Africa where people are open and talk about atrocities committed over them. It is dialogue and discussion on a personal level to Michael and that is the beginning of a healing process.



Was it hard to play a Nazi in „Schindler’s list”?
-Every part presents different challenges. I wouldn’t say that it was any more challenging than playing Hamlet. Or playing in a “Constant Gardener”. My job is to get inside of spirit and head of another person. And the act is an advocate for a character. The actor should try not to judge character. Objectively I could be aware that audience would have reaction to the part. But I want the reaction to be as complicated as possible. Because I want to show the fullness and possibility of any human being. My character in “Schindler’s list” had sort of bizarre sense of humor; it was a challenge, but a pleasurable challenge. And of course, every single person during the shooting, in the crew was disturbed and moved, especially being and shooting in Krakow: there has been a strong emotion every time.



5. Do you know about reactions of German audience in Berlin on „The Reader“?


-I don’t know the reactions of Germans, the day after we opened the film I heard some journalist friends and they have said that the reviews are good. Clearly the reviews in England and America have been diverse, there has been mixed response. As it sparked a big debate, about film, I think it’s good to have conflicted opinion sometimes.



6. How do you choose your part?

-I just go on with instinct, feeling in my gut, we in England call it the gut feeling. And it is often to do with writing, characters, who’s directing the film and who I’m acting with. It’s a combination of things and it can be a big part or smaller role, it’s just a feeling often guided with a desire to do something different. For me, I have no problem with accepting the role in film, for instance, a dark comedy where I play English Mafia Boss. This is a part where I would never refuse to play but I thought about it with hesitation.




7. Tell us about the part in „Bernard and Doris“, it seems that you have got the best out of yourself?

-This was a small independent film, I loved it because for me, this is about having a courage to be who you are. Its about eccentric, lonely American multimillionaire and extremely alcoholic Irish gay battler who is also lonely. And I loved this story about friendship and intimacy, not a love affair, but profane friendship between two people. When I’m in the role, I’m there, in it. I guess that you feel that you have no subconsciousness'. On the other hand, you are reaching for the part. I loved playing this part. When we have made the film, we had no money and perhaps we thought the film will disappear. But of course HBO television picked it up and gave us the money to finish it. And there’s so far a good response.



8. Who is Ralph Fiennes really? -It’s a good question, I don’t know really. It’s hard and this is something that every actor would tell you. If you throw yourself into a part you play, you find yourself in heart, soul and brain of character. Yes, sometimes you can come home at the end of the day and wonder who you really are. This is, I guess risk of the job. I would be too embarrassed to talk about myself here anyway.




9. What about your next project that you plan to shoot in Belgrade, you will be a director of the film?

- I would like to shoot the film in Belgrade. It’s an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, set in modern time, in a modern city. And I’m hoping to raise finances to shoot it here this time next year. I’ve played in Coriolanus nine years ago and I believe that this is one of the dangerous Shakespeare’s plays because it’s a political thriller in essence. Even in 20th century, it has been put contraversionally, cause, it has been put on by socialist government. It is still alive as a piece today. But in heart of it, it is the relationship between mother and a son. It is a great portrait of civic unrest and I think it reflects so much of the world today.



10. Why did you choose Belgrade to shoot the film? -When you are looking for locations for shooting, of course the finances are the first what are you trying to factor in. One is a practicality of shooting, in Romania, where we have found many great locations but there has been located in a different part of the country, so the expenses of traveling were a fact too. The architectural mix that we see here in Belgrade is a mix that for me suggest history of city today, and locations are on a normal distances from each other. And we creatively and aesthetically liked the look of place. We can create the world that we were thinking of, and at the same time it would be financially efficient.
Radmila Djurica

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