Kino! 2015 Interview: Christian Zübert (Director- ‘Tour De Force’)

Tour_De_Force_poster_kinoDuring a cycling tour to Belgium, a group of friends must deal with one of their friends decision to end his life with dignity, in this touching and profound drama.

Such as his father, Hannes is struggling with the degenerative disease ALS, and his recent decline has been so sharp that he has chosen to end his life in Belgium, where assisted suicide is legal. Shocked and saddened, the circle of friends struggle to accept his decision, nevertheless they turn their trip into a wild and unique tour.

Tour De Force‘ (Hin Und Weg) screened as part of Kino! 2015, where the year’s best German films come to New York City for a week of quality cinema. We spoke with the film’s Director Christian Zübert about his casting of premier German stars in the lead roles, its approach to the subject of Euthanasia, as well as ALS, and more.  In case you missed ‘Tour De Force‘ in New York, the film is available on DVD and Blu-Ray now.

Find more information & tickets to ‘Tour de Force’ at Kino!2015 – HERE

In the film, you are dealing with the death of a loved one suffering from ALS but it also has a lot of humor. What was the main struggle you had to create this balance of drama and humor?
Obviously that was the main challenge in the movie. I really planned to start the movie as a light comedy and my goal also was to tell the death in an honest way. I didn’t want to have an ending like someone jumps from a bridge with a nice Hollywood music in the background. I wanted to be honest and say that it’s a horrible thing to die at the age of 37. There is no real recipe for doing it other than being faithful to the characters and to the people. This was my basic recipe. I’ll start with a lighter tone, as a comedy but then try to stay faithful to the characters and see where the journey takes them.

Tour_De_Force_Kino!Speaking of the characters journey, how did you decide to portray them? The development of the friends is almost as important as what Hannes goes through.
The casting is definitely the most crucial element of the movie. I probably paid more attention to how the characters play together and how their chemistry is. This was even more important than the single characters. We started with the main character- Hannes and started building the cast from this character. Always seeing how the chemistry plays between them.

The Bikes have a character of themselves since the friends go on this tour with Hannes. The bikes were part of the audition as well. Every character could choose in the casting between 4 or 5 bikes and in the end we tried different combinations until we had the right combination between character and bike. Then we had also worked on this concept until we gave every bike a distinct sound. One is more smooth, the other more shaky. You probably didn’t hear it…

How did you manage to cast 2 major German actors in the film? Florian David Fitz that plays the lead and Hannelore Elsner is basically an Icon in German Cinema.
It was difficult to be honest. We didn’t put too much emphasize in the main character in the first draft. It was more about the friends and not about the guy who is dying.  So the lead role didn’t have more attributes apart from that he is the guy who’s going to die. He didn’t have a personal journey, or conflict. So we had to work on this character. Hannelore is probably one of the last Divas we have in Germany, which is great, we should have more divas like her (laughs).

The actors played very well together. How long did it take to cast them?
The cast took quite long, 3 months I would say. Sometimes in movies you have actors that have to change their personality, they become somebody else. For example, in historical pieces or when you have to undergo a transformation. For this kind of movie, I really wanted them to be themselves, as much as they could. I tried to cast them as close to their actual character. After this long casting process, I didn’t give many directions. I decided to let them go for a real natural feeling.

Tour_de_Force_Kino_2The film addresses a controversial subject about Euthanasia. In the US, it is considered illegal, and many countries in Europe, including Germany. In Belgium that is not the case. Was this a subject you wanted to address?
When I did the movie I didn’t intend to address this issue, only to make a film about characters and friendship, not political issues. But this question will always arise. I did research for this movie, with doctors who deal with ALS and when I talked to them, I hesitated in the beginning that we will make a movie about suicide, basically. What I found interesting was that doctors dealing with ALS are dealing with the subject of people killing themselves. Because they say this is a disease that is so horrible, with no hope. Unlike Cancer for example you have some downs, but also hopes. Maybe a couple of weeks are better than others but with ALS from the beginning you get the diagnosis it just goes downhill and they say it is such a horrible disease that you have to deal with the option of killing yourself. This gave me more confidence to tell the story like it is.

Did you have any other options for the ending?
Interesting question because we had some versions of the film where it ends with his death. It was an emotional decision not to end it like that. As I mentioned before, the balance between the real serious scenes and light-hearted scenes were the main challenges for me in this movie. I thought it’s not possible, I didn’t want a movie that starts quite light, like a comedy and then dark in the end. We thought about that other ending and finally decided against it.

Was there a reason you decided the protagonist suffering from ALS versus another disease?
I didn’t write the original draft of the screenplay. The original writer put the ALS in it. I think she had an uncle with ALS. To honor her and her family, I decided not to change it.

– Interview conducted, edited & transcribed by Lia Fietz
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