• Christoph Hochhäusler © Andi Weiland - berlinergazette
    An auteur filmmaker
    through and through


Christoph Hochhäusler © Andi Weiland - berlinergazette

It is common knowledge that genre cinema is having a bit of a hard time in Germany. But what can we say – the presumed dead live longer, in part thanks to directors like Christoph Hochhäusler. His big-city thriller TILL THE END OF THE NIGHT about a trans woman and a gay undercover investigator has helped catapult German genre cinema into the 21st century. At the 2023 Berlinale, Thea Ehre received a Silver Bear for Best Supporting Actress for her role in the movie.

Hochhäusler is a border crosser who likes to combine auteur and genre film in his work. This was true of his early films such as THE CITY BELOW, in which he combined a city portrait, a financial thriller and a relationship drama against a biblical background. And it also applies to his highly anticipated new work, LA MORT VIENDRA (DEATH WILL COME). In this gangster film set in Brussels, a hitwoman (Sophie Verbeeck) gets caught between two fronts and goes from being the hunter to the hunted.

“Charles Mahr, a Brussels gangster, is struggling with his mortality. Can he continue to plot the course of his life until the end? Or will others write the ending? Assassin Tez enters the film as his tool; he guides her hand invisibly but she cannot remain neutral because her mission is contradictory,” the director explains on videotape. He wrote the story together with his long-time co-screenwriter Ulrich Peltzer. The new film includes motifs from the classic French gangster film but adds a modern female protagonist as a counterpoint – one who ultimately acts on her own behalf “and brings death like a gift”.

Hochhäusler, born in Munich in 1972, first studied architecture in Berlin, and then film directing at the University of Television and Film in the Bavarian capital between 1996 and 2004. He is an auteur filmmaker through and through, someone who formulates a “manifesto”, as he calls it, for each of his works – a kind of aesthetic objective. “What means can I use in my film to achieve clarity and coherence through exclusion?” Zooming in or hand-held camerawork have not been employed in his films to date, and the shot/reverse angle is also rare. “I shy away from utilising the camera to serve the narrative in a purely functional way,” says Hochhäusler.

He is far more interested in constructing a visual field that enables cinema-goers to see something in a new way, he explains: his approach is ingenious but also passionately down-to-earth.

Like Christian Petzold, Angela Schanelec and Thomas Arslan, Hochhäusler is categorized as a member of the so-called “Berlin School”. This term subsumes an artistic German cinema stylistically more diverse than the label might suggest. “The label came from the film critics and the ‘members’ took it very differently,” says the director with a smile. However, it does describe a genuine network of professional relationships and friendships that still exists today. “We gave Christian Petzold the script for LA MORT VIENDRA to read, for example, because he is a master of narrative economy.”

The tide of the “Berlin School” has ebbed to some extent, as artistic cinema in Germany is not having an easy time right now. Although there are currently ideas to reform film funding, a false self-image still sticks: “Why do business and art always have to go together?” There is a lack of trust in German film funding.

Hochhäusler and his now 13 co-partners discuss how to make films and what constitutes cinematic art in the film magazine “Revolver”, which is published twice a year. The magazine, which he founded in 1998 together with Benjamin Heisenberg and Sebastian Kutzli, functions as his “antidepressant”. The idea is “to organise the theory behind the practice by having people who make films talk about filmmaking in texts and interviews,” the director says. For Hochhäusler, thinking about film and making films definitely go hand in hand.

The director describes the cinema as a place “between the probable and the possible”. He sees this place, loosely based on Alexander Kluge, as an erotic rendezvous first and foremost. “You go to the film; the film doesn’t come to you.” And he is inviting us all on a tantalising date with LA MORT VIENDRA.

Jens Balkenborg