With his debut feature film Whatever Happens Next, German director Julian Pörkson tells the story of Paul, who leaves behind his comfortable life and chooses an existence guided by coincidence and chance. “Paul can go wherever he wants, which was a lot of fun in the writing.”
Pörksen’s previous shorts film Sometimes We Sit and Think and Sometimes We Just Sit also focused on an older character, a fifty-something man who chooses to already live in a retirement facility. Having now made two films about escaping the comforts of bourgeois life, isn’t this director in his early thirties a bit young for a midlife crisis? “You are never to young for a midlife crisis”, Pörksen jokes via e-mail. “No, seriously: I am attracted to those figures because their way of behaving, their escape from society, tells you a lot about the way we live, the things we think are important, our wishes, fears and the unspoken rules that govern our behavior. Since they are provocations they can pose a very important question to the audience: How do you want to life? What is important for you?”
How did you choose and construct the characters who Paul meets along the way? They all, and especially Nele, have to react to a person without a real core.
“I tried to enter many different worlds and situations with him, meet different people with different problems and ways of living, so we can get an impression of our society. Which is easy: you can just follow Paul, he can go wherever he wants (which was actually quite fun in the writing). Everyone has their own story, their own attitude towards him. They project their needs and fears onto him. For some its a longing for freedom (the student, the gardener), for others its their fears (the family at the funeral), or they just find him useful or entertaining (like the HIV-grandma).”
“Many of those people are based on impressions, experiences I had. Nele is a special case. She is somehow the other half of Paul. He has left society on his own terms, he is an outcast by choice. She is an outcast by fate, not able to find her way into the ‘normal life’. So she finds someone with whom she can share her loneliness for a while. The absence of a ‘core’ is a problem and a gift as well. It allows you to enter a very playful way of living the moment… Also Paul is not completely without a ‘core’, he cares a lot, for example in Poland where he stays with a guy he never talked to until he dies.”
Your book Verschwende deine Zeit focusses on ways of doing nothing, and not-doing or not-choosing are also important themes in the film. They would seem to clash with the classical idea of narrative, which is built around conflict and ‘stuff happening’. How do you feel about this (supposed) contradiction?
“It was very interesting that many people had a huge problem with this issue before we made the film. They couldn’t imagine a main character like this who is somehow passive. But I think the result shows that there is an interesting joy to this experience. I think film can be much more than those kinds of narratives where you have a plot and the classical conflict. You need a problem, a question, a mood, but not necessarily this kind of constructed conflict. That is only one possibility. Tarkowski, Godard, Pasolini, Fellini, Jarmusch, Anderson – they all do something very different with film, create intense moods or dreamlike experiences, discuss philosophical problems, celebrate a way of living and experiencing the world.”
Why Lodz, and the other locations in the film? Were your destinations as random as Paul’s own?
“Somehow, yes. Of course I was interested in places outside of the normal cinematic landscape, I didn’t want to shoot in Berlin, Hamburg, et cetera. Also I wanted Paul to go to a country where he doesn’t speak the language, where he is truly alone, so I needed to go to a place where not that many people speak English. I didn’t want to go south because its such a cliche in Germany, this longing for Italy etc. So I chose Lodz, an old industrial town with a very special atmosphere… For the end of the film I wanted to go to the sea, that seemed important, so I chose one of the ugliest cities in Germany: Kiel. It was fun going to those places you wouldn’t expect.”
“Before shooting I talked a lot with the DoP, Carol Burandt von Kameke. He was a great partner, we pushed each other, looking for the right style, mood, movement. We wanted to give the three parts of the film (Leipzig – Lodz – Kiel) a different touch. Leipzig: very much alive, fast – because we are at the beginning, experiencing the freedom of Paul. Lodz: slow, dreamlike, gliding – it is the part were realities mix and death is very close. And Kiel: fast, hand-held, impulsive – like Nele and their relationship… For the detective we chose a more calm, distant way of showing him and his work, until he gets infected by Paul…”
Indeed, it seems Paul’s carefree attitude is contagious to many of the people he meets along the way. How did you conceive of this effect?
“He is very contagious, yes. Because he represents a very common wish: Being really free – not caring about money, about the future, security, a career. It seemed important to me that we see both sides of his way of living: the attractive side and the brutal one. He represents an unsolved problem.”