Space for the imagination

Franz Rogowski on breath control, Transit and the Kammerspiele

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Franz Rogowski with Paula Beer in Christian Petzold's Transit on Anna Seghers novel: "I read it because of the movie."
Franz Rogowski with Paula Beer in Christian Petzold's Transit on Anna Seghers novel: "I read it because of the movie." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

In the second half of my conversation with Franz Rogowski, we discuss the use of voice-over in Transit, breathing with Christian Petzold, his theatre work at the Kammerspiele in Munich, including Elfriede Jelinek's Wut and Toshiki Okada's No Sex and Terrence Malick's film Radegund. Franz told me that he loved Joaquin Phoenix, who just happens to be an actor he resembles in his performance for Jakob Lass's audacious Love Steaks opposite Lana Cooper.

Shot by Petzold's longtime cinematographer Hans Fromm, Transit stars Franz Rogowski as Georg, a young man who escaped a concentration camp into present-day Marseille. He travels through France in the hopes to obtain a transit visa and finds himself among refugees and while on a mission to deliver a letter, discovers a dead writer's unfinished manuscript.

Franz Rogowski on breathing with Christian Petzold: "I learned to focus my breath on set and also during our leisure time activities."
Franz Rogowski on breathing with Christian Petzold: "I learned to focus my breath on set and also during our leisure time activities." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Anne-Katrin Titze: Transit is a lot about breathing. "Atem" - "Es verschlug ihm den Atem" we hear in voice-over. And the Mistral is blowing. Did you work on breathing with Christian?

Franz Rogowski: Yes! We would leave and play Pétanque, in German we say Boules. With iron balls and a little wooden ball. You would throw it and try to get as close as possible. And he's a very good player, so if I wouldn't control my breath with him, I would just lose all the time. I learned to focus my breath on set and also during our leisure time activities.

AKT: There is a lot told by your body language in this film because of the voice-over. Once you sit and your back is completely round. Were you always aware what voice-over came when you were acting? Or were you surprised seeing the finished film?

FR: It was surprising. And I am also very happy that Christian chose a rather rational sound.

AKT: A matter-of-fact tone?

FR: The voice-over is pretty dry and down-to-earth. I think the images and the colours they are very juicy, like a strong orange, almost like an orange-brown and a very blue blue. It could have been dangerous to have the voice-over be too melodramatic. I think it works out.

Transit on the IFC Center marquee
Transit on the IFC Center marquee Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: It's nice that sometimes we hear exactly what we see and sometimes it is not at all true. The voice says "They kiss." And you don't kiss - which is beautiful.

FR: It's beautiful. Because there's some freedom. There's some space for your imagination.

AKT: The Anna Seghers novel, did you read it beforehand?

FR: Not beforehand. I read it because of the movie.

AKT: You did read it in preparation?

FR: Oh, yes. Through every page, I worked on the details. Got lost in the book.

AKT: Did you watch The Seventh Cross with Spencer Tracy? Are there any other movies based on Seghers's books?

FR: I don't really know.

AKT: Spencer Tracy does the minimum with his face to great effect. Maybe you are the new Spencer Tracy.

Franz Rogowski: "I love Joaquin Phoenix."
Franz Rogowski: "I love Joaquin Phoenix." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

FR: Maybe there's a connection.

AKT: Growing up, were there any movie actors you particularly loved? Before you yourself became an actor?

FR: I love all the actors! I love Joaquin Phoenix.

AKT: We [the competition jury] actually compared you to him when Love Steaks got the award at First Time Fest. You can be seen on stage at the Kammerspiele in Munich. Are you there still?

FR: I'm still very connected to the Kammerspiele but at the moment I can't do a new production there because of the shooting schedules [in the fall 2018]. It's not always possible to fly in for one show. If you work in the US or in South Africa, working abroad it's very hard to run the shows. At the moment there's just two shows at the theatre that I'm still playing.

AKT: Which two are those?

FR: No Sex and Wut - no Wurst.

Rendez-Vous With French Cinema, Transit and Bi Gan's Long Day's Journey Into Night at the Film Society of Lincoln Center
Rendez-Vous With French Cinema, Transit and Bi Gan's Long Day's Journey Into Night at the Film Society of Lincoln Center Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: Hold on, what is it - Wut [rage] or Wurst [sausage]?

FR: It's called Wut [by Elfriede Jelinek] but if you could write Wurst, I would like that. No Sex is the new piece by Toshiki Okada, a director that has also been touring in New York. He is very interesting and this piece is interesting.

It's about a group of asexual young guys that go to a karaoke bar and sing songs. Through the singing they try to understand and experience what made people in the past have sex. Maybe the karaoke is like a trigger. They don't really know but they want to understand. And they're good singers.

AKT: Did you do any German classics on stage?

FR: Like Hamlet?

AKT: Well, Goethe, Schiller?

FR: No classics. I had the possibility to do a classic.

AKT: Which one?

FR: I think we just talked about Hamlet once. No, wait, we talked about Woyzeck for a moment.

AKT: Oh, that would be great. I would watch that.

FR: I think London offered me Othello once.

AKT: Aren't you tempted?

FR: Yeah, at the moment I'm very happy with shooting movies. And renovating an apartment at the moment.

Transit poster at the IFC Center in New York
Transit poster at the IFC Center in New York Photo: Ed Bahlman

AKT: Where?

FR: In Vienna. I live in Berlin and I renovated an apartment in Vienna and I spend my free time in New York.

AKT: And the Terrence Malick film is coming up?

FR: No one knows when it will come up. Postproduction six months to six years.

Read what Christian Petzold had to say on Alex Brendemühl and George Romero in Transit, author Anna Seghers, Isabelle Huppert and Claude Chabrol.

Read what Franz Rogowski had to say on Christian Petzold, Transit and The State We Are In feature.

Read what Christian Petzold had to say on Franz Rogowski, a memory, an identity, and the language in Transit.

Transit is in cinemas at the Film Society of Lincoln Center and IFC Center.

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