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Christian Friedel, Star Of The White Ribbon, Talks Oscars

By Rob Christopher in Arts & Entertainment on Mar 1, 2010 9:20PM

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Christian Friedel and Leonie Benesch in "The White Ribbon"
Every few years the Academy perversely nominates someone who's directly criticized Hollywood. Take Robert Altman: he made The Player and was nominated for Best Director. Well, the Academy has done it again this year.

Michael Haneke, director of The White Ribbon, once wrote, "My films are intended as polemical statements against the American 'barrel down' cinema and its dis-empowerment of the spectator." His previous film Funny Games is an explicit critique of the Hollywood suspense thriller, right down to its casting and infamous final twist. Yet Bookmaker.com gives The White Ribbon a 61% chance of winning Best Foreign Film.

Haneke's tale is is one of the most austerely unsettling films we've seen in a long time. Catch it while it's still playing. Beautifully realized in gorgeous black & white (cinematographer Christian Berger received an Oscar nom too) it's a brooding, hypnotic study of a small German town shortly before the outbreak of WWI. A series of baffling, illogical crimes slowly unbalance the town's inhabitants, and no one can agree on who's responsible. Gossip and hearsay spread like gangrene. Only the young bespectacled schoolteacher, played by Christian Friedel, seems capable of a clear-headed investigation, and it is through his character that we the audience gain insight into the odd behavior of the townsfolk.

Friedel is an accomplished stage actor, currently appearing in a production of Peer Gynt in Dresden, and also a musician with several albums to his credit. Check out our interview with him after the jump.

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photo by Tom Kamlah
Chicagoist: What were you doing when you heard your film was nominated? What was your first thought?

Christian Friedel: I was rehearsing for a new theatre-production and my colleague Burkhart Klau├čner told me that we have been nominated. It is amazing and it is like a dream come true, those were my first thoughts. I am really happy that the film has been noticed in the USA.

C: Will you be traveling to L.A. to attend the ceremony?

CF: Yes and this is amazing, too. I've never been to the U.S.A. and it's unbelievable that I will be able to attend the ceremony.

C: We've read that so far Herr Haneke has refused to offer any comment about being nominated. How do you think he feels about the news?

CF: I think he is very happy, too. The success of this movie is really unspeakable. I very much enjoyed working with Michael Haneke and I am also a fan of his films. His unwillingness to compromise, his preciseness and his love for his characters and stories fascinates me and I have so much respect for how cleverly and how well-prepared he goes about his work and films. He is strict, he pays very close attention to detail and he loves his actors. You can trust him one hundred per cent and that gives you great freedom to act despite his strictness.

C: The White Ribbon is your first film, yes? Looking at photos of you and listening to your music, you don't immediately make me think of the early 20th Century! How was it that you came to be cast in a period piece, playing a mild-mannered schoolteacher?

CF: Yes, this was my first featured film. I got the role as teacher through an old-fashioned casting session. Young men in their late twenties who could play piano were sought. I had to go to Berlin four times for the auditions and it was a huge honor for me that the auditions were conducted by Michael Haneke himself - just through those I was able to learn a great deal because of that. Later the atmosphere on set was so authentic, that you often felt yourself displaced in time.

C: Tell us about your music. It seems to be going in a more electronic direction than your earlier stuff.

CF: I compose almost all of my songs by myself and taught myself piano many years ago. Above all I love to sing and I hope that I can devote more time to music in the near future. I love all kinds of music and I can be inspired by anything. I am, as with my acting, not so easy to pigeonhole. This can be something positive, but also negative. I love early Tori Amos, Goldfrapp, Thom Yorke and Radiohead and I'm also a fan of Mike Patton. As far as film composers are concerned, I think Elliot Goldenthal is one of the best.

C: What other projects are you working on? Are you ready to do another movie?

CF: On stage I'm involved in many different shows, for example Peer Gynt. My next premiere is the title role in Friedrich Schiller's Don Carlos and the priest from The White Ribbon, Burghart Klau├čner, plays the role of my father in this production. I would very much like to work in both fields - in both film and theatre. It's not yet been revealed when the next film will occur, but it'll happen. Haneke has advised me to choose carefully - a good book, a fascinating director and a good role ought to be the ingredients. And my lovely agent Sandra Rudorff will help me choose.