In just a few minutes, the Festival Award short film “Liquidation” can create discussions that will last for hours. In the film, a young couple are visiting his grandfather before he is punished for his Nazi involvement. There they are faced with a difficult moral decision.
We were able to talk with director Matthias Zuder about the audience reaction to that moral decision, the roles of Nazis in cinema and the humanity of the whole story.
Heartland Film Festival: The performance of Horst Westphal is so incredible because he is unrelenting and doesn’t seem to have any remorse for his past actions. With so many Nazis depicted in movies, what did you want to accomplish with his character?
Matthias Zuder: I wanted make a movie about opportunism and humanity. In this context, I thought it is important to present a human being, not the classic “Nazi-monster”. In the end, those people who did those incredible terrible things, they were people like us. Many of the cinema stereotypes of “classic Nazis” don’t remind me of that. So we are seduced to step aside, and feel that the actions of those people have nothing to do with the way we are, or as we live today. The novelist John Littell once wrote, “Those, who kill, are human beings exactly like those who get killed, that’s the awful truth”.
When you start watching the movie and you don’t know anything about it, you wouldn’t think that this nice grandpa is guilty for the murder of thousands of people. It seemed interesting to me that I can give even a point of view of a person like this old man, who stands for his actions, but not for his guilt. His first problem seems not to be the massive traumata in the past, but the missing love of his relatives in the present days. That’s so human too.
Heartland Film Festival: With short films, every minute needs to count. What did you do to make this as tight as possible? For this could easily be the setting for a full-length play.
Matthias Zuder: I think that what is really convenient on making shorts anyway, that it allows you to make it tight as possible and reduce the story to its core. This was my graduation work at film school, and right from the start, we knew that our budget allows us to make a maximum 20 minute short film. There was also no discussion about extending it back then.
But for those who might be interested, I have to admit, that my screenwriter and I are working on a full-length cinema adaption with that subject matter. We are still intrigued by this story, and felt that there is so much unused in it that we should tell.
Heartland Film Festival: The moral question at the center of the story is so fascinating. Have you wrestled with any sort of conclusion about it or is it your job as the filmmaker to keep an open mind to both sides? Like would you be upset if you found out some of the funding for this movie came from drug dealers or are you able to focus on what good that money can be used for?
Matthias Zuder: When I had the screening at the Austrian Film Festival this February, I used the full theatre audience at the Q&A for a little experiment. I asked the 400 people: “Who of you can assert that you would haven’t taken it with a 100 percentage guarantee?” Just four or five hands raised up in the air. The moderator went quickly to one of them to ask him why he could be so sure about this. He said, “A natural, moral human sense would command one.”
The moderator insisted if it is a difference, to think about this in a theatre chair, or being alone with the decision in a silent chamber with the gold in your eyes, knowing that no other one will see your decision. He admitted, “That could be true…”
Then I asked the audience a second question. “Who of you can say that you would have taken it?” Silence. As I saw, that there was not a single hand up in the air, it became obvious that 99% of the audience couldn’t come up with an answer to both of my questions. It seemed to me that I had hit a central human dilemma with that example. Morals are not a given thing; they have to be tested in each and every generation. So, I believe that it is too easy to claim, “I would have never participated in any of those crimes”. No one is excluded. Moral principles are generously overlooked when a nice opportunity is in sight.
While making this movie we had a lot of discussions about what each one of us would do in a situation like that. And again: the answer isn’t unambiguous. Don’t we all who live a fairly safe and wealthy life in the Western world profit from the work of those not so privileged? I believe that it is important to ponder over this issue, regardless whether you come up with a viable answer to this issue or not.
Heartland Film Festival: You have made a number of short films in narrative and documentaries. What is the appeal to short form storytelling?
Matthias Zuder: I guess there is more than one. It depends on what you’re out for. But first and foremost the ultimate appeal might be the same than to write a script: “You shall not bore.” Sometimes a boring feature length films would make perfect short and vice versa. It’s all about the capacity of a story.
Heartland Film Festival: Are you working on a next project?
Matthias Zuder: Yes. I’m on writing two feature film projects right now, together with different co-writers.
Heartland Film Festival: What are the films that have inspired you as a filmmaker?
Matthias Zuder: I guess there are no certain works or titles that I can specify. But many movies of directors such as Ingmar Bergman, Roy Andersson, Michael Haneke, Lars von Trier, Ulrich Seidl, Thomas Vinterberg, Werner Herzog, and Gus Van Sant did definitely leave a mark on me.
- Friday, October 18 at 10:15 a.m. at AMC Castleton Square 14**
- Friday, October 18 at 3:45 p.m. at AMC Castleton Square 14**
- Sunday, October 20 at 12 p.m. at AMC Traders Point 12**
- Monday, October 21 at 3:15 p.m. at AMC Castleton Square 14
- Tuesday, October 22 at 2:45 p.m. at AMC Traders Point 12
- Wednesday, October 23 at 5:30 p.m. at Wheeler Arts Community
- Friday, October 25 at 6:45 p.m. at AMC Castleton Square 14
- Saturday, October 26 at 8:15 p.m. at AMC Castleton Square 14
**Matthias is scheduled to be in attendance for the following screenings.