“Donuts were the common currency on the set”
In the Berlinale JACK, a film about 2 young brothers left pretty much to their own devices was presented in the main competition. Throughout the entire film 10 year old Jack, taking up the fatherly role for his younger brother, tries to make his way back home. All the time we’re with him, hoping for him to succeed and gaining our immeasurable respect. The film is a tribute to his will to survive. In Zlin director Edward Berger and actor Ivo Pietzcker (12) explained about their delicate masterpiece.
Edward Berger: One sunny afternoon 4 years ago, my son and I were playing in the garden when a boy passed by carrying a schoolbag, which I found quite unusual on a Sunday. He waved and my son waved back “Hi Jack!” My son told me Jack lived in a nearby children’s home, spending Sundays with his mum. I found the image so powerful, a kid full of hope for the future, waving while walking towards the sun that I decided to transfer it into a film.
Did Jack ever find out?
Berger: No. A little later he left the home and they wouldn’t tell me his whereabouts. The force I saw in him was probably just a trick of the eye. But we met many children like him.
Through your research?
Berger: On Wednesday evenings we got together with the children in that home, listening to their stories. Before going to bed, they sat together in pyjamas and told us about their lives.
Ivo Pietzcker: Some of them even play in the movie. To get to know each other better, we had to build a raft together.
Did you ever wonder how much bad luck and misery you can put into one film?
Berger: I don’t see it as bad luck, the ending is hopeful. Through the final scene we realise Jack, from now on, can live the life of a child. I believe there is a future for Jack. This boy never gives up. Whatever happens, Jack will always carry on.
What about his mother?
Berger: We didn’t want her to be a shabby, alcoholic outcast. She’s doesn’t live in a grey suburb but right in the centre of Berlin. She could be the woman next door, a loving mother, although she is too young. Therefore a lot of responsibility is on Jack’s shoulders. That is often the case with children like him: they cook, go shopping, and do the laundry… They’re forced into the parental role.
How did you explain to your young actor about all the misery he should go through?
Berger: Ivo is a very independent but responsible child, moving around the city by himself. We both live at different ends of Berlin, but he often came to visit me, crossing the city on his bicycle or by subway.
Ivo: But different from Jack, I still live the life of a child. After school I play drums and football, and I like to be all by myself from time to time. But when I come home, a warm family is awaiting me there. I’m familiar with both sides, and that’s how I like it best.
Throughout the film your looks are getting more and more dirty and shabby.
Ivo: I had to let my nails grow. The first thing I did after we finished shooting was cutting them! My costume came in 4 sets, all in a growing state of dirtiness. We also had a make-up artist, who helped me to get a natural ‘dirty’ look.
How were you coached in your acting?
Ivo: My coach and me worked on the dialogues together, but my role was very well planned. You know what totally freaked me out? Every scene, even the simplest one, we had to do at least 15 times. Edward is totally obsessed. In the end he always chose the first take.
Berger: Not! I chose the most natural one. But it’s true we always did many takes, because every sequence was done in one shot, to give the audience a ‘real time’ feeling. And the acting should feel natural throughout the entire scene. But Ivo had great persistence. When he didn’t want to do another take, I had to buy him off with 10 donuts. Donuts were the common currency on the set for him and Georg Arms, playing little brother Manuel.
Ivo: There was a lot of betting going on on the set. Once we went to McDonalds, one of the boys betted Edward that he could eat 7 cheese burgers. Edward lost the bet and ended up singing a song in boxer shorts.
How did you get along with Georg?
Ivo: I treated him really mean, mobbing and teasing him constantly. He became the little brother that I never had. In other words: I was always mad at him. All the time you could hear him shouting on the set: “Ivoooooo!”
Did you work with both actors in the same way?
Berger: With Georg we worked strictly technical. He is so young and didn’t have many lines, except “I’m hungry” and “I’m tired”. We wanted a child that still looked like living in his own world, head in the clouds. Ivo’s acting was already more based on his own emotions.
Ivo: Basically Georg did what I told him to do: “Come on, let’s go there, let’s do this.”
The film looks so realistic, as if you randomly picked locations. But I’m sure you didn’t.
Berger: As the entire film takes place on Jack’s face, everything else becomes superfluous. That’s why we didn’t want the locations to be notable. We chose interchangeable looking places: parking lots, super markets, offices… They all look the same all over the world.
You made your young actor carry the weight of the entire movie?
Berger: Jack keeps the audience in a strong hold and forces them to identify with him, as the camera is constantly aimed at his face. ‘The actor is the movie’. This defines the impact of the film, as the audience can’t escape from him. In the casting we met many talented boys, but none of them had the right face. Ivo was pretty much the last one to walk in, but immediately I knew he was the one. He improvised with my wife, playing a teacher clashing with a pupil. He played totally angry, shouting at my wife. I was blown away by his performance.
How did you ease the tension on the set?
Berger: We went through a 48 days shooting, because of Germany’s strict regulations for young actors. Since the shots are so elaborate, we did maximum 3 or 4 shots per day. Between shots we played football or changed roles. Ivo turned out a nasty director, making me do all sorts of terrible things.
Ivo: I made him pick his nose on camera!
How was it to see JACK on the big screen?
Ivo: When I saw myself for the first time, it was nice! I remembered all the scenes and how it was on the set. In Germany the film will only be released in October, but some of my friends saw it and they liked it.
Who else would you like to see the film?
Ivo: Ronaldo, and Angela Merkel, and Dieter Kosslick (director of the Berlinale). I have a teddy bear named Dieter Kosslick!
Berger: You can put Gus van Sant and the late Vittorio De Sica on my list.