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Director Fatih Akin on the new film "Rheingold" about ex-gangster rapper Xatar

Created: 10/14/2022 3:04 p.m

In the interview, director Fatih Akin spoke about his new film “Rheingold”, his friendship with Xatar and the death of his father.

Berlin – Not a few cineastes consider Fatih Akin to be the best filmmaker in this country. Since his fast-paced feature film debut “Short and Painless” (1998), the director, screenwriter, producer and occasional actor, who was born in Hamburg on August 25, 1973, has become an integral part of the German cinema landscape.

In 2004 he was awarded the Golden Bear, the German Film Prize and the European Film Prize for “Gegen die Wand” with Birol Ünel, who died in 2020, and the former porn actress Sibel Kekilli in the leading roles. In 2014, “The Cut”, his cinematic reappraisal of the Armenian Genocide, received international attention. The film was first allowed to run uncensored in Turkey, but has since been withdrawn from circulation there. In 2018, his revenge thriller Out of Nowhere received a Golden Globe.

“Rheingold”: Life story of ex-gangster rapper Xatar

After the controversial horror-grotesque “Der Goldene Glove” (2019), with “Rheingold” he took on the life story of ex-gangster rapper Xatar, which oscillated between escape, prison stays and musical successes Sakraya—being embodied.

Der Rapper Xatar, mit bürgerlichem namen Giwar Hajabi (l-r), Fatih Akin, Regisseur, und Emilio Sakraya, Schauspieler, stehen auf dem Roten Teppich zu ihrem Film «Rheingold» im Cinemaxx.
The rapper Xatar, whose real name is Giwar Hajabi (from left), Fatih Akin, director, and Emilio Sakraya, actor, stand on the red carpet for their film “Rheingold”. © Georg Wendt/dpa

Fatih Akin and Marc Hairapetian have known each other since 2002. In 2014 they had an extensive conversation about “The Cut” and in spring 2015 they jointly presented “Focus on Armenia” in Wiesbaden’s Caligari FilmBühne.

In their latest interview, which took place on September 30, 2022 at Hotel SO/Berlin Das Stue, they not only talked about “Rheingold” and Fatih Akin’s friendship with Xatar, but also about his entire film work to date and the death of his father.

“Rheingold” is dedicated to your father, who died during filming. First of all, my sincere condolences. Wasn’t it extremely difficult for you to finish the film?

Thank you. Yes, of course it was very difficult. My father died on October 24th last year, two days before his 79th birthday. He wasn’t born in 1943, as his passport says, but in 1942. He wasn’t ill, but he was ready to leave at any time, according to the motto: “It could be over at any moment.” He also says in “Short and painless ’ this memorable sentence: ‘Like a film comes to an end, life comes to an end at some point.’

And that’s really how it ended for him. My father was still writing his memoirs. And there he writes that he was actually born in the winter months of 1942, but that his father registered him later so that he didn’t have to go into the military so early and could earn money for the family longer. We had a very good relationship, I’ll never really get over that.

Even if it’s not easy, let’s talk about your new film. The later part is staged like a mafia epic, but the beginning, set in Iran and Iraq, has almost political thriller elements. When I saw it I thought: Martin Scorsese meets Constantin Costa Gavras. Can you relate to this analogy?

In any case. The film is just bursting with film quotes and expresses my love for cinema very well.

So is “Rheingold” also a genre film for you?

Look, it goes like this: the idea was actually when I read Xatar’s book that everything should look like the viewer drives through landscapes, but there aren’t mountains and rivers, there are genres. It’s a political thriller, it’s a youth gang film or a coming-of-age story, but it’s also a music film.

I’ve always wanted to do a film about Yilmaz Guney, as you know. And he made his film “Yol – Der Weg” out of jail in a similar way to Xatar’s music. He wasn’t able to direct it himself, but his screenplay was smuggled out of prison. And here at “Rheingold” I was able to make a film about another Kurd…

…who was also in jail! This is also reminiscent of Costa-Gavras and his legendary political thriller “Z”, for which the composer Mikis Theodorakis, who was imprisoned in Greece, had to have the soundtrack smuggled out. After working intensively with Xatar, do you also have admiration for him?

Sure, of course. Above all, admiration for having lived such a life. Actually, it’s even three or four lives. “The first memories of my life are the memories of prison” – that is the first sentence in his book. The book is a lot of pulp, but the sentence is pretty crass. Just like he got through it all and didn’t speak under torture. Let’s put it this way: I find it all very fascinating.

And are you now good friends?

Yes. My father died and a week later his son was born. He asked me, “What was your father’s name?” “Enver,” I answered. And then he called his son “Anvar” by his middle name while we were shooting. It means “The Enlightened One” and that was my dad!

G (abbreviation for Giware Hajabi, which is Xatar’s real name) and I are deeply connected now, that’s a matter of fate after all. “Rheingold” was not a commissioned film. It wasn’t like Xatar came in with two suitcases full of money and said, ‘Here! Spin my life around!” I just read his book and knew: “I want to make a film of this!”

Had you heard his music before?

I didn’t know the music that well. I hardly listened to German rap. I hear that stuff now.

And, do you like it?

There are records that I think are great. All of the records from Haftbefehl are great. He is the Johnny Cash of German rap. I rediscovered Eno for myself. Xatar and I have an important friend in common: That is Moritz Bleibtreu.

He produced the film “Only God Can Judge Me” directed by Özgür Yildirim and Xatar played in it and contributed some songs to it. Moritz also produced “Familye” by Kubilay Sarikaya and Sedat Kirtan about small gangsters in Berlin-Spandau, while Xatar played along again. Is a cool part in black and white. Hence my connection to Xatar. But in “Rheingold” neither Moritz nor Xatar take part. Unfortunately!

I already interviewed Emilio Sakraya, who embodies Xatar, at this year’s Berlinale as the “European Shooting Star”. For “Rheingold” he literally had to let his hair down.

He’s just an excellent actor. We shot the scenes where he still has hair in the film first. And then Xatar shaved his bald head.

can he do that

He was in prison! There’s not much he can’t do.

Emilio Sakraya, who has long had a “pretty boy” image, is convincing in that he does not rely on sympathy and complacency in his performance. He actually comes across as rather gloomy. Even in the ending sequence, where he sits happily together with his wife and daughter, he has a poker face. He is more antagonist than protagonist in “Rheingold”…

As a gangster rapper Xatar, he also has limits. You can see that in the mafia scenes. That’s the point where he realizes: This isn’t mine. this is not my life Emilio brought so much with him to “Rheingold”. He even dragged his own brother onto the set. This plays the 17-year-old Xatar.

There is violent violence in your film, but it is used very carefully. The scenes where the head of the Kurdish clan, who everyone calls “uncle”, who seems so easygoing, suddenly shoots down an upstart at a meeting and all the young men present – except for Xatar – kick the half-dead man are shocking. The torture scenes in Iraq, for example when a guard pulls a tooth out of the imprisoned Xatar with pliers, are also violent. Is the mood on the set depressed during scenes like this or is it not, because shooting is a technical process?

the latter. It’s very technical and we laughed a lot on set doing it. I learned on The Golden Glove not to explicitly show a lot of violent scenes. The hint is the real horror that spins in the mind of the viewer.

For “The Golden Glove”, which I reviewed very positively, you had to take a lot of criticism overall.

Thank you for your review. The “Golden Glove” is my favorite film from my own productions.

In addition to “The Golden Glove”, I personally think your debut film “Short and Painless” is the best, and not only because of my Armenian descent “The Cut” about the Armenian genocide in the Ottoman Empire, which was also rated negatively by many critics in Germany.

“The Cut” has four stars out of five on Amazon! The audience celebrates the film! Almost ten years after I made it, people keep asking me about it. When I go to France, every Armenian who has seen the film tells me how much it means to them. And Xatar, who is Kurdish, said when asked what his favorite film of mine is: “‘The Cut’ is Fatih’s best film!”

You haven’t mentioned “against the wall”. Isn’t this brilliant success one of your own favorite films?

My films are all my kids. I look at them quite differently: I sort my life according to the films I’ve shot. That’s always very helpful. Each of my films, which always stands for a certain phase of my life, is an incentive to do better next time when I watch it again. I also differentiate between original materials and foreign materials. “The Cut” was original material based on historical facts. Soul Kitchen is a very personal film. Also “Against the Wall”. “Tschick”, on the other hand, is a foreign material, a commissioned work that I was happy to do. “Rheingold” is not an original material either.

Why have you been accepting so-called “foreign substances” again and again for quite some time?

I can’t wait for the muse to kiss me with original fabrics. That happens more like every seven years these days. I used to have more stories to tell when I was younger.

Do you really have less to tell now?

Original fabrics are like pimples – you have more of them when you are young. I’ve already said a lot of things that are important to me. And I hate repeating myself. There’s a saying among rappers, “The richer the rapper, the worse the record that comes out of it.” Now I’m not rich, but the life I live moves a lot in film worlds, but I don’t want to make films about directors in crisis like Paolo Sorrentino or Alejandro González Iñárritu do. The phase I’m in puts its focus more on the craft. I like “The Golden Glove” best because it is the high point of my work to date in terms of craftsmanship.

Now “Rheingold” starts in the cinemas. But what will your next film be?

I’m going to bring to screen a childhood story of his called “AMRUM” from a screenplay by Hark Bohm. This takes place on the North Sea island of the same name in the last week of the Second World War. This is really very far away from my original materials.

Speaking of “original materials”. Finally, let’s talk about “Rheingold” again. You were once in a youth gang in Hamburg. Even if the film is about Xatar – doesn’t that include personal experiences of yours?

Yes, of course. Certain things that I experienced when I was young were included in the production. When Xatar saw this, he confirmed it: “It was the same for me.” So there are things about petty criminals that are universally repeated. (Laughs out loud) For example, I wrote a scene with nunchakus that fell victim to the scissors. In it, the gang uses a sawn broom and a front door chain to produce the “choking wood”. But it breaks on the first hit. Maybe I should have left them in!

Almost all of the fight scenes in “Rheingold” are a tribute to Yoo Ha’s South Korean action classic “Once Upon a Time in High School: The Spirit of Jeet Kune Do” from 2004. He really has the best fights in film history at the end!

(Interview: Marc Hairapetian )

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