Showing at last years FrightFest Till Kleinert’s amazing movie has stayed with me ever since and now its time for the rest of the world to experience this nightmarish horror thriller.
Featuring stand out performances from the brilliant Pit Bukowski and Michel Diercks (who was late to our interview) I was lucky enough to talk to all three (eventually) during FrightFest about making The Samurai, German cinema and the perils of playing supernaturally skilled characters in real life.
Beware this contains spoilers
Love Horror: I have to say I have watched a lot of horror films over FrightFest but The Samurai has really stayed with me it just keeps popping back into my head.
Till Kleinert: That’s good, that’s nice. I hope it’s the same for other members of the audience after coming out of the whirlwind of the FrightFest experience it would be nice for this to be one of the films that might sit there for a while.
Love Horror: For me the reason it stayed is because it is such a dreamlike movie and in the same way fragments of those dreams or nightmares come back to you so does The Samurai. Was that your intention Till when directing it?
Till Kleinert: Yes most definitely. Whenever I had to distil the film down to a pitch I would always refer to it as a nightmarish thriller which means of course its movement is not at all times rationally explainable. That was very deliberate. It makes sense it would come back to some people as when a film doesn’t resolve as neatly as you might like then it plays on their mind.
There have been questions from people telling us they were expecting Jakob (Michel Diercks) to at some point realise that there is only one that there is only him and that the samurai (Pit Bukowski) is just some sort of reflection of his personality which in a way is sort of the case or you could say the samurai serves that kind of purpose in the narrative but for me that doesn’t make it necessary to actually resolve that because that’s what fantastic cinema is all about for me, to make these sort of shadow selves flesh and to have them have an impact on the real world. So it was always about not resolving everything too tightly because it’s about some sort of inner turmoil of our hero that sort of gets resolved in the end but not in a happily ever after way meaning some of the turmoil is still there and I think it’s good if the audience also leaves with that.
Love Horror: I think the way your character The Samurai moves is very dreamlike from his enhanced almost mystical martial arts skills to the haunting dance sequence which I loved. What were you thinking when you crafted that character?
Pit Bukowski: I always had in mind Rutger Hauer from Blade Runner and The Joker somehow with the anarchy but in a way for example handling the sword even though I had sword classes it shouldn’t look like a samurai warrior it should look someone really uncontrolled, unleashed more like a child who you hope won’t hurt anyone with it. I didn’t try to act very nightmarish it was more that I was aware of the iconic factor, I knew a lot of things would be done by the movie. There are a couple of scenes that people would describe as the Kinski way of doing things but it was a combination of factors. Rutger Hauer was definitely a major influence the way he moves how light he is.
You are playing a monster, an animal and it’s linked to the wolf in the story so you had the wolf noises and some of the looks. At times you (Till) said “Okay now it’s like the wolf moment” where I would breathe like a wolf.
It was pretty draining actually during that night shoots as you have a character that can run through the dark barefoot, is faster and stronger than everybody else and doesn’t get hurt at all or if he does get hurt he doesn’t care and it was really crazy because they really expected me to do all this for real. They expected me to run in a pitch black forest and they would run in front of me with the camera and a light in my face blinding me.
Love Horror: I never thought of that side of it and the immense physical demands of playing this seemingly unstoppable highly skilled God of chaos character when are just a normal human being. I have to say you never dropped a beat or missed a step the performance was amazing.
Pit Bukowski: In the scene at the water lock I have the sword and I jump on the fence and I was so tired that I wasn’t sure if I could make that jump. I didn’t know if it was gonna work because I can’t concentrate. That happened a lot of times for example there is a sprint I do on one of the streets and I had to do it 20 or 30 times, sprinting down the alley bare footed you know. At the end of it my feet where black and blue and all cut open. I was pretty fit for that movie though but still.
Till Kleinert: (Laughing) There’s some outtakes of that movie that are just so funny like there is a scene where he runs in the dark through the forest and Jakob and the camera are following him and the only light source for Pit to see was the flash light of the main character that sort of lights his way. There are outtakes where Pit will just lose track completely and the camera will lose him and we were saying ‘where is he, where is he!’ He was almost going into the river at some point Pit was like ‘oh shit I can’t go on down here!’
Pit Bukowski: We knew that any move had to be very light since the character is so iconic you knew that you would betray the character if you made it look week at some point. That’s also something where the movie helps me a lot because the film doesn’t work if the guy doesn’t seem like a super hero. (Laughing) That’s why the moments where I failed as a human where taken out.
Till Kleinert: (Laughing) I graciously edited them out. There only for the outtakes.
Pit Bukowski: It’s actually something you get confidence from when you’re an actor because you know there will be bits where you seem superior in the film.
Love Horror: Although if you go onto a film with another director they may just expect you to really be able to do all these things. Till what was the genesis of The Samurai?
Till Kleinert: Right this will now sound very metaphysical and clichéd and artsy. You know there are lots of themes and agendas running through the film but that’s not where its starts, it starts with one central image that comes to me like in a dream sometimes or even in a day dream, if that doesn’t sound too cliché, like a lucid day dream where all of a sudden you depict this one clear thing. In this case it was going by train to Berlin from the Baltic Sea and you pass through the countryside and you have all these little villages by the side of the tracks. They are very small and they almost look like miniatures huddled together with the shutters down and it was at dusk so I started to depict this figure, this slender guy in a dress with a sword just rattling it along the fences while no one else was on the street and everyone else is scared.
So that image was just there and I really liked that image so it’s like an archeologist who finds a shard you then want to find the rest of the vase so then you go exploring and that’s basically how it works. During that analysis that comes you sort of put everything together so there is another person, there is a policeman who is actually trying to stop him and what is there connection and their relationship.
Love Horror: So it was quite an organic process growing from that one image you had?
Till Kleinert: Exactly and it’s more fun like that as well because it makes everything feel much more alive and realm in my own mind as opposed to ‘well this is very obviously supposed to be a metaphor for this’ you know. This would make it a bit more technical maybe.
Love Horror: I think as you said before one of the great things about The Samurai is that it’s not overly explicit what it is about. It has a lot of themes and ideas in it but the viewer draws out what they want to from it. A lot of other films especially American films would have been much heavier handed in saying ‘this is what it’s about and that’s it’
Till Kleinert: I would be as specific as saying in the end it has become a film about a liberation of sorts but to what extent that’s up to the audience to draw from it. I have done things but I won’t tell the audience how to read it. I just hope they enjoy it and they can continue to get something from it.
Love Horror: Pit how did you get involved with the movie initially?
Pit Bukowski: Myself and Till did a short film together called Cowboy 2007 and after that we did another short The Boy Who Wouldn’t Kill where Till assisted and another Dr. Ketel so we had done three movies before The Samurai and I figured he had me in mind when he wrote the part.
Till Kleinert: That’s true.
Pit Bukowski: So I was involved very early in fact I also helped with casting when it came to the character of Jakob who ended up being Michel Diercks.
Till Kleinert: That’s true too. You know he’s not coming down here so we can trash talk (Laughing) no but since it was very clear from the beginning Pit should be the Samurai the challenge was to find someone to play opposite him. Pit has a very go for the throat no shit attitude and he can come on pretty strong and we needed someone who was sort of the opposite, not someone who uses the same instruments. Here we have someone who is a policeman but he is the most unlikely policeman ever. He has no sense of natural authority whatsoever.
To have someone who can be that character but still be gracious about it, still be interesting to watch, not someone you just think is a wimp is hard. It was very important to me he had this sort of soft unfinished quality to him this almost boyish innocence from a fairy tale like the innocent kid going into the forest and becoming a man.
Pit Bukowski: And there he is.
At this point Michel Diercks enters the room.
Till Kleinert: We’re just talking about you. Anyway so Pit helped us in the castings being the opposite player during the read and Michel was the best. He was the best with Pit and also he was the best in one of the auditions where he had to dance. In fact this was the thing that convinced us the most. To me the film is also about a guy who would never ever feel comfortable with dancing in public so to speak so we gave Michel a song to which he would dance all alone in his room. The song was a song by Julee Cruise from the Twin Peaks soundtrack called Into the Night. It’s very hard to dance to that song, you can sort of sway but that’s it and he did it. It was fantastic you could feel so much of Jakob’s bottled up sensuality in there. You find a lot of those moves in the dancing scene in the film they are all his.
Love Horror: So Michel as we were just talking about it and you’ve just arrived what was that audition like?
Michel Diercks: For me it was great because I really had the feeling that there was an interaction it wasn’t just one direction and I felt great after the casting because I really liked these guys.
Love Horror: Even though they made you dance?
Michel Diercks: (All laughing) Yes.
Pit Bukowski: It was great because the casting scene was me just doing random shit and yelling at him and he had to stay very calm and keep going and keep me busy somehow. He was the only one who managed to keep going.
Till Kleinert: The set up was that he was a policeman coming to a place and there is a guy who will not leave and it’s his job to keep things calm. It’s funny because he managed it even though he never once raised his voice whereas the others who did it at some point resorted to violence because they had no other choice because they had been aggravated so much. Michel kept to himself and that was really impressive.
Pit Bukowski: I broke off the scene in the end because I had to laugh because I couldn’t think of anything more to do.
Till Kleinert: The whole dynamic of the two characters throughout the whole film you could sort of see in utero in that little casting interaction.
Love Horror: Where was the setting, is it a real town?
Till Kleinert: It’s a composition of parts of several towns. I was looking for locations that had this archetypal ‘not of Berlin’ feel to them. Since most of these towns are very widespread within the forest and you would have little settlements there and there and you would never quite know where the town ends and the forest begins that helped us because you didn’t need a specific geography. It wasn’t like he needs to go around that corner and we need to pick him up in continuity at another corner we were very free. It’s almost like a model or a miniature town like the one we have in the film which is also a condensed version of an actual city and I think in the same way we created that town, that area from little bits and pieces of villages in a parameter of 20 or 30 kilometers.
Love Horror: Michel having heard what the shot was like for Pit what was it like for you?
Michel Diercks: It was one of my first shots especially this long, like 30 nights, I never shot at night before actually. It was intense. I learned a lot I can definitely say that. I was always running literally and also because I was almost in every scene so I was busy every day and at every hour.
Pit Bukowski: So he was warm and I was not!
Till Kleinert: You didn’t have too much time to think about everything which is good I think.
Michel Diercks: Yes for me it was great.
Love Horror: So what’s next for all of you either together or separately?
Pit Bukowski: I have several coming up and I am shooting several most of it is TV but every now and then it’s a cinema movie with the guys who always make the movies in Germany. I guess I should be happy to one of those but it’s nothing like the quality of The Samurai or anything and nothing that would interest anybody outside of Germany. There is another independent film called The Bunker which is maybe going to have an equal way to The Samurai. I shot it straight after and it was a very very draining shoot too. Plus I play music and sing.
Michel Diercks: I am just about to finish acting school and I have several projects just like independent stuff and I just had my first TV shoot this month. It had a cool cast and it was interesting but I can’t tell you much about the industry from the inside, not yet anyway.
Till Kleinert: And I am writing write now the next thing which is supposed to be a television series which I have had in my mind over the last 7 or 8 years.
Michel Diercks: Before TV series was cool?
Till Kleinert: Before everybody now everybody wants to do one yeah thank you. I never really pursued it because I was in film school still and I thought well in film school you don’t really develop a television series and now everybody thinks it’s cool.
Michel Diercks: (Randomly interjecting) Why did the hipster drown in the lake?
Till Kleinert: (Confused) What why did the hipster drown in the lake?
Michel Diercks: Because he went ice skating before it was cool.
Pit Bukowski: The thing is as we said movies like The Samurai as sad as it is in Germany they are fucking none existent there is nothing like The Samurai in Germany or has been for years so if Till constructed even a reactionary soap or anything that is just a little bit more his style it would be completely new in Germany.
Till Kleinert: That’s what I am going for.
Love Horror: So you are trying to shake things up?
Till Kleinert: Hopefully but not for the sake of shaking things up not because I want the attention but because I would like to have an environment in which these things which I love can be made and I can work on them.
Pit Bukowski: It doesn’t take much to shake things up!
Till Kleinert: Yes so I don’t really need to make much of an effort (Laughing) but still I will. It’s a horror mystery sort of thing and I am going to go to Paris to write it. I have a scholarship residency for three months hopefully coming back with a script for a pilot which hopefully will be shot next year and let’s see if it gets picked up and hopefully made.
There is also an adaptation I have been writing the first draft of of The Colour Out of Space by H. P. Lovecraft like a modern day adaptation and it’s a very loose adaptation but still the main concept is still there that there is a meteorite coming down and the whole landscape and nature of the surface of the planet slowly changes and evolves over the course of several months. I figure that in order to get it done really really nicely the way I want it it would be quite expensive. I would really want to have practical effects of plant life that is sort of weirdly changed and twisted. I figure that this would be 1 or 2 million so maybe at some point I will have enough reputation to be given that kind of money.
Love Horror: Well good luck with all those projects and thank you so much for talking to us.
The Samurai is out on DVD and On-Demand on the 13th April.