Self-Criticism of a Bourgeois Dog is perhaps as twisted and funny as its clever title. The far-fetched comedic script tells a tale of how a bourgeois dog was transformed into a filmmaker, after taking a job on an apple farm while pretending to do research for a communist fairy-tale, to which he offers the lead to a girl he’s infatuated with. They both end up working on the plantation with a mix of absurd clashing characters, which end up uniting in a faux revolution, when they think they have killed the landowner’s dictator.
Earlier this year, the German indie film had its world premier in the Rotterdam International Film Fest before making its recent German debut at Berlinale. LRM had a chance to speak with director Julian Radlmaier, who is also the lead actor/bourgeois dog in the film. Read below what Julian had to say about the film, politics, being a filmmaker and what’s, next when we chatted with him in his hometown of Berlin.
LRM: Tell me about your film and, it was a very intriguing story line. It was quite comical, actually. Tell me how the story came together?
Julian: I think I start with different mostly political questions and then start to play around with them. This basic idea was perhaps that I would-- I started differently. Before I had made a film that was talking about the working class and for the next film I was wondering about what's my position as a filmmaker to all this in reality. I said, "Okay, I should make a film that also includes me in." I then started to play with all the consequences this might have and, yes.
LRM: How much of you is part of this character?
Julian: We share probably a basic position in society. We're both probably beginning filmmakers that are trying to make a career, let's say, and that have some political ideas. I hope that this character's a bit more phony than me. I think it's definitely not me but we share some stuff but perhaps he represents some worries I have in relation to my position in society and also to my own life means like him.
I was wondering like him being a filmmaker that deals a lot with political questions. What consequences do I draw from my personal life, from some ideas I like and I find right, and what sacrifices would I be willing to do perhaps for a more equal society? The beginning purposes questions, why do I think that I have the right to become a filmmaker and other people should pick apples so that we have apples on our catering during the shooting?
It's perhaps a stupid question and a very naive question but this is something that intrigues me. Why are tasks in society distributed as they are? Why some peoples have to do shitty jobs and other people are allowed to make nicer jobs? This character, perhaps he's extremely worried that he has political ideas but when he gets confronted to-- when his own position is in danger and he's against-- he's afraid to-- he wants to climb up the social ladder as fast as possible again.
LRM: In the film, you said, “to change reality we need miracles and I don't believe in miracles.” What is your take on that?
Julian: That's very ironic in the film, but I think that's why the guy gets transformed because he feels very comfortable in ideas like equality, being something that exists only in art, but in reality he doesn't like it so much because it could mean that he suddenly finds himself on the same level like these workers from the apple plantation, that's what he doesn't really like.
He would like to be cherished as a political filmmaker. Perhaps get a nice university job and retrospective at MOMA. That's more the life he imagines and his communism-- he is someone who uses a radical chic to basically build his career. I would say yes I think I would like to- and then he says, "I don't believe in miracles." But he gets transformed into a dog. This expresses my hope that people can still change, there could be a miracle, and that dreams about the better society could come true. Some people telling us it's not possible, perhaps they do it because they have an interest that things stay as they are.
LRM: It's a hopeful message. How do you think it applies to the world today? I mean, I know that there's a political undertone in the film and with what's going on in the world today politically, do you think that there's a connection to that?
Julian: Well, definitely. I think that the rise of a lot of creepy political neo-fascists figures around Europe and in the States comes from the fact that a lot of people suffer from the ravages of capitalism and our societies have lost any idea of a positive, of a progress. Not in a technological sense but a human progress, they lost all dreams about a better and more equal world, and if they do then it never applies to the core.
We have become self-sufficient and saying, "Okay, nowadays we have a lot of freedoms." Which is right but still people get exploited and I think this basic exploitation for a lot of people creates a lot of frustration, and unrest, and fears, and if there's no positive answer given to people other than, you have to adopt even better to the world markets if you want to survive, if that's the only answer the society can give to people. Then it's logical that some-- I think that some fascist figures will come and say, "Well, the problem is not capitalism but the problem is foreigners or whatever." They will just lead the frustration of people to some goal-- how do you say in English, I don't know?
Julian: They were distracted to something else. And I think it's very scary because this is what already happened in history. Also, in a similar way, I don't know, in the '20s and '30s. Yes, I'm a bit concerned. I hope that there's a bit of a Utopian moment in this movie that tries to give a more positive answer to the problems of the world.
LRM: Did you grow up in the East or the West part of Berlin?
Julian: I come from the West.
LRM: In the film there seems to be a political divide, in regards to communism and democracy?
Julian: Yes, the communists-- the movie also, doesn't at all defend the historic communist regimes, on the contrary. It's very clear that some characters have this past, they come from the east and we sure don't want that again. But I think that there's something still true in the communist idea that was never really realized in the so-called communist state, and in the movie that's called a communist and was not communist. You could also call it, I don't know, some kind of basic democracy or whatever.
LRM: An ideology.
Julian: One basic idea of communism is very simple. It's not-- some people work for the wealth of other people, and this is something that creates a lot of problems and perhaps we should find a way to make a world in which this basic structure of exploitation doesn't exist and you don't even have to call it communism. Perhaps there's another word for it, but I think for me this is a very interesting question I wanted to have in the movie. Why do some people have to do very shitty jobs, very badly paid so that other people can get very rich? That's so--
LRM: And how does that apply to you as perhaps a struggling artist or indie filmmaker?
Julian: I still can't make a living from that and have other jobs to support that.
LRM: Do you think the apple pickers in your film for example, may have a more relaxed life?
Julian: I'm not so sure of that. I think that's tricky because [I come from] a middle class background and I feel much more secure. For example, also in Germany if me-- that has a university degree, if I can't make a living from my movies I am in a much better position than someone that didn't finish school, for example. I know that I'm in a privileged position.
I think still, of course, filmmaking also has brought some problem, but that shouldn't make us all cynic to say an apple worker has like easier life because I think someone who has a job like this gets so badly paid that it's almost impossible to survive. He would probably ruin his health. Filmmaking might wreck my nerves but not if I can make a career, I will probably live still in better conditions.
And the questions more for me like there's someone that is privilege like this should not lose its solidarity with people that earn another position, especially if sometime in your life you have to do shitty jobs, you get a feeling how it might be to be in a really shitty situation. But instead of developing them some solidarity with those people everyone just hopes to get out of this as quickly as possible and forget about it.
LRM: Why did you choose to film on an apple farm?
Julian: I don't know, I was looking for a place like this where you could gather a lot of different characters. It could have also been a factory, but that was for production reasons not possible. So we were looking for something simple and then first we thought of strawberries, but that was not too complicated because strawberries are delicate to handle and so if you don't pick them immediately in the morning at five at noon already they start rotting.
And then I liked this idea-- what was nice about the apples is we could play with this idea that there's two characters who think this might be paradise on earth. An apple garden sounds like-- it's a bit like something nice in the world, the nature that produces apples and fruits and that can feed us there gets transformed into some kind of industrialized version of it and suddenly it's at this dystopic place or it had this paradise connotation, but then it's very dystopic place and so I liked this two-sidedness of this place.
LRM: I really liked the diverse characters. They were all very unique and quite funny, especially the Russian man. This offbeat humor in the film really reminded me of Napoleon Dynamite.
Julian: I didn't see that movie, but I know when I talk it might sound like teacher of Marxist-Leninist but the movie then is basically trying to-- and then more thinking about twisting all these ideas and then trying to create, to ask questions by the means of comedy perhaps. And I hope it’s never deducted explaining the world like spreading the message. It’s more taking ideas that exist and confronting them with the reality and also confronting them with fantasy, twisting them until they get absurd and just to play with ideas without, I hope, losing the basic sincerity about it.
LRM: As a filmmaker, who do you consider an inspiration?
Julian: I mean for me its lot, like European, on the one hand, European author cinema from the past like this movie Jean Renoir was really influential, [Pier Paolo] Pasolini made some political comedies, very influential for me. Also, this mixing of theoretical questions or political questions of very burlesque scenes is also something that exists in Jean-Luc Godard’s movies from the '60s. A whole lot of wide range of influences, but going back to, I don't know, it sounds a bit over mission, but going back also to Charlie Chaplin, who’s director was a master of doing political movies by the means of comedy.
LRM: Lastly, what kind of story are you working on next?
Julian: The next film is an apocalyptic vampire comedy.
LRM: Sounds fascinating. It’s been nice speaking with you. Thank you so much.
Julian: Thank you so much.