Love Steaks: Fresh blood in the German film scene

Article published on April 28, 2014
Article published on April 28, 2014

Schnitzel, blood and body fat folds: dare to set foot in the cinema to see "Love Steaks" (2013), di­rec­tor Jakob Lass' sec­ond fea­ture film, and you will hardly be able to stay in your seat. Times have changed. Up-and-com­ing film mak­ers no longer rise to promi­nence through de­pres­sing ru­mors and in-depth navel-gaz­ing: "Love Steaks" is a bloody, strange and grandiose cel­e­bra­tion.

"You're sweat­ing. A lit­tle gross, but okay." Lara mum­bles some­thing real quick about "closed rooms" be­fore she dis­ap­pears through an el­e­va­tor door and leaves a to­tally be­wil­dered Clemens be­hind. Could you imag­ine a more unerotic open­ing to a full-length love story? The events that fol­low in the ro­man­tic en­tan­gle­ment be­tween Lara (Lana Cooper) and Clemens (Franz Ro­gowski) are raw, Love Steaks (2013) being a film that's told through abra­sive and at times bru­tal im­ages; it is also free of clichés and full of re­ver­ber­at­ing sit­u­a­tional humor. Lara and Clemens are both stranded in a lux­ury hotel on the Baltic Sea - Lara as a trainee in the kitchen where heaps of meat are pre­pared, and Clemens as a masseur in the meat-ten­der­iz­ing five star spa. While she flirts with the guys in the kitchen and gets drunk, he pushes around laun­dry carts and turns down im­moral of­fers from el­derly clients.

The of­fi­cial fes­ti­val trailer of  "Love Steaks" (2013), from the di­rec­tor Jakob Lass. 

Raw pic­tures in­stead of soft­ened ef­fects

How the two--con­trary to ex­pec­ta­tions-- be­come close is told in Love Steaks through wild, emo­tional scenes that have ab­solutely noth­ing to do with the typ­i­cal screen­plays and soft­ened im­ages of the Ger­man main­stream film land­scape. "There are too many slick films, in which the use of tech­nol­ogy is more im­por­tant than the story it­self. I wanted Love Streaks to have a cer­tain level of raw­ness. Pretty and idyl­lic pic­tures weren't so im­por­tant," ex­plains Jakob Lass, who drinks a cup of cof­fee in Neukölln's k-fetisch on a sunny Berlin af­ter­noon with his ed­i­tor Gesa Jäger. In other words, no ar­ti­fi­cial light­ing, no fa­cades and al­most no script. What at first may sound too art­house for the Ger­man cin­ema pub­lic has gar­nered an un­ex­pected level of suc­cess: Love Steaks didn't just win the Förder­preis Neues Deutsches Kino 2013 (Ad­vanc­ment Award of New Ger­man Cin­ema, Ed.) in all four cat­e­gories, as well as the the Max Ophüls Preis 2014, but was also in line for the Per­spek­tive Deutsches Kino at this year's Berli­nale, in ad­di­tion to being nom­i­nated for the Deutscher Film­preis (Ger­man Film Award, Ed.).

After his first fea­ture-length film Frontal­watte (2011), Jakob wanted to try some­thing rad­i­cally new with Love Steaks. "At the be­gin­ning it was just 'the fat three' - pro­ducer Ines Schiller, video­g­ra­pher Tim Schäppi and my­self. Through our dis­cus­sions we came up with the FOGMA rules, which rep­re­sent the cre­ation of a new type of film." FOGMA, which is loosely based on the Dan­ish Dogma move­ment, for­mu­lates 12 premises under the motto "Rules are Free­dom," which range from "FOGMA is the bold­ness to take risks" to "FOGMA doesn't ac­cept nice­ness out of so­cial lazi­ness." It's premised on un­usual ideas, team­work, the split from stan­dard cin­ema con­ven­tions and a new type of flow in films. Added to this is that Love Steaks can man­age with­out a pre­vi­ously es­tab­lished script. "Not a sin­gle word of di­a­logue was writ­ten. The 'script,' as it were, is only based on an out­line that builds a rough skele­ton, fo­cus­ing on the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Lara and Clemens in five phases and 18 scenes," ex­plains Jakob under the sounds of grind­ing cof­fee ma­chines and the soft hum­ming of indie rock music. 

FOGMA is the bold­ness to take risks

Franz Ro­gowskiLana Cooper and the em­ploy­ees of the lux­ury hotel, all of whom aren't pro­fes­sional ac­tors, de­vel­oped their scenes around this "meat­less skele­tal out­line" among laun­dry carts, pools and kitchen units. "Franz is a dancer who doesn't have much act­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and Lana ap­plied for the job of di­rec­tor's as­sis­tant," says Jakob. When Lara and Clemens meet among garbage bags in the cel­lar of the hotel, or romp around the gray, north­ern Ger­man beach, it comes across as both trendy and touch­ing. Could the film have be­come a fail­ure al­though the lead ac­tors are so in­cred­i­bly tal­ented? Jakob dis­agrees: "The fear that it might be a flop is there with every film. Even if Love Steaks was an im­pro­vi­sa­tional film, it was in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant to know how it would end. If you're not sure, then you'll kill your­self on the set!" After all the scenes were filmed, Gesa pieced them to­gether, fol­low­ing the flow of the story rather than know­ing the script. "I wanted to see and dis­cover the ma­te­r­ial through an im­par­tial lens to find out what kind of story was being con­veyed," she says be­tween two sips of cof­fee. "That's why we first cre­ated the over­all story, which we then rea­ligned with the in­di­vid­ual scenes."

Lara also cel­e­brates her sav­age­ness in the culi­nary sphere ("Love Steaks" out­take). 

So that no one stands on one's last leg at the end of this process, FOGMA also dic­tates hi­er­ar­chies and "com­pul­sory fit­ness ex­er­cises on the set." After all, one doesn't make good films by not eat­ing for weeks and pump­ing one's body with drugs, but rather, one has to drink water and ex­er­cise one's body. Such is Jakob's be­lief. So, art doesn't al­ways come from col­laps­ing? "I'm strongly con­vinced that you per­form at your peak if you're well and don't ex­haust your­self with a 14-hour work day," says Gesa, who, with the two prizes that she won in April at First Time Fest in New Yorkmakes some very con­vinc­ing ar­gu­ments for her hy­poth­e­sis. Be­cause Lara is threat­ened with phys­i­cal and men­tal break-down in Love Streaks through her high al­co­hol con­sump­tion, Clemens has to put on the emer­gency break, thereby risk­ing not only their liveli­hoods be­tween cut­ting boards and mas­sage ta­bles, but also their fren­zied re­la­tion­ship. 

FOGMA IS AL­MOST LIKE FAM­ILY

Do Clemens and Lara ac­tu­ally find them­selves in the blood­y end? You have to go to the cin­ema to find out. The film team around Jakob and Gesa, how­ever, has al­ready en­tered into a long-term re­la­tion­ship: "It's nice that we were able to find each other as peo­ple, and we def­i­nitely want to stay to­gether," says Jakob. "The next pro­ject will also be an­other FOGMA film, in a new for­mat." After all, FOGMA as­pires to be a force to be reck­oned with in the young Ger­man film scene: "We don't want any tristesse like in the Berlin School, but would rather be a coun­ter­move­ment," ex­plains Jakob as he fin­ishes his cup of cof­fee. "Of course, they have a cou­ple of good films up their sleeve, but there are those that are sim­ply de­press­ing, which don't do much for me." Peo­ple def­i­nitely won't feel like that when they see Love Steaks in cin­e­mas. It's even more than likely that view­ers will spring out of their seats and dance the night away-- or bite their lover's lips.