Auteurs rule European filmscape

Would these writer-directors rather be feted for foreign language or screenplay kudos?

Some 50 years after Francois Truffaut first advocated his auteur theory, idiosyncratic writer-directors continue to dominate the filmscape of Continental Europe.

Those vying for an Oscar this year include Spain’s Pedro Almodovar, Germany’s Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, France’s Rachid Bouchareb, Italy’s Emanuele Crialese, Hungary’s Szabolcs Hajdu and Belgium’s Fien Troch.

Some of their works are born out of personal experiences, such as Almodovar’s “Volver.” Others stem from a desire to shed light on a historic event such as Bouchareb’s “Days of Glory” about forgotten North African WWII heroes.

But what would these writer-directors rather win — the foreign-language or the original-screenplay award? Do they consider themselves writers first, or directors?

Henckel von Donnersmarck, who took three years to write and two years to direct his hotly tipped Stasi surveillance drama “The Lives of Others,” says his writing and directing are intertwined.

“My method both in writing and directing is to keep asking myself, ‘Is there anything in any of the characters that is not from the center of my soul?’ And if there is anything, I weed it out,” he says.

Hungarian Szabolcs Hajdu wrote the screenplay to “White Palms” in order to relate the abuse he and his brother had gone through as child gymnasts in communist Hungary.

“It’s a very personal story that happened to me and my brother, and also shows our lives under Communism in Hungary in the ’70s and ’80s,” he says.

Bouchareb, whose films often take their cue from true events, says he considers himself both a director and writer, but that he would love to hand the responsibility of the script over to someone else.

“I would really like to focus exclusively on directing, as is often the case in the United States, but thus far this hasn’t happened,” he says.

Henckel von Donnersmarck is more circumspect about directing another writer’s material. He describes directing a seven-minute short based on a script by another writer as an uncomfortable experience.

“I enjoyed it, but the main difference was that I was always asking myself if this was really a story that I really wanted to tell. Was there a profound urge in me? Or had I just been seduced by the elegant writing of someone else’s urge?”