German director Thomas Stuber is making his Berlin competition debut with “In the Aisles,” a romantic drama set in a large wholesale market in Leipzig and starring two of Germany’s most in-demand actors: Franz Rogowski and Sandra Hüller.
The film marks Stuber’s return to the big screen following his award-winning 2015 Toronto hit “A Heavy Heart.”
Like that film, “In the Aisles” follows the kinds of protagonists that have long interested Stuber: outsiders, people who struggle to get by and have to fight for the small joys in life.
The people that work in the film’s wholesale market represent a community that similarly struggles, people who don’t have a lot of money or luxury in their lives, the director explains.
Rogowski’s star continues to soar following dramatic turns and nuanced performances in such recent hits as “Victoria,” superhero satire “Lux — Krieger des Lichts” and Michael Haneke’s “Happy End.” He also toplines Christian Petzold’s drama “Transit,” which likewise premieres in competition in Berlin. The actor is also one of the European Shooting Stars at this year’s fest.
Hüller, meanwhile, followed her hugely successful 2016 hit “Toni Erdmann” with a starring role in “Fack ju Göhte 3,” the second-biggest hit in Germany last year after “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”
Stuber says he and Hüller had been trying to work together for a long time and he ended up writing the part of Marion in “In the Aisles” specifically with her in mind.
“Besides all of the qualities of the great actress that she is, she fits perfectly in this cast,” the director notes. “She’s a woman that you might overlook at first glance, and then you’re blown away. She brings with her this kind of East German atmosphere that you cannot learn, that’s what you are.”
In addition to her character’s alluring qualities, Marion is also forced to deal with domestic and emotional problems – “and all that demands a lot from an actor,” Stuber adds.
Unlike Hüller’s character, Stuber didn’t have a specific actor in mind for the role of Christian. He was, however, eager to get to know Rogowski as an actor.
Stuber immediately cast Rogowski after doing readings with Hüller. “It was perfectly clear to me that he had to play the main character Christian after that.”
“His acting is very special, he’s very natural, very, very unusual in what he does, and that’s really important,” Stuber says.
The character of Christian has a troubled past and has spent time in a juvenile facility. He “doesn’t talk much; in the first half an hour he only says one word,” Stuber adds. “You need an actor who can portray the little things, who can do something with his eyes, with his mouth. He’s very intense, he’s like a Brando guy.”
In making “In the Aisles,” Stuber teamed up with regular writing partner and author Clemens Meyer to adapt the latter’s short story — a collaboration that won the duo the German Screenplay Award at the 2015 Berlinale.
Stuber says he sought to capture Meyer’s spartan prose by relying less on dialogue and more on visual storytelling. “The film is much more poetic than ‘A Heavy Heart.’ The characters talk very little,” he notes.
In the same vein, parts of the story are vague, ambiguous and open to interpretation, he adds. “There are certain things that are not spoken out, only hints – it could be this, but it could also be that. I don’t describe it to you exactly, you have to decide for yourself.”
“In the Aisles” is produced by Sommerhaus Filmproduktion in co-production with Rotor Film and Departures Film, with Beta Cinema handling world sales.