Wim Wenders finds warmth in Canadian winter

People: Wim Wenders

The German filmmaker says he used stereoscopic 3D technology in Every Thing Will Be Fine, his latest art film about grief and loss, in a bid to bring depth to Quebec’s unique landscape

By Katherine Monk

TORONTO – His voice sounds like something straight out of a fairy tale: a soft German accent bending over vowels with a delicate arc and a deep warm tone that seems to echo through hand-milled timber.

Wim Wenders film director

Wim Wenders

Even his name, Wim Wenders, feels like a plucky character from a Grimm plot, so the fact that this German auteur has transformed the stark hues and blinding skies of the Canadian landscape into a cozy microcosm feels strangely natural.

Every Thing Will Be Fine is Wenders’s 46th film, but it marks a series of firsts: It’s his first film in Canada, his first shoot in winter, and the first time any auteur has used 3D technology in the heady pursuit of an art film.

Wenders always thought the technology was used poorly – a point he proved in Pina, his artfully shot 3D documentary about choreographer and dance icon Pina Bausch that wowed audiences in 2011. And it’s a point he proves again with Every Thing Will Be Fine, an emotionally jagged drama that unfolds against the harsh white canvas of the Quebecois landscape.

Ask Wenders how the Canadian landscape affects him and he bows his head in a long moment of reflection.

“Landscape is never only landscape,” he says with an almost Yoda-like quality. “It’s also a state of mind… it has soul and then it evokes and reflects who we are.”

He raises his head and looks out the window, to the monotonous rectangles of the Toronto skyline. “I’ve known the Quebec landscape for 40 years. I have been to Montreal in the winter and the summer, and I have been on the St. Laurent River. I never worked there, but I always felt connected to the landscape from the moment I first saw it.”

Wenders says the Canadian landscape, particularly around what used to be called Lower Canada, feels familiar to him as a European. “The small rolling hills, the villages, the people. You get the feeling people have lived there for generations,” he says.

“It’s different from the classic American landscape which is always depicted in an epic way. The Quebecois landscape has a warmth to it – even though it is very cold in winter. And this was the challenge in shooting Every Thing Will Be Fine. I wanted to capture the warmth of winter, and I had never shot in winter before.”

For two years, Wenders pondered and plotted and photographed the scenery surrounding Montreal. He looked at a variety of movies that showed snowy landscapes, but he found nothing useful in the cinematic archive where Hollywood often makes flakes from painted cereal, and turned to paintings.

He looked to his favorite Canadian filmmakers, Sarah Polley and Atom Egoyan. He also found inspiration in the work of Old World painters who refreshed their palettes in the New World, as well as old masters finding the poetry in their own backyard. One can imagine Wenders thumbing through the works of Cornelius Krieghoff and Caspar David Friedrich before he finally settled on his snow globe approach.

“It was actually the work of Andrew Wyeth that inspired me the most,” he says. Known for his famous “Helga Paintings,” Wyeth was an American painter (1917-2009) who delved into hyperrealism when his peers were probing abstract.

“He was a very courageous man,” says Wenders. “And in his paintings, in the detail and care, I saw the way I wanted to shoot the Canadian landscape: with affection, allowing it to be a character, and most importantly, never to be just the background.”

Wenders says Wyeth brought a larger-than-life quality to mundane scenes such as barns and pastures, and that’s exactly why he decided to shoot stereoscopic.

“With 3D, you can bring depth to the flatness. And the light can be flat and grey in Canada, but there is beautiful depth there. It can be cold, but there is also warmth. The 3D was the only way to capture this quality—and in the film, we need the landscape for the story.”

Wenders says there’s a haunted quality to the low Quebec horizon.

“As a German, I already have a tendency to be romantic. And so even if the first part of the film is not romantic at all because of the traumatic event, things get warmer as we move along. The characters are trying to heal—but they don’t know how. You know, is it time that heals? Is it something else? We have to feel all these things, and one of the best ways to show your viewer the passing of time is through the landscapes. They change.”

He looks out the window again, then at the recorder’s red light, then at his interlocutor.

“Faces are also landscapes. And these actors show us seasons, they have to, because healing is a very internal process. Forgiveness happens in the soul. And that’s where I wanted to look.”

Wenders says James Franco was an easy choice for the lead because he’s one of the few actors who is truly willing to let you in.

“James lets you look directly into his soul. He is not afraid of what he might find, which is rare. He’s willing to confront the fear.”

For a brief moment, we hover over gender and identity, the typical bogeymen lurking beneath our enhanced social avatars – but ones that Franco seems to embrace daily.

Wenders nods. “Yes, I think James is emancipated in a way many men are not. And it’s sad, because as gender breaks down, most men are lagging behind, afraid to investigate the old ways that render so many of us prisoners in a false shell. Every man has a woman inside of him,” says Wenders, matter-of-factly.

“I am just getting to know these different parts of who I am. And I don’t want to hang on to things. This is desperation, and while it can be dramatic…it’s never attractive.” Indeed, Wenders prefers the subtler approach, a reassuring whisper that says everything will be fine—if you can make it past another day.


Every Thing Will Be Fine is now playing. For Katherine Monk’s review of the film, click here.


THE EX-PRESS, December 12, 2015



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