From Iceland — A Civilized Way to Die: A German director talks about his on-screen suicides.

A Civilized Way to Die: A German director talks about his on-screen suicides.

A Civilized Way to Die: A German director talks about his on-screen suicides.

Published February 26, 2016

Photo by
Lorena Silvera

Everyone knows that Heartbreak Hotel is located down at the end of Lonely Street, but what happens if you keep moving? You might very well end up at the suicide club, where the waiter brings you a menu of ways to check out.

The house specialty is a push out the top floor window, but this is rather an expensive option. The cleaning costs, you see. For the budget traveller, he might just as well recommend that classical Roman specialty, open veins in a bathtub. Or the trusty old sleeping pills, but be careful to wash this down with good, French wine, not the cheap local stuff. It will only make you throw up and hence defeat the purpose. Also, don’t fall in love with the waiter. It might deter you from your stated aim.

The suicide motel is a concoction of German film director Andreas Schimmelbusch, and is featured in his movie Welcome to the Club (Willkommen im Klub). It did rather well in Finland, obviously. The film is shown at the Stockfish film festival in Bíó Paradís, and the Icelandic reaction has been rather mixed. Some people walked out. Others loved it. But what drives a man to make a movie about suicide?

“In Germany, suicide is a taboo subject,” says Andreas the director. “The German way is to keep your emotions on the inside. In Switzerland and Belgium, you can get assisted suicide if you are really sick, but not in Germany.”

Even so, suicide does crop up in German culture. Brunhilde throws herself on Siegfried’s funeral pyre in the Nibelungenlied. Heinrich von Kleist killed himself. And then there are some politicians who have chosen the same route when things go badly.

“But there hasn’t been much written about it, and so I have had to turn to American writers like Sylvia Plath or Romanians like Paul Celan, both suicides. There is a German poet called Ingeborg Bachmann who killed herself in Rome and is buried there. Her body could have made it, but her mind said no. In German, we have a phrase, ‘Lebensmüde,’ which means being tired of life. So it’s not always physical when you can’t go on, sometimes it’s psychological.”

Why is this subject of particular importance to you?

“Death has been quite close to me. My mother had cancer and it was terrible. She was sick for two years and my brother and I both quit our jobs to take care of her. So I started thinking about the decision other people had taken to end their life. I think the choice is important.”

You mostly work as a theatre director at the famous Volksbühne in Berlin. How has this influenced your film making?

“I used very experienced theatre actors in the film and I learnt a lot from them. They do not need much explaining to and like to be well prepared. The actor who played the concierge wanted to do her as a demonic figure, and I didn’t disagree. In theatre, rehearsals are very important. Film actors don’t rehearse as much, but I think that the rehearsal is the most important part of the process.”

You come to Iceland a lot. Do you have any plans for projects here?

“Actually, I am making a film produced by Friðrik Þór. It’s based on a true story and is about a banker in Frankfurt who has a mid-life crisis and leaves his wife and kids and comes to Iceland. I am also working on a book based on the suicide motel. I think there is much more to explore there, with the other guests and so on.”

We look forward to seeing more of the suicide club. You can check out any time you like, but you can never truly leave.

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