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LENZ Thomas Imbach, Schweiz/Deutschland 2006, 95 min

The genius writes its own rules.

The filmmaker Lenz has left his native Berlin for the Vosges to research the story behind Georg Büchner’s novel fragment 'Lenz'. But he soon trades the Alsatian landscape for higher altitudes: the urge to see his nine-year-old son Noah takes him to the Swiss ski resort of Zermatt. With Noah’s help, Lenz stages a reunion with his ex-wife Natalie, whom he still loves. The newfound closeness to his son, and the rekindled love for Natalie, form a brief idyll. But the fantasy of a happy family life is short-lived, over-shadowed by Lenz’ increasingly erratic behaviour. Noah and Natalie return to Zurich, and Lenz remains in the mountains, alone.

Just as Büchner based his novel on a real episode from the life of the German poet Lenz (1751–1792), Thomas Imbach freely mixes fact and fiction. Like his literary counterpart, the modern-day Lenz is a tortured visionary caught between euphoria and desperation. Imbach’s film captures these mood swings with its eclectic visual and aural style. Lenz’ turbulent inner states are mirrored by the elemental beauty of the natural landscape.

The emotional drama of the main characters plays against a background of kitsch
global tourism, provided by the authentic Zermatt locations and real people appearing in the village scenes. The intimately filmed scenes of romantic and family life provide a telling glimpse into the realities of contemporary relationships. Film and video, staging and improvisation, actors and amateurs, tender love story and slapstick comedy: Imbach blends seeming opposites into an organic whole, under-scored by an intense, dramatic soundtrack combining folk songs, pop music and re-processed natural sounds.
An unconventional, stormy portrait of a man whose life motto echoes the Romantic poets: Genius writes its own rules.

Director’s statement

I’d never have thought I would turn 'Lenz' into a film one day. I’ve been carrying this Reclam paperback around with me since I was nineteen. I always had great respect for the text as a work of literature but I didn’t think it would be possible to adapt such literary language to film. On the other hand, it was this seeming impossibility which became a challenge for me. After 'Happiness is a Warm Gun', 'Lenz' seemed to me like the logical next step, because the two main characters are soulmates in a way. Both struggle, for different reasons and with different weapons, against a deadly inner despair. The character of Lenz is closer to me personally. His end is more merciless, less idealized. “So he lived on“ ends the book. That‘s more radical than suicide or death, which provide a certain resolution. The literary-historical side of Lenz was not my central focus in making the film. I see the book in the context of my own personal life and I treat the material as contemporary. I was particularly fascinated by the way Büchner constructed his story as a „re-write“ of Pastor Oberlin’s diary: the way he turned it into a completely original text, while integrating much of the source material.

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Press Coverage

Like his literary Alter Ego, the modern Lenz is a tortured visinary, a prisioner of his own fits of euphoria or despair. Imbach captures thes swinging moods with a wide range of visual and acoustic means. (Berlinale)

Awards and Festivals