With "Cloud Atlas," German director Tom Tykwer is bringing art house cinema to the big screen. The $100-million film was a success at the Toronto Film Festival, but paying audiences may be in for a surprise.
"Always the same thing," muttered Tom Tykwer under the dark night sky in Toronto. He was referring to the journalists' questions, the ones he had been answering all day already. In his latest film, "Cloud Atlas," he declared war on eternal repetitiveness.
And he has celebrity support on the front. Lana and Andy Wachowski, the makers of "Matrix," co-directed the film, while the list of cast members couldn't be more glittering: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Susan Sarandon, and Hugh Grant, to name a few.
Director Tom Tykwer
With a cast like that, critics are quick to expect a cookie-cutter Hollywood production that is guaranteed to bring in enough revenue to cover the exorbitant cost of the movie's A-list stars. But Tykwer had something else in mind, and hopes instead to challenge his audience.
"I have the feeling there's a big need for original storytelling," he said, "and that there is an audience that doesn't feel stretched by contemporary cinema."
The basis for "Cloud Atlas," the book by David Mitchell, is already a challenge for readers. His work tells six different stories from six different time periods - spanning from the 19th century to the distant future. Each of the stories deals with suppression and revolution in a variety of manifestations.
Tackling the impossible
Despite their diverse settings, the storylines are linked to each other through a diary, love letters, a film, and a hologram.
Early on, Mitchell's book was deemed "unfilmable." Tykwer admitted that it was difficult transferring the story to the screen and making it plausible, "just by watching."
The breakthrough for the production team was the idea to have the main actors take on several of the roles - one in each of the six time periods. Tom Hanks, for example, plays a criminal doctor, an Irish gangster and a representative of a primitive post-apocalyptical culture.
Cinema city Berlin
In addition to the challenge of playing multiple parts, the most important aspect for Hands was working together with people he otherwise wouldn't have had the opportunity to collaborate with, he told DW on the red carpet in Toronto. "And that in a city that really knows how to make films," he added.
That city is Berlin; "Cloud Atlas" was largely filmed in the Babelsberg Studio, but also in Scotland and Mallorca. The final result is a nearly three-hour film that demands a lot from the viewer who is taken back and forth between six stories, times and places.
The premiere showing of "Cloud Atlas" received enthusiastic applause from 2,000 viewers at the Toronto Film Festival last week. That was confirmation for the German director that his appeal for more intellectual film material could find footing, even though budgets of this size leave plenty of room for failure.
Waiting for opening day
"The biggest fear one has is that is doesn't come across," said Tykwer, "But in the moment where each person can make of it what they want, the film is already a success."
Considering the film's success in Toronto, Tykwer has nothing to fear - though festival audiences aren't necessarily representative. The box offices will be put to the real test when the film opens in the US on October 26. Many movie fans will come because of the star cast and expect typical Hollywood fair. They'll be surprised not to find "always the same thing."