Interview with Jan-Ole Gerster, winner of Special Jury Prize at KVIFF

11 July, 2019

Jan-Ole Gerster is the director who, in 2012, made his succesful debut with ‘Oh Boy’, a film which won the European Discovery Award at EFA

Seven years later, Jan-Ole comes back with his second feature – “Lara”, which has just won three important prizes during KVIFF: Special Jury Award, Best Actress for Corinna Harfouch and the Ecumenical Jury Award. It’s Lara’s 60th birthday, and she has every reason to celebrate: this evening, her son Viktor will be giving the most important piano concert of his career. Lara was, after all, the one who’d mapped out and driven his musical career. Yet Viktor has been unreachable for weeks and nothing indicates that Lara will be welcome at his debut performance. Without further ado, she buys up all the remaining tickets and hands them out to everyone she meets. The more Lara strives to make the evening successful, however, the more events get out of control.

Laura Musat, our creative director, has been to KVIFF and sat down with Jan-Ole Gerster for an interview on his newest film, fears and success.

Jan, I’m curious how this project started? It is quite different than your first film „Oh Boy” and this time you have worked with a screenwriter.

I agree, there are two different films, but then I believe there are some similarities. It’s strange because I haven’t written it but when I read the script for the first time I had a feeling that I would have loved to have written it, I felt there’s a film I would really love to do. For some reason I immediately clicked and identified with this character which doesn’t often happen when I read scripts. Blaz (n: screenwriter) and I met through a common friend and he was writing on a different project but kept mentioning a script that he wrote ten years ago, a script that even won some awards and went to some script labs but never made it to the screen. I wanted to read it and I immediately fell in love, even though the character is so far away from me personally, somehow I fell for her and it was worth exploring why.

Corinna Harfouch gives a wonderful representation of Lara. Have you had her in mind from the beginning and how was working with her?

I knew her from TV but I had this epiphany when I saw her on stage for the first time – in Germany she’s also a very famous theatre actress. I was sitting in the third row and I was blown away and ever since I had her in my mind like an actress I would love to work with, I felt like we have our own „Isabelle Huppert”, right in front of us. This was one or two years before I read „Lara”. After reading two pages I felt this is the perfect role for her, it was a match, but I didn’t know her personally, so I sent her the script and a nice letter via her agent and we met and talked for four hours. Ever since, it’s the most beautiful collaboration, I don’t have a word for working with her, I think it made me a better director. She is one of our greatest actresses.

Lara is a mother who’s been pushing her son to perfectionism all of her life mainly because of her frustrations. How do you make such an unlikeable character become someone you empathize with?

I think that’s what I loved about the script. You start watching a woman who seems to be nasty and manipulative, who’s not treating her son very well and by the end she unfolds a bit more and you understand where she comes from. You end up really liking her and feeling for her, hoping that she will find peace. And what I loved about Corina is that she has played Lara defending her and standing up for her.

Have you ever felt like you weren’t good enough?

Absolutely. In film school my dilemma was like Lara’s, I had one or two professors who weren’t really convinced I could direct and they told me so and I also had some doubts like we always have in these type of creative jobs. I was so passionate about cinema and I felt like if I make a movie and I fail, what I love so much would turn into a very bad experience. I even considered not making films but thank God I came to my mind and gave it a try. I think it’s a tragedy that Lara decided not to follow her dreams and now her son is showing her what could have been if she tried.

Jan-Ole Gerster
Lara (2019)

In „Lara” there’s a perfect harmony between colors and image. You have several shots of Lara in front of a window, or walking from one point to the other, as well as shots with Viktor’s hand, then Lara’s while playing the piano. It seems everything has been well discussed and calculated beforehand. Do you see yourself as a perfectionist filmmaker?

I think every filmmaker seize perfection in a way, even though perfection always includes imperfection. Of course I try to make the best possible movie, have a concept, sit down with people and talk and then go out and shoot and try to achieve the best result we can, but you never get 100%, so there’s always room for imperfection. If you get 80% of what you wanted it’s very good. If you get 100% than you probably made „Taxi Driver”.

Do you think a director has to live his films in order to be authentic?

Depends what you mean by that, the biggest connection I can have to a film or to a script is the emotional response to it. If this happens, I already have enough proof that a personal connection exists, even if I’m not sure at that point what kind of connection that is. It motivates me but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s honest, good or authentic.


Film producer and founder of ADFR, she dreamed since she was little of having a magazine one day. Alongside her job as editor-in-chief, she writes the interview of the month. She loves animals, jazz music and films festivals.