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(Mr Nobody)

Diane Kruger in “Mr Nobody” (photo © Mr Nobody Deutschland/Chantal Thomine-Desmazures)

Production Report featured in
German Films Quarterly 01/2008

2007 saw the Berlin-Brandenburg region playing host to several big-budget studio productions ranging from the Wachowski brothers' Speed Racer through Bryan Singer's Valkyrie to Tom Tykwer's The International.

They were joined last autumn by Belgian director Jaco van Dormael's first feature film for 10 years, Mr Nobody, an ambitious English-language sci-fi romantic drama put together with a staggering 27 individual financing partners as a French-German-Belgian-Canadian co-production. An international cast headed by US actor Jared Leto includes German-born Diane Kruger (whose recent credits include Goodbye Bafana and National Treasure), Sarah Polley, Linh Dan Pham and Rhys Ifans.

Some ten years in preparation – van Dormael published his screenplay to Mr Nobody in book form last summer – this new project is summed up in the tag line "Nothing is real, everything is possible".

The central character of Nemo (played by Jared Leto) is 35-years-old. He is living an ordinary life with his wife Elise and their three children until the moment when suddenly everything seems to go out of kilter: advertising placards in the street seem to be giving personal messages to him; he sees strangers who look very much like himself; he discovers a beach shoreline behind cardboard house fronts where helicopters are putting enormous pieces of the sea together. Nemo awakes. He is locked in his car which is at the bottom of a lake and he is about to drown. He awakes again and is standing in front of a stranger who is shooting a bullet into his chest. He awakes once more, by the swimming pool of a fantastic villa, with a new wife and unfamiliar children. Is everything just a dream?

"Jaco's first film Toto le Heros was co-produced by a German colleague and I remember reading the screenplay and being so impressed and fascinated by this unique world he created," producer Alfred Huermer recalls. "I promised myself that if I ever got the chance to make a film with him, I would want to be there." Huermer's chance came a year ago when he made contact with producer Philippe Godeau – whose brother he had worked with on the last three Chabrol films – and subsequently joined Marco Mehlitz as German co-producer.

"It is a major project for European standards with the budget of €35 million and wasn't easy for us independent producers to get off the ground," Huermer observes. "But we want to reach a large audience and the film's goal is – in the best sense of the word – to be family entertainment and appeal to both young and old."

Kruger adds that the film "is really like a puzzle where one puts the pieces together to make up Nemo's life. Jaco is something of a visionary because there are takes on the set the like I have never ever seen before."

Around a third of the film's 120 shooting days were concentrated at the Babelsberg studios and on location in Berlin. "We have shot in several studios, with a space ship in the Marlene Dietrich Halle, a hospital in the Suedhalle soundstage and two smaller sets in the FX center," Huermer explains.

"Jaco has created his own special world and very, very precise visual ideas. The sets are in themselves not so spectacular, but it is what we do with them. In the Suedhalle, for example, we have a 160 meter long green screen and have scenes where the visual effects will then be incorporated during the post-production."

"On the one hand, we have a story which covers a very long time period," Marco Mehlitz says. "We go from the past to the future, and then look back to the past. The present day scenes were shot in Canada, the past was filmed in Belgium, while the scenes shot in Babelsberg and Berlin are supposed to represent the future."

As Mehlitz explains, Mr Nobody is the second project after Kevin Spacey's Beyond the Sea to be awarded a state guarantee by the State of Brandenburg, which secures up to 80% of the €5.25m loan from the Commerzbank, who is financing the German co-producer's equity contribution to the film.

Spacey's Bobby Darin-biopic had become the first film production to benefit from the State of Brandenburg's guarantee scheme at the beginning of 2004 when Studio Babelsberg Motion Pictures was able to use the guarantee as a security to put €4.8m through a loan from the HypoVereinsbank towards the film's $20m-plus production costs.

"The guarantee is a wonderful financing element for independent producers," Mehlitz says. "It made sense here with Mr Nobody for the State to become involved because of the scale of the project and the incredibly large volume of money coming into the region."

Genre Drama
Category Feature
Year of Production 2008
Director Jaco van Dormael
Screenplay Jaco van Dormael
Cinematography Christophe Beaucarne
Matyas Veress
Pierre van Dormael
Sylvie Olive
Cast Jared Leto, Diane Kruger, Sarah Polley, Linh Dan Pham, Rhys Ifans, Natasha Little, Toby Regbo
Producers Philippe Godeau, Alfred Hürmer, Marco Mehlitz, Jaco van Dormael, Christian Larouche
Production Company Somebody Production/Paris, in co-production with Integral Film/Berg, Lago Film, Toto & Co Films/Brussels, Christal Films/Montreal
Format 35 mm, color
Shooting Dates Brussels, Montreal, Berlin, June - December 2007
Sound Technology Dolby SRD
Festivals Venice 2009 (In Competition), Sitges 2009, Stockholm 2009 (In Competition), Karlovy Vary 2010, Tallinn Black Nights 2010
Awards Best Make Up FX Sitges 2009
With backing from Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg, German-French Minitraité, Deutscher Filmfoerderfonds (DFFF), Centre du Cinema et de l'Audiovisuel de la Communaute francaise de Belgique, Vlaams Audiovisueel Fonds, Wallimage, Eurimages
German Distributor Concorde Filmverleih

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