Fatih Akin Hits Jackpot With Genre-Crossing Ganster-Rapper Movie ‘Rhinegold’

“Rhinegold,” a biopic about young Iranian-Kurdish immigrant Giwar Hajabi, also known as Xatar, who rose from being a violent drug dealer and ex-convict to one of Germany’s most successful rap stars and music producers, has become the biggest box office hit ever for director Fatih Akin.

The film, which screens at the Thessaloniki Film Festival, chronicles Hajabi’s eventful life, beginning with the panicked escape of his musician parents from Tehran during the 1979 revolution. Fleeing to the country’s Kurdistan Province, they join the Kurdish rebellion. It is there, during a violent assault by the Iranian military, that Hajabi’s mother, hiding in a bat-filled cave, gives birth to her son.

Hoping for a better life in Europe, his parents travel west to Iraq, where, suspected of being spies, they are imprisoned. Released months later, they find asylum first in Paris, then in Bonn.

Akin was familiar with Hajabi’s music and story, but it wasn’t until the two connected on Instagram and began messaging each other that the director became more interested in the artist. He picked up Hajabi’s 2015 autobiography “Alles oder Nix” (“All or Nothing”), reading it while on vacation.

“It’s the perfect holiday book,” Akin notes. “I liked it and I bought the rights. I didn’t know if I was going to do it or if I was going to produce it and someone else would shoot it,” he recalls.

When a project he had been working on collapsed due to the COVID-19 crisis, Akin decided to film Xatar’s story.

“I was like, okay, this is about gangsters, this is about hip-hop music. I think this might be easy, so I’m going to do this. First, it became the most difficult film I’ve ever done, and second, it had the best opening – it’s the greatest success I’ve had so far. It’s what John Lennon said, ‘Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.’”

Hajabi’s larger-than-life story posed significant challenges.

“It was very clear from the beginning that this is not just another rapper biography, because his life is so much more complex, and to understand the phenomenon and the spectacle of his life, you really need to start with his parents, who his parents were. They were Kurdish musicians in Iran back in 1979 and because they’re Kurdish and because they’re intellectual, they became the enemies of the Khomeini regime.”

Hajabi’s very first memories as a child, Akin notes, were of the Iraqi prison in which he and his parents ended up after fleeing Iran.  

“To make it more than just another rapper biography, I had to put all this in the film.” The more layers he put in the film, the more unique and crazy the film became, Akin explains. “I had the feeling, okay, this could be interesting from a cinematic point of view because you cross genres. You start as a war film and it turns into a refugee drama, then a social drama, coming-of-age, gangster film and ends up a music film. You had the opportunity to drive through all those genres. I was like, the more of that I have in the film, the better the film might become, but also more complicated and more expensive. That made it all difficult. I think I had more than 100 locations; I had more than 120 actors.”

With a limited budget of some €10.5 million ($10.46 million), Akin was forced to shoot economically – 10 pages of screenplay a day.

Akin also suffered personal tragedy during the middle of production when his father died. “I was in grief, but I still had to do the film. I was doing it half on autopilot.” The film is dedicated to his father.

On top of the difficulties the filmmaker also had to navigate COVID. “It was a difficult task.”  

The film’s ultimate success, however, proved Akin’s instincts correct. Audiences have flocked to see the film, which opened Oct. 27 at No. 1 and went on to earn €2.6 million in its first week.

“Rhinegold,” which stars Emilio Sakraya as Hajabi, has nevertheless drawn some criticism for allegedly glorifying an unrepentant gangster – something Akin rejects.

“Criminality is older than cinema. I don’t really believe that this sort of film glorifies criminality. That was not the aim of the film. It’s all about where you put the camera.”

“It’s like hip-hop itself. Criminality is out there whether we like it or not. Criminality is always something, especially in popular culture and history, in which people from all over the world are interested. There’s something fascinating about the darkness because we’re all human beings and we want to know more about ourselves. And these are our stories.

“When I make such a film I want to understand the world I’m describing. This is my purpose. I don’t judge it but I don’t glamorize it either. I do entertainment. Of course it’s entertaining – that’s my business. I think I’m more an entertainer than an artist. That’s my first goal, to entertain my audience.

“It’s too easy to criticize it in that context. If you criticize it, you’re criticizing the society. And this is something to criticize. I’m just the messenger. Don’t kill the messenger.”           

Akin notes that in Germany, in particular, where state cultural funding is essential, filmmakers often grapple with moral and ethical demands that might stymie some subject matter.

Akin currently has two projects in the works, including “Amrum,” a feature film penned by his multi-hyphenate collaborator and one-time film school instructor Hark Bohm. Bohm asked Akin to direct his latest script, a semi-autobiographical story about a boy struggling to survive with his family on the German North Sea island of Amrum in the final week of World War II.   

He is also set to direct his first TV series, “My Mother Marlene,” about the life of German film star Marlene Dietrich, with Diane Kruger in the title role. The series, Akin notes, will explore the time Dietrich spent living in Hollywood in the 1930s and ’40s and her return to a completely destroyed Germany following the war. “My focus, because it’s closer to me, is the story of the immigrant, the woman in exile.”

Akin inked a first-look deal with WarnerMedia earlier this year, the first such agreement he’s ever signed.

While noting that he’s had “huge luck” with the success of “Rhinegold,” Akin says the “media world has become very difficult.”

It’s always good to have a strong distributor and studio behind you as a co-producer in order help achieve success and secure necessary financing, he adds. “You don’t have to run to so many different sources. You have one main source in a way, which helps you finance the stuff. Before I signed, I had made three films with Warner and I was very happy with the collaborations on ‘In the Fade,’ ‘The Golden Glove’ and now ‘Rhinegold.’ I think it was a very fruitful working process and partnership. It was a win-win situation.

“It’s difficult to survive as a boutique company,” he adds, noting his Hamburg-based shingle Bombero International. “All these tiny boutique companies get eaten by bigger partners. I want to keep the independence that I have and it’s very helpful to have a partner like Warner on my side.”

Read More About:

Source: Read Full Article