Florian Gallenberger on ‘It’s Just a Phase, Honey,’ Tackling Comedy and ‘Zen in the Art of Archery’

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Florian Gallenberger, the director behind “John Rabe,” a historical drama about the Nanking Massacre in China, and “Colonia,” a political thriller set in Chile against the backdrop of the 1973 military coup, has made his first comedy.

“It’s Just a Phase, Honey,” which had its world premiere at the Zurich Film Festival, offers a hilarious look at a married couple, played by Christoph Maria Herbst and Christiane Paul, who, in the midst of a mid-life crisis, attempt a trial separation.

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The film is an adaptation of Maxim Leo and Jochen-Martin Gutsch’s bestseller, which comprises 25 short, unconnected anecdotes. Gallenberger and co-writer Malte Welding had to create a major plotline that included the various scenes of the book.

“We had to and did take some liberties with the novel in order to make it into one story instead of 25 little funny moments,” Gallenberger explains.

Poking fun at the near-50 crowd, the film wrestles with the questions and anxieties of growing old. “It’s an attitude towards life: you’re not as young as you used to be but you don’t think that you’re old – you’re in between,” notes Gallenberger. “Am I young? Am I old? And the whole insecurity of looking back, asking yourself, ‘Was that it? Is there something new to come?’ I think that’s something that I can strongly relate to from my own life.”

Herbst, known for his starring role in the hit series “Stromberg,” a German version of “The Office,” and for his impeccable comic timing, made Gallenberger’s first comedy an enjoyable experience.

“He’s such a great partner,” the filmmaker stresses. “With Christoph Maria Herbst we had someone who is an outstanding comedian, who has done a lot of comedy and who is an actor who knows very well what and how he’s doing. He has an amazing awareness about himself in a most positive way. That kind of gave me the feeling of being on the safe side – knowing that together we will find the right way of how to tell this story and make his character believable and very funny at the same time.”

Paul likewise shines in her role as wife breaking away in an effort to experience more from life. While not widely known as a comedic actress, Paul very much has a comedic gene, Gallenberger adds. (Indeed, she has also recently displayed those chops in a small but significant role in the French-Belgian-German comedy series “Parlament.”)

“We just enjoyed that everybody was able to bring something to the party that was enhancing the whole thing.”

Produced by Benjamin Herrmann of Majestic Filmproduktion, the company he runs with Gallenberger, “It’s Just a Phase, Honey” is sold internationally by Beta Cinema. The movie hits German cinemas Oct. 14 via Majestic Filmverleih.

Gallenberger and Hermann are eager to team up with the cast for a follow-up, depending on the pic’s performance. “We love the characters,” he says, adding that it would be a shame not to take them on an all-new adventure. “If it does then it could be a very nice idea to continue something that was joyful for everybody.”

Gallenberger is also working on a very different project, a modern adaptation of “Zen in the Art of Archery,” the 1948 book by German philosophy professor Eugen Herrigel.

Describing it as a classic novel of Zen Buddhist literature, Gallenberger notes that the book itself doesn’t really have a plot but rather provides an account of Herrigel’s experience in 1920s Japan studying Kyūdō, the art of Japanese archery, under a Zen master.

“This book has been one of the most important books to me in my life,” he says.

Gallenberger is creating a plotline for the film that incorporates the book’s main elements, namely the relationship between student and master, and that places the story in the present day. He hopes to shoot the film at the end of next year if everything goes well. Current COVID-19 restrictions make travel to Japan for necessary research difficult, however. A large portion of the story will also be set in the country.

Additionally, Gallenberger plans to team up again with actor Ulrich Tukur, who starred in “John Rabe” and also appears in “It’s Just a Phase, Honey,” for an installment of German pubcaster ARD’s long-running “Tatort” crime drama movie series.

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