Going the Extra Mile
In Driving the Stars, chauffeur Joschi Deininger makes sure his clients, Austrian film celebrities, are always cared for
"Wait, I have to give my dog a pig’s ear!" Austria’s Grande Dame of stage and screen, 86-year-old Erni Mangold, says to the driver before getting into the black van. Thus begins Driving the Stars, a documentary film and an intimate peek into the not-so-glamorous side of Austrian show business.
Josef Deininger, alias Joschi, is the good-natured chauffeur who drives the who’s who of the Austrian film industry. Michael Haneke, Stefan Ruzowitzky, Klaus Maria Brandauer, Christiane Hörbinger and many more all share him. Surveyed by cameras in his on-the-road office, we accompany Joschi from airport to green room, from set to movie premiere.
The film is contemplative; Joschi acts as courier and caretaker, genuinely concerned about his clients’ welfare, but with the utmost respect and an undying sense of humour.
A solid servant
The film’s producer Markus Fischer wanted to make the movie after hearing Joschi’s life story. "I was a civil servant at the Federal Railway for 14 years," Joschi explains in the film. "And somehow the desk job wasn’t what I wanted to do until retirement." Bored of being locked in an office all day, he took a job as a cabdriver, thinking: "I will find something more suitable later."
That was in 1985. "Then I happened to drive Fritz Eckhardt [an actor on the TV show Tatort], and soon after that, I drove other actors and producers. Then I was driving only them."
He seems comfortable in his role of grandfather figure. Getting his dependants to their destination, making them laugh, getting them water bottles and doing other tasks that have nothing to do with his actual job.
"You are like a message centre," says Robert Palfrader (a.k.a. Der Kaiser) after delivering greetings from Erni with a kiss on Joshi’s cheek. "I am," the driver smiles, "a messenger of greetings."
As cool as it seems being "on the road" with the stars, this is not Joschi’s dream job. He confesses to the camera that "when you have to wait a long time, you also have a lot of time to think: Why am I doing this?" Joshi spends countless hours at the airport. "All in all, I have waited months of my life, maybe even years."
His soul seems to gain weight as soon as he goes through the airport’s revolving door. The corners of his mouth drop and an intense loneliness comes over his face. He kills time staring at the arrival schedule, nervously rubbing his cell phone case.
The documentary portrays these stars as ordinary people in the course of doing their work. In Joshi’s car, they can relax and enjoy a break from celebrity hassle. The film is also a show of gratitude for their beloved friend and chauffeur. This time, Joschi gets to be the star.
Sharing is caring
Director Wolfgang Beyer uses footage of 14 stars, none of whom felt any apprehension about speaking freely in front of the camera.
The fact that all these stars have one driver reflects the intimacy of the Austrian film scene, but that doesn’t diminish the film. The calibre of the actors is never doubted, even though at times they speak about each other in less then flattering tones.
"Has somebody already puked in your car?" Austrian comedian, Christoph Grissemann asks. "It happened," Joshi admits. "Can you tell us the name?" Grissemann asks again, fishing for juicy details. "I can tell you because she was ill, not drunk. The cause was a food poisoning, and it was Julia Stemberger." Grissemann is amazed, "Really? Julia?"
"Her face was all green," Joschi’s getting into the story. "Her father is a doctor, so she called him, and he gave her an injection. It was really bad, the whole car was full of puke!"
But being such a small community, Austrian actors can’t afford to be too mean, and end up slathering their insults with schmäh. "Haneke looks like (crime author) Donna Leon," Grissemann sneers. Joschi chuckles and lets it be. No need to comment.
"You are like a social worker," Palfrader smiles, halfway through the documentary. "But you can’t drink while you drive, so how do you cope?"
Joschi smiles. Later he explains, "I treat all of them like human beings, not like stars. I think that works quite well."
It took producer Markus Fischer two years to get Joschi to say yes to the project and one year to shoot and edit the movie. "The only way to speak to him about the project was to book a ride with him," he told ORF when the documentary first aired in January.
With five cameras attached in the car, the viewer feels like a shameless voyeur, eavesdropping on private discussions. At times it even feels as if you’re in the car with them, invited into the tight inner circle.
The occasional shot outside the window reminds you you are in Austria: wavy green meadows, high peaks and onion-domed Austrian churches. However, Wolfgang Beyer also edited in scenes from the movies to illustrate what kind of actor, producer or director Joschi was dealing with – sneak previews that sometimes triggered an urge to see the whole film.
Driving the Stars is not a masterpiece, but it’s a solid piece of work and gives you a good idea of the laid-back and jovial way the Austrian film industry interacts. It’s fun to see how much the actors, directors and producers enjoy the gossiping: As the Austrians say, "was sich liebt das neckt sich" ("those who love each other, tease each other"). None of it is vicious, and no real harm is done to colleagues’ reputations. But that also may be because Austrian stars don’t take themselves or each other too seriously.
For a glance into this world, Driving the Stars is a pleasant, light, after-dinner snack. No heavy visuals, no unexpected twists, just a comfortable, easy ride. Which is exactly the way the stars describe their time in Joschi’s car.
Driving the Stars
EastWest Distribution (2013), 52 mins
OV German with English subtitles