On the Death of Siegfried Lenz ? ?You have to justify your life?

Siegfried Lenz, one of the great writers of German post-war literature is dead. He died on 7 October 2014, surrounded by his family. He was 88 years old.... more more

GoetheInstitute

13/09/2007

"We have stars but no sky"

German director Christian Petzold talks about his new film "Yella"

Der Tagesspiegel: Mr. Petzold, "Yella" is your third film with Nina Hoss. Why do you like working with her so much?

Christian Petzold: I knew her as "Das Mädchen Rosemarie" (the girl Rosemarie), a blond temptress in the hands of exploitative men. And since I believe that the roles actresses play become part of their biography, I thought that she could play the temptress in my film "Toter Mann" (dead man). But one who plays with the men herself. At the first rehearsal Nina Hoss sat there straight as a pole and wrote everything down. This really got me. How can a woman who is so precisely centred be the vengeful temptress? But then I understood. She empties herself and sets off on an expedition into the unknown.



Christian Petzold with lead actors Devid Striesow and Nina Hoss. © Christian Schulz. All photos courtesy Schramm Film Koerner & Weber


Yella is the woman who heads off for the West. Did you have role models?

Hitchcock's "Marnie!" But that turned out to be a mistake that cost us a day of filming. I always hold little seminars before we start and show the actors other films, we read literature, I air my office to a certain extent. This time one of the films I showed was "Marnie". And because my cameraman Hans Fromm and I are Hitchcock fans, we filmed the arrival on the platform in Wittenberge on the Elbe exactly as Hitchcock did. It was not until we were in the editing room that I saw that this was completely wrong, because the perspective in "Marnie" is that of the desirous man who heats up the view of woman from behind with his fantasies. But "Yella" is not about men's fantasies – but about women's. So we had to dump the 42,000 euro steadycam platform scene.



© Hans Fromm


But you do film Nina Hoss as the star, in close-ups, almost glamorous.

Yella' is the portrait of a dreamer who remains in her dream. There are shots which portray her classically, and there are views inside. That's why it has this star quality. A star is always a dreamer who exists for and with him/herself and to look at one is to go off into a dream. There are no stars in television because it's tuned to recognition and viewer figures, and it molests the viewer: Stay with me! A star is not a prostitute.

People often ask why we don't love our stars in Germany.

It annoyed me for ages that people asked only two questions of the cinema. One being: We have a sky without stars, where are the stars? But it's the other way round. We have stars without a sky. German actors are filmed as if they were stars, they make appearances on the red carpet or in Gala magazine, but there are no films surrounding them. How else do you explain the loneliness of Nastassja Kinski? Why weren't 30 films made with Franka Potente after "Run Lola Run"? And what is Jessica Schwarz up to? And why is Martina Gedeck not permanently surrounded by a culture which she carries, like Isabelle Huppert in France? They are celebrated for a single film, stars for half a year – and then the gazettes move on to the next one.



Devid Striesow and Nina Hoss. © Hans Fromm


And what is the other question?

The one about the script. The script is seen as an exchange value, one that can be laid down anywhere. If it's good then the film will be good too. Nonsense! Chabrol's "Le Boucher" or "Les Biches" were simple stories which only gained in depth through the direction and location – Paris, Versailles, the Americanisation of the French bourgeoisie.

You once said that German films did not ask their country any questions. Do you still think this?

No, the situation has improved. I was referring not to Realism but to a certain sensibility. I find the intrusion of the private sphere in film utterly cynical, because it creates a caricature of social existence. I know how the Precariat (hybrid of precarious and proletariat - ed.) lives: that's RTL 2 territory. The same goes for bigger connections. In the films of the Weimar Republic you feel the fascism, and Vietnam is reflected in New Hollywood cinema. Sensibility has returned to German cinema, for example in the lonely landscapes of the East in Valeska Grisebach's "Longing".



© Hans Fromm


And what questions does "Yella" ask Germany?

In "Yella" Wittenberge looks at first like my model railway. There's the Elbe, the factory tower with the clock, the early industrialisation. This was all destroyed by the private property trusts that took over the GDR real estate after the Wall came down. The factories are still standing but the people have disappeared, like Yella, the fortune seeker. Cinema sees things that have not yet been registered empirically. You could feel that women were leaving East Germany, long before it appeared in the press. The other half of the film takes place at the Expo site in Hannover. This is where capitalism builds its own documenta, complete with run-down aesthetics in glass, steel and leather.



© Hans Fromm


You don't have many good things to say about television. Particularly when it comes to the debate about the hybrid film and TV productions in "Päpstin" (Pope Joan) for example.

The problem with "amphibian film" is that neither good cinema nor good television comes out of it if the idea is to make TV and cinema versions from the outset. Actors have to find their rhythm, even the tension between two lovers has a certain length. Cinema is always also the documentation of the work on a scene. If a story is created for two different media at the same time, for the 100 and 180 minute versions, this work is nothing more than material for post-production. The film has no opportunity to find its heartbeat.





Christian Petzold with Nina Hoss. © Christian Schulz


Does that mean that you will only make cinema from now on?

Television is not bad. Wolfram Staudte's "Der Seewolf", "Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn", "Treasure Island", these four-part TV series from the sixties are wonderful. But German television with its billion-euro budgets is not taking risks any more. There has been no cinema there for a long time. The channels are not interested in the latest Chabrol; the new Tarantino runs after midnight at the earliest. And it's also terrible when television uses amphibian productions to get its hands on film funding, and big productions take the bread from the mouths of smaller films, even das Kleine Fernsehspiel (TV slot for films by young directors). The most interesting it gets are the crime series by Dominik Graf or imports like "The Wire" or "The Sopranos". These are the best things I've seen on television. Cinema is nouvelle, TV is roman and "The Sopranos" is an absolute epic. Thomas Mann would make TV series today.

* The interview originally appeared in German in Der Tagesspiegel on 11 September, 2007.

Christian Petzold (born 1960) lives in Berlin and shot to fame with his film about the Roter Armee Faktion "Die Innere Sicherheit" (The State I Am In). He worked with Nina Hoss on "Toter Mann" and "Wolfsburg".
Christiane Peitz is head of the cultural section at Der Tagesspiegel.

See Ekkehard Knörer's review of "Yella" here.

Translation: lp.

Get the signandsight newsletter for regular updates on feature articles.
signandsight.com - let's talk european.

 
More articles

Life in a bubble

Wednesday 21 March, 2012

TeaserPicAwarded a Silver Bear at this year's Berlinale, Christian Petzold's new film "Barbara" is a GDR drama set in the early 1980s. Colourful and romantic beyond any nostalgia for the East, it relates the situation of female doctor caught in the circumstances of having applied for an exit visa. For Petzold, the film is not only a highly personal story of a woman in conflict but a film about what was lost - especially for women - with the fall of the Wall in 1989.
read more

Workers of the world, be entertained!

Monday 13 February, 2012

TeaserPicThis year's Berlinale Retrospective "The Red Dream Factory" rediscovers the legendary German-Russian Mezhrabpom-Film (1922-1936). It tells of incredible film successes, ideological misunderstandings and astonishing blindness. By Oksana Bulgakova
read more

Thailand has woken up

Thursday 27 May, 2010

Apitchatpong Weerasethakul, the Thai film maker who has just won the Palme d'Or in Cannes, talks to Cristina Nord about the political situation in his country and his films.
read more

Talking to the lord of pain

Tuesday 16 February, 2010

The director Werner Herzog is the president of the jury at this, the 60th Berlinale. Katja Nicodemus met him in Los Angeles to discuss burning Lilliputians, how it feels like to be unsuccessfully shot at, and the life of a lone Bavarian wolf in Hollywood.
read more

Playing Lars

Wednesday 16 September, 2009

Charlotte Gainsbourg spent two months in Germany, either blood-spattered in a dark forest or sealed off in a sterile hotel. She talks to Martina Meister about discovering her limits during the filming of "Antichrist" by Danish director Lars von Trier.
read more

Israel's enemies take no prisoners

Tuesday 7 July, 2009

TeaserPicThe Israeli Defence Forces should be judged by different standards than those used for other armies, says Claude Lanzmann. Fifteen years after the release of "Tsahal", his controversial film about the first Jewish army, the French director talks to Max Dax about the logic of war, the value of Jewish lives and Sharon as shepherd.
read more

Marx: the quest, the way, the destination

Tuesday 20 January, 2009

TeaserPicTaking off where Sergei Eisenstein left off, Alexander Kluge has made a nine-and-a-half hour film about Karl Marx and the fairytale of "Kapital". And it's not a minute too long. By Helmut Merker
read more

Cloud 9 at 70 plus

Thursday 11 September, 2008

Emotional chaos in the elderly and the best aesthetic for folds and wrinkles. Birgit Glombitza talks to Andreas Dresen about geriatric love and sex, and his new film "Wolke 9".

read more

And isn't it baronic

Wednesday 16 April, 2008

Billed as the inspirational story of one of the greatest legends of all times, "The Red Baron" is flying, driving and healing Germany at dizzy cinematic heights. There are just not enough superlatives to do this film justice. By Ekkehard Knörer.
read more

The mild bunch

Monday 18 February, 2008

Only one truly original auteur filmmaker made it into this year's Berlinale Competition. With "Night and Day" Korean director Hong Sangsoo proved himself to be one of the great free-thinking talents of contemporary cinema. This aside, emaciated wishy-washy realism prevailed. By Ekkehard Knörer
read more

Berlinale box

Thursday 14 February, 2008

With the Berlin film festival well underway we pick out some of the highlights. Jose Padilha's "Tropa de Elite" might have all the components of an Egoshooter film but it's far off. Hongkong star Johnnie To's "Sparrow" is a bringer of unadulterated joy. Isabel Coixet's "Elegy" stars a couple of aging Roth rabbits. And P.T. Anderson's "There Will Be Blood" should be enjoyed on an empty stomach.
read more

Bordering on miraculous

Friday 8 February, 2008

A frighteningly intense Daniel Day Lewis, musical accompaniment from Martin Scorsese, Madonna and Patti Smith, home-made filmic fumblings from a music video genius, a mere smidgen of German material and plenty of Far Eastern promise. After the Berlinale Film Festival hit rock bottom last year, it seems a sharp upwards turn is on the cards for 2008.
read more

All eyes on the December children

Wednesday 5 December, 2007

Romania might have only 35 cinemas but it is having a profound effect on the world of film. Christian Mungiu's "4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days" won the Palme d'Or at Cannes earlier this year and the European Film Prize in Berlin on Saturday. By Jan Schulz-Ojala
read more

Floundering Dutch man

Monday 15 October, 2007

A theme running through this year's Netherlands Film Festival is that of men running after deliverance, preferably in the form of young women. There's plenty of tongue in cheek but no changing the facts: the new man, like the old, needs a muse. By Jann Ruyters
read more

Love and two coffins

Monday 8 October, 2007

German-Turkish director Fatih Akin's "The Edge of Heaven" won the best screen play award at Cannes. Now showing in German cinemas, it is a light, bright film about death, an optimistic requiem full of little utopias. By Katja Nicodemus


read more