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'Barbara' Director Christian Petzold Talks The Influence Of 'Klute' & Reveals What He Plans To Do Next

Photo of Christopher Bell By Christopher Bell | The Playlist December 17, 2012 at 10:02AM

When the wall came down, German filmmakers found themselves ushered into two clusters: those that concentrated on the country’s fascist past and the others that shined light on anything else. The latter clique was hailed as pushing the medium forward; they often dabbled in social-realism with little dialogue and snail-like pacing -- and though their box office receipts were low in comparison to their brother faction, they seduced international audiences and held their ground at many of the world’s foremost film festivals. As the first and second generation of directors emerging after the split, the media dubbed their movement the “Berlin School” (a moniker they’re not thrilled over) and the team pressed on making films, a trio of them even coming together to shoot a “Red Riding”-esque trilogy in “Dreileben.”
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Barbara
Influential Films
Instead of conventional rehearsing, the “Berlin School” filmmaker prefers to spend their time watching films that he feels are important to the project -- rehearsals extinguish the off-the-cuff, in-the-moment collaboration that Petzold favors. “It’s not that I wrote a script that I wanted to realize. I hate that cinema stuff. I’m so glad that the best movie according to Sight & Sound is now ‘Vertigo’ and not ‘Citizen Kane’ anymore. Nothing against Orson Welles, but ‘Kane’ is always the movie of a genius, and I don’t like that. ‘I have so many fantasies in my head and I just want to realize them!’ For me cinema is a collective work and therefore the rehearsals I do are much different than practicing lines and hitting specific beats.”

Some of the movies that were most important to “Barbara” were “Klute,” “The French Connection,” “To Have And Have Not,” “Summer With Monika,” and “Stromboli.” “After the second day of looking at movies, the actors said that the subjects had nothing to do with the GDR in the 1980s. But the movies have to do with a morality. I wanted to open the actors to cinema. ‘French Connection’ is a movie where you can reflect the position of the director. He’s never over-the-shoulder of the sniper, he’s always on the sight of the victims and the weak. The murderers don’t have a subjective. ‘Stromboli’ is a movie about an exile, ‘To Have’ is about a man who wants to live on a fishing boat because the sea is his only society. This is always the mistake for a person, you cannot have an apartment on the ship. The society infected everything and you can see the infection in Humphrey Bogart and you can see it with politics and love in the same moment with Lauren Bacall,” mentioned the director, who stressed that the actors loved Howard Hawks’ film so much that they watched it an additional three times without him. “There was a scene in a night market in ‘Klute’ where Donald Sutherland is buying things for dinner and Jane Fonda watches him. He takes a melon and he’s touching it and it’s very erotic. She sees that he has senses, he has skill. She is living in her body, in her apartment, like a tank. So she’s looking at him and she knows in this moment, he’s not representing, he’s presenting and it’s a total difference. So love starts at this moment.” It seems that both “To Have and Have Not” and “Klute” were very influential towards the love story between Hoss and Zehrfeld, as their relationship plays out very similarly to those in the aforementioned films.

Barbara
On Acting, German vs. American 
“I thought about American acting because it’s totally based on European professors like Stanislavski, but also it is physical, it’s no expression. It’s something to do because the theater is so bad here, in Germany we have so many actors coming from stage, and that means loud speaking, face working. The American acting is of hiding and being. The people open a window, they have the skill to do it. The German theater actors never open a window because there are none on stage. Therefore I make rehearsals with actors I show them five American movies, by Gus Van Sant or something. ‘This is walking,’ I say. Germans can’t walk in front of the camera because they’re looking at the camera. When you’re on the street, everyone is looking 45 degrees to the ground. They are thinking, dreaming. But the German actors want to express something for the audience, they are never on their alone. People on the street are dreaming, in a bubble or something, they’re a bit sad when you see them. They’re thinking about their children, money, etc. The German actors have to learn so much.”

Next Stop, 1945
It seems Petzold isn’t done with the past -- without a breath, the filmmaker already knows exactly what he’s doing next. “It will be in Berlin, 1945, in which a survivor of Auschwitz is returning to get her life back.” His muse Nina Hoss will be on deck again, and also returning from “Barbara” will be Ronald Zehrfeld and most of his trusty crew, including Director of Photography Hans Fromm. He does stress that he hasn’t got the money just yet -- the film requires a bigger budget than the film he is currently promoting -- but he remains confident that this will be his next outing.

This article is related to: Christian Petzold, Barbara


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