Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
'Kick-Ass' Creator Mark Millar Says A Hit-Girl Solo Movie Was Once In The Works With 'The Raid' Director Gareth Evans 'Kick-Ass' Creator Mark Millar Says A Hit-Girl Solo Movie Was Once In The Works With 'The Raid' Director Gareth Evans Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon & Leslie Jones To Lead Paul Feig's 'Ghostbusters' Reboot Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon & Leslie Jones To Lead Paul Feig's 'Ghostbusters' Reboot 30 Films You Forgot Were Oscar Winners 30 Films You Forgot Were Oscar Winners Review: Documentary 'Night Will Fall' Is A Powerful Reminder Of The Horrors Of The Holocaust Review: Documentary 'Night Will Fall' Is A Powerful Reminder Of The Horrors Of The Holocaust Harvey Weinstein Explains What Happened With 'Grace Of Monaco,' Says He Was Right About 'Snowpiercer' Harvey Weinstein Explains What Happened With 'Grace Of Monaco,' Says He Was Right About 'Snowpiercer' Harvey Weinstein Says Quentin Tarantino Has Changed The Last Chapter Of 'The Hateful Eight' Harvey Weinstein Says Quentin Tarantino Has Changed The Last Chapter Of 'The Hateful Eight' Sundance Review: ‘Slow West’ Starring Michael Fassbender, Kodi Smit-McPhee & Ben Mendelsohn Sundance Review: ‘Slow West’ Starring Michael Fassbender, Kodi Smit-McPhee & Ben Mendelsohn Sundance: Keanu Reeves Opens The Door To Trouble In Teaser Trailer For Eli Roth's 'Knock Knock' Sundance: Keanu Reeves Opens The Door To Trouble In Teaser Trailer For Eli Roth's 'Knock Knock' Watch: 8-Minute Video Essay Argues Steve McQueen's 'Shame' Is Actually A Critique Of The Modern Metropolis Watch: 8-Minute Video Essay Argues Steve McQueen's 'Shame' Is Actually A Critique Of The Modern Metropolis Watch: The Tampon Scene From 'Fifty Shades Of Grey' You Won't See In The Movie Recreated With 'The Sims' Watch: The Tampon Scene From 'Fifty Shades Of Grey' You Won't See In The Movie Recreated With 'The Sims' The 10 Best Films Of 2004 The 10 Best Films Of 2004 'Death Proof' Star Zoe Bell Leads Latest Additions To Quentin Tarantino's 'Hateful Eight' As Filming Begins 'Death Proof' Star Zoe Bell Leads Latest Additions To Quentin Tarantino's 'Hateful Eight' As Filming Begins Watch: 'Saturday Night Live' Sketch 'Fanatic' Written & Directed By Paul Thomas Anderson And Starring Ben Affleck Watch: 'Saturday Night Live' Sketch 'Fanatic' Written & Directed By Paul Thomas Anderson And Starring Ben Affleck First Look: Leonardo DiCaprio Gets Grimy In Alejandro González Iñárritu's 'The Revenant' First Look: Leonardo DiCaprio Gets Grimy In Alejandro González Iñárritu's 'The Revenant' "Carry Bolt Cutters Everywhere": Werner Herzog Has 24 Amazing Pieces Of Advice "Carry Bolt Cutters Everywhere": Werner Herzog Has 24 Amazing Pieces Of Advice The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far Watch: 3 Graphic, Very NSFW Clips From Lars von Trier's 'Nymphomaniac Vol II — Director's Cut' Watch: 3 Graphic, Very NSFW Clips From Lars von Trier's 'Nymphomaniac Vol II — Director's Cut' The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki Christopher Nolan Says His Howard Hughes Film Is Dead, But He'd Still Like To Do A Bond Film At Some Point Christopher Nolan Says His Howard Hughes Film Is Dead, But He'd Still Like To Do A Bond Film At Some Point

Göteborg Interview: Director Volker Schlöndorff On ‘Calm At Sea,’ His Greatest Cinematic Failure & 'The Master'

The Playlist By Jessica Kiang | The Playlist February 9, 2013 at 12:55PM

Presenting his new film “Calm at Sea” (reviewed here) in the Bio Roy Theater during the Göteborg International Film Festival last week, director Volker Schlöndorff said, in mock-pique, “It’s so great to be in this wonderful theatre, named after Sweden’s great filmmaker Roy Andersson. I‘m still waiting for my hometown to put up a theater in my name.” And perhaps given the level of esteem in which he is held, especially in his home country, the idea of one day catching a 2.30 showing at The Volker is not so farfetched. But of course Schlondorff’s career has hardly been plain sailing, with his towering achievement, the oddly compelling, uncanny adaptation of Günter Grass' “The Tin Drum” rather overshadowing the films that came before and after, especially having been crowned with an Oscar and the Palme d’Or.
1
Volker interview header

Presenting his new film “Calm at Sea” (reviewed here) in the Bio Roy Theater during the Göteborg International Film Festival last week, director Volker Schlöndorff said, in mock-pique, “It’s so great to be in this wonderful theatre, named after Sweden’s great filmmaker Roy Andersson. I‘m still waiting for my hometown to put up a theater in my name.” And perhaps given the level of esteem in which he is held, especially in his home country, the idea of one day catching a 2.30 showing at The Volker is not so farfetched. But of course Schlöndorff’s career has hardly been plain sailing, with his towering achievement, the oddly compelling, uncanny adaptation of Günter Grass'The Tin Drum” rather overshadowing the films that came before and after, especially having been crowned with an Oscar and the Palme d’Or.

Nonetheless the director has continued to work in various genres and media, from the literary adaptation (‘Tin Drum,’ “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Swann In Love”) to documentary (“The Michael Nyman Songbook,” “Billy Wilder Speaks") at home, across Europe and occasionally in the U.S. (most recently with the pulpy B-movie “Palmetto”). As we reported already, one of his next major projects will see him return to America, teaming with writer Colm Toibin on “Montauk,” but in the meantime, here's a few things we learnt from our interview, which took place, appropriately for once, in a movie theater.

If there were tears during the watching of “Calm at Sea” there were tears during its writing too.
I cried when I wrote it, and it came from the documents. Not tears of sadness but I was moved by the sheer beauty of these characters -- very simple characters, very plain… They were not perverted yet, and they had incredibly simple and strong belief that ultimately the revolution would create a better world. Today it seems incredibly naïve, but it was all authentic, I had the letters in my hand.

calm at sea poster
Schlöndorff went about recreating the historical story from primary sources.
I don’t think I made up a single thing! Perhaps I have no more imagination. I knew about this story when I was 17 and came to France to lean French. And my friends in class mentioned that there had been a horrible thing that had happened nearby, but they didn’t tell me any more, and anyhow we were all heading for the New Europe and why would be interested in that?

So it caught up 50 years later to me. And I started to research I found that [noted German writer] Ernst Junger had been involved in it. I found his diaries and I discovered that he had to write a report on it, so all of a sudden I had a real document. And then in the French Archives everybody had written their autobiographies; the young local undergoverner had; the young communist who shot the German officer had, so I knew the debates he had with his friends; and the gendarme had written about it, and the priest. And of course I had the letters. So I literally only had to compose a structure, find a way to tell it… At the end it felt like a novel.

This documentary approach to fiction was important for separating the myth from reality.
The finances mostly were from documentary departments in various TV stations because in [film] fiction usually you have one hero, but here you have a multitude of people. Whereas this boy in France is next to Joan of Arc -- Guy Moquet, he has his own subway station, every year on the day of his death, 21st October, all schoolclasses have to read his letter. But he is a myth, he became a legend. So I tried to cut him down to a real boy who gets caught up in this.

Schlöndorff is painfully aware that he has visited WWII several times before in his films.
I’m really always on the defensive when it comes to that. My daughter was 19 when I started the project and she said, “Oh no, not again WWII.” So I’m on the defensive but I wanted to understand how could it happen. And I came to understand that this kind of tragedy could happen because it was considered an act of administration -- a lot of public servants doing his duty and nobody is responsible, but every single one could have stopped the machinery, but of course that would have called for bravery. It’s about the ‘banality of obedience.’

Tin Drum
But if he might be done with WWII, WWII is not done with him.
Each time I make a film like this I swear it will be the last time I deal with this sort of historical stuff. But a good deed never goes unpunished and the film was so popular in France that they made me an offer I can’t refuse, which is another August 1945 "Paris is burning" kind of thing. The last night of the German general there and how come, through the influence of the Swedish consul he decides not to blow up Paris. So it’s to take just this one night during the liberation of Paris with a very few characters. So I’m doing that this summer, with [actor] Niels Arestrup.

As a storytelling aficionado, Schlöndorff admires “The Master” and “The Kids are All Right” among others.
I think the counterpoison, the antidote to all these digital effects and 3D and these rollercoaster kind of movies is in the storytelling… There is no good story per se, I think a story becomes good when it is urgent to tell it. And not all the stories are always urgent to be told. But I thought that some of the strongest films in the last years were about storytelling -- this year I really liked “The Master” -- great storytelling! Films like “The Kids are All Right” or “American Beauty,” these are storytelling movies.

He is intrigued to watch the new version of "Michael Kolhaas" (with Mads Mikkelsen and Bruno Ganz, which we reported on way back when) because he believes his version was hardly definitive...
I’ll be most curious [to see it]. It’s the movie I always wanted to remake or to have a second chance, but you see in filmmaking, no more than in love, do you ever get a second chance. Because that was my biggest failure ever, I think. But today I know I still wouldn’t know how to do it. I read it over and over and over again, and because there is a totally irrational crazy component to the text, I still wouldn’t know how to do it. Maybe a little better than before, but I haven’t got it yet. In fact, I reread many books [I adapted] where I think I failed.

I’m still rereading [“Swann in Love” source] Proust. 

This article is related to: Volker Schlöndorff, Göteborg International Film Festival, Interview


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


E-Mail Updates