German Filmmakers and Movies

Film Director Caroline Link – The Tangled Webs Families Weave

Poster for  “Im Winter ein Jahr” (international title - A Year Ago In Winter)
© 2007 Constantin Film Verleih GmbH In her films the Munich director and Oscar winner, Caroline Link, places great emphasis on the subject of family. She has now made her fourth feature film called “Im Winter ein Jahr” (international title - A Year Ago In Winter) – an intense family drama.

Back in 1980 Volker Schlöndorff won one of the highly coveted Oscars with his adaptation of Günter Grass’ epic novel Die Blechtrommel (The Tin Drum), yet after that no other German film ever quite managed it. The situation remained unchanged until 2003, almost a quarter of a century later, when the then 40-year-old Munich film director, Caroline Link, walked away with the golden statuette for her third film, a historical love film, Nirgendwo in Afrika (Nowhere In Africa) as  “Best Foreign Language Film” – Germany had at last won another Oscar.

The director’s main focus was clear even in her first film

Film director Caroline Link
Cop: Constantin Film Verleih GmbH Caroline Link was born in Bad Nauheim, in the federal state of Hesse, in 1964. After her Abitur (German higher education entrance qualification), a one-year trip to USA and a placement at Munich’s Bavaria film studios, she began a course of study at the Munich HFF - Hochschule für Film und Fernsehen (University of Television and Film) which she graduated from in 1990 with the love film Sommertage (The Days Of Summer). She then worked as an assistant director and screenwriter, among other things on the German TV crime series Der Fahnder and she made a children’s film for ZDF (Germany’s public TV station, Channel 2) - Kalle der Träumer (Kalle The Dreamer) (1992).

“Beyond Silence”
Cop: picture-alliance/obs In 1996 she finally got round to making her silver-screen debut – Jenseits der Stille (Beyond Silence). Even in this – her first - film her central themes are quite in evidence – the various aspects and nuances of family life, of people existing side by side, inter-human difficulties in all their facets. This drama in which Silvie Testud plays the musically talented daughter of deaf and dumb parents is considered to be the essential starting point for all the work Caroline Link has done so far. At the same time music has always played a very special role in her films right from the start. The film music composer, Niki Reiser, has done the music for all of Caroline Link’s films up to now. Her first product for the screen brought her straight off two “Bavarian Film Awards” (Best Newcomer Director, Best Music) and two “German Film Prizes” (Best Actress in a Leading Role, Best Music). On top of all that, Beyond Silence was also nominated as Best Foreign Language Film for an Oscar. All in all, not a bad haul indeed for a debut film.

A sizeable number of both filmgoers and film prizes

„Pünktchen und Anton“ (Annaluise and Anton)
Cop: picture-alliance/dpa Before she finally made it into the international league of Oscar laureates, in 1999 Caroline Link made an adaptation of Erich Kästner’s classic children’s book Pünktchen und Anton (Annaluise and Anton). This (family) film made for the mainstream turned out to be somewhat too accommodating, possibly too shallow, and earned rather restrained or even negative reviews from the press. Nevertheless the predominantly young audience enjoyed watching this new version that moved the action from Berlin in the 1920s to present-day Munich. That is why this Caroline Link film also managed to be seen by way over a million filmgoers – just like her films before and her films after it.

“Nowhere in Africa”
© 2007 Constantin Film Verleih GmbHIn the end it was her screen version of Stefanie Zweig’s novel Nirgendwo in Afrika (Nowhere In Africa) in 2001 that enabled her to really break through onto the international scene. Once again the family is the underlying theme - of the story, of the drama, of the biographies of these dysfunctional figures. It tells the story of a Jewish family that flees Nazi Germany and ends up in exile far away in Kenya. It is a huge and lavish production, narrated in an epic and emotional way. Once again Juliane Köhler, who we had seen before in Pünktchen und Anton, played the leading lady. Nirgendwo in Afrika also managed to win a whole assortment of German film prizes, too.

The film scene is in for quite a few more surprises from Caroline Link

“Im Winter ein Jahr” (A Year Ago In Winter):
The Richter family: Lilli (KAROLINE HERFURTH), Thomas (HANNS ZISCHLER) und Eliane (CORINNA HARFOUCH) 
© 2007 Constantin Film Verleih GmbH After several years of absence from both cinema and TV screens Caroline Link was back on the scene in 2008 with yet another film version of a literary work. She adapted Scott Campbell’s Aftermath for the screen – with the new title Im Winter ein Jahr (A Year Ago In Winter), with Josef Bierbichler, Corinna Harfouch, Hanns Zischler and Karoline Herfurth. It is most probably her best scenic and narrative piece of work to date. An intense, urgent, haunting drama about the tangled webs people  weave and the ensuing hurt suffered by a modern family in the here and now –transposed from present-day America to present-day Germany, set in Munich and on nearby Lake Starnberg. It is in this film in fact that her signature theme is manifested most strongly and most precisely – the family, the family background of every individual. Im Winter ein Jahr (A Year Ago In Winter) is a subtle, soft, positively unspectacular glimpse into the lives of a family that has been traumatised, paralysed and petrified by the death of a loved one. It is also a film about loss and how we deal with it, about mourning, pain, taking leave from someone. And it is also about liberating ourselves from the invisible cages we all stick our heads in.

Maybe both the German and the international film scene are in for quite a few more surprises from Caroline Link – who lives with director colleague, Dominik Graf, and their daughter in Munich.
Thilo Wydra
is a free-lance publicist and author, as well as the German correspondent for the film festival in Cannes.
Books like “Volker Schlöndorff und seine Filme” (published by Heyne Verlag, 1998), “Margarethe von Trotta – Filmen, um zu überleben” ( published by Henschel Verlag, 2000), “Romy Schneider – Leben, Werk, Wirkung” (published by Suhrkamp Verlag, 2008) are just a few of the books he has written.

Translation: Paul McCarthy
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion
January 2009

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