An Interview with Anna and Dietrich Brüggemann “Sharing Enthusiasm for a Project”

Anna and Dietrich Brüggemann
Anna and Dietrich Brüggemann | Photo (detail): © Fabian Maulbach

Anna Brüggemann and her brother Dietrich have been successfully making films together since 2005 – not only as actress and director, but also as screenwriters. They have won a great many awards, most recently the Silver Bear for the best script at the 2014 Berlinale for “Stations of the Cross” (original German title: Kreuzweg).

The Dardenne brothers, the Taviani brothers, the Coen brothers – there are several pairs of brothers who collaborate successfully on making movies. But a brother-and-sister team?

Dietrich Brüggemann: The Wachowski brothers started out as brothers and now work together as brother and sister.

Anna Brüggemann: They wanted to be like us.

In 2005 you wrote your first script together for “Nine Scenes” (Neun Szenen). How did that come about?

A.B.: We’re the two middle siblings out of a total of four and we always hung out a lot. I mean when you’re siblings you talk about everything …

D.B.: ... or nothing. But with us private and professional subjects always intertwined. And up to 2005 we lived together with a whole bunch of housemates. When the flat share ended, we wanted to keep hanging out together.

“I always feel somewhat blind to my characters”

Even if you get along well, working together is always an experiment the first time around.

A.B.: To us it never felt like a test.

D.B.: No, we already knew it works. To me, sharing enthusiasm for a project is what counts.

You, Ms Brüggemann, play the lead in “Nine Scenes” (Neun Szenen), “3 Rooms/ Kitchen/ Bathroom” (3 Zimmer/ Küche/ Bad) and “Run If You Can” (Renn, wenn Du kannst). Was that a foregone conclusion as you were developing the material?

D.B.: Yes, that was clear from the get-go.

A.B.: And it was a challenge. I always have a bit of a hard time getting some perspective on characters I've helped create. It came easiest to me in 3 Rooms/ Kitchen/ Bathroom. Through the parody I could keep a certain distance – plus there were seven other characters as well.

How do you hit upon your subjects? Do you brainstorm together?

A.B.: Dietrich generally sets the ball rolling and I assist, but who knows ...

D.B.: The material overlaps. The idea for Run If You Can was already there right after Nine Scenes, and before 3 Rooms/ Kitchen/ Bathroom we’d already started developing Stations of the Cross.

Ms Brüggemann, you’re very successful and very busy as an actress. How do you manage to write scripts as well?

A.B.: I just take time out for that, even if I’m shooting for four weeks straight – we do take breaks during a shoot. I like acting, but that alone doesn’t fulfil me. I simply want to tap into other ways of expressing myself creatively.

The Connection between film and music

And you, Mr Brüggemann, are not only a director, but also a musician involved in various projects: adding a soundtrack to silent films, for example, or playing with your own band. How important is music to you?

D.B.: That’s where I’m from. Music is at least as important to me as filmmaking.

What is the connection between the two for you?

D.B.: In the structure. I analyse whilst playing music and compose. The structures you think and work in if you’ve grown up with an instrument can be transposed into film. Like the classic structure of a concerto, for example: there are three movements, the first in sonata-allegro form, the middle one’s slow and then it really gets going.
In that respect I take a different approach to film from other directors who are after the psychological structure of their protagonists. I’m always distinctly aware of the form in which a work is constructed.
And I’ve noticed again and again that music means a lot to the people I feel a deep affinity with. Like the German actor Hanns Zischler, for example, who is into piano just as much as I am.

“You mustn’t wear out the spontaneity by over-rehearsing”

Plenty of films nowadays get made solely on the basis of a treatment. How do your scripts evolve? Are the dialogues written out?

A.B.: Dietrich and I work fast – we don’t need hour-long discussions to communicate. We develop the characters and the plot – then Dietrich writes the dialogues. Afterwards we go over the screenplay again together.

D.B.: And naturally what comes out of the rehearsals gets worked into the dialogues in the final script.

A.B.: I appreciate the fact that rehearsing is unquestionably part of the normal routine for Dietrich. That isn’t necessarily the case with many of his peers.

D.B.: Still, you mustn’t wear out the spontaneity by over-rehearsing. For 3 Rooms it was only one day for each phase of the shoot. For Stations of the Cross, on the other hand, one day of rehearsal before each day of shooting. I’m against rehearsing for weeks on end, though, without clear-cut goals.

A.B.: Then at worst you end up just pointlessly rooting around in your own and other’s souls.

Many of your films have been screened at the Berlinale. “Stations of the Cross” is now actually in the main competition. How important is the festival to your work?
“Kreuzweg” (Stations of the Cross) by Dietrich and Anna Brüggemann (Review)

D.B.: It’s an important partner. I particularly like the fact that the Berlinale is a public festival. The whole city gets revved up about film during the festival period and throngs to the cinema. So do I! Since I moved here in 2000, I go to the Berlinale every year and see up to five films a day. In every section, including the retrospectives.

A.B.: I love festivals. Not only film, but also music festivals. Naturally, we felt especially welcome this year at the Berlinale. We got great feedback on Stations of the Cross even during the festival from the public, but also from lots of Berlinale staffers. And of course winning the Silver Bear now gives us some momentum.

In the press, your films were soon pigeonholed as “fresh German comedies”. But that doesn’t work for “Stations of the Cross”, in which a young girl sacrifices herself for her faith.

D.B.: This label always rubbed me the wrong way. I don’t see any of our films to date as pure comedies. Hilarity is an option in every story: a facet, but not a genre. The next film will be different. It will be over the top, my first pure comedy.