Berlinale People “Then we did a good job!” – Interview with Andreas Dresen

Berlin 1989

In the second part of the interview German director Andreas Dresen speaks on a trip to Paris in 1989, his new film "Als wir träumten" ("When we were dreaming") and authenticity in films.

Mr.  Dresen, your father had left the GDR in the 1970s. In “Silent Country” the question is raised: Should I stay or should I go? You yourself were a young film student from East Berlin in early 1989/90. Did you think of leaving?

Early in May 1989, 30 of us went to Paris, with Lothar Bisky [the then Film Academy President and later left-wing German MEP] – can you imagine! And I was one of them, even though my father had left for West Germany. Bisky wanted his students to see the world. How he managed to do it, I have no idea. During the trip I seriously thought about staying. Paris in May, that was quite a temptation.

Back to East Berlin

And then when we got back to East Berlin, to the hot dog stand next to the “Palace of Tears” [the Berlin nickname for the former border crossing at Berlin Friedrichstraße train station, where East Germans said teary goodbyes to visitors going back to West Germany], that wasn’t very elating. In that moment I thought: now I have made a major mistake in my life. It would have been easier to stay in the West, but none of us students did it. Which says a lot.

In the end, I can’t run away from myself and the world but I can change the place where I live. If I leave, I might not have the same problems that I had before. But I will have new ones. And what then? Do I leave again? This is basically what the ending of Silent Country is about: the protagonist thinks about leaving, but turns around and goes back to that grey village, because he says: If I don’t make it at the theatre here, I won’t make it elsewhere.

Of course everybody has to make that decision for themselves. Back then I felt that leaving would not do me much good. There were people who left and had a very good reason for it; people who had huge problems in the GDR, to the point that it wasn’t worth staying.

Old values didn’t hold anymore

How does your next film “Als wir träumten” – “When we were dreaming” position itself in regard to “Silent Country”? It also carries a GDR theme that – at least chronologically – connects to “Silent Country”.

The main narrative of the film is indeed set directly after Silent Country. You could really just insert Silent Country into the film – between the childhood and teenage years. The film is set in a time that hasn’t been focused on much until now and deals with a generation that hasn’t been talked about a lot – the early to mid-1990s, when many teenagers who had been 13, 14 years old during reunification, got caught in a political vacuum. The old values didn’t hold anymore and new ones didn’t really exist yet. What am I guided by, where do I turn, in a time of incredible anarchy, of incredible change?

It is not about ideology, but about a group of people that claim the country as a kingdom of their own freedom, only to then realize that the new laws –the economic ones– very much interfere with their friendship. In the end they do, however, get somewhere. One could quote Brecht at the end of the film, who said in “In the Jungle of Cities”: "The chaos is used up. It was the best time."

You say for you this is the revival of your reflections on the GDR and its consequences, not an endpoint. Are you coming back to the topic after many films that did not deal with German division?

I will definitely try it one or two more times. I have yet another project in development that is concerned with the GDR, on the life of singer-songwriter, rock poet and digger operator Gerhard Gundermann, a very interesting and controversial GDR figure. Laila Stieler will write the script.

There is no authenticity in film

Actor Joel Basman said about you: “Andreas Dresen wants authenticity. He is a great realist. He keeps you grounded. He shows you that less can be more”. What do you think of that?

It makes me happy to hear that. I try to work with actors as “normally” as possible, to find a tone together that sounds true, like real life. Lines should always sounds as if they just came out of a person’s mouth that very moment, even if they are the very elaborate lines of a Wolfgang Kohlhaase [Dresen’s screenwriter] – as in “Als wir träumten”. Everything should be born out of the other in a very natural process, with the self-evident casualness that there is to the world, without thinking too much about it. But, what is it that Wolfgang Kohlhaase always says: “If cinema goes right, more than one person has had more than one good day.”

The word “authenticity” itself though I always have a hard time with. There is no authenticity in film. If you want to see authenticity and reality, go look out of the window. Film is always the subjective truth of the people who made that film. On film you never see real life, only a reflection of it. And if it still feels like what you see is life next door – that is great. Then we did a good job!