Volker Schlöndorff Retrospective
German Film Week 2019
Volker Schlöndorff, born on March 31st 1939 in Wiesbaden, took part in a student exchange to France as a high school student in 1956 - and stayed ten years instead of the originally planned two months: in 1959 he graduated from high school in Paris with the French Baccalauréat (his classmates included the later film director Bertrand Tavernier). After completing his German Abitur in Frankfurt, he returned to Paris, where he studied political science. Schlöndorff then studied cinematography at the Institut des Hautes Etudes Cinématographiques (IDHEC) in Paris, where he met Louis Malle, with whom he worked several times in the following years.
Volker Schlöndorff | © Rückkehr nach Montauk In 1960 Schlöndorff shoots under the pseudonym Volker Loki the short film “Wen kümmert's" about Algerians in Frankfurt, which is not released by the FSK because of “partisanship against a friendly nation" (France). In the winter of 1960 he worked as Ludwig Berger's assistant director at the channel Freies Berlin; in collaboration with Louis Malle he produced reports on Southeast Asia and Algeria for French television. At the same time, Schlöndorff began working as a trainee and assistant director on films by prominent French directors such as Louis Malle, Jean-Pierre Melville and Alain Resnais. In 1964 he received a screenplay bonus of 200,000 DM for his first screenplay “Der junge Törless", an adaptation of Musil's “Die Verwirrungen des Zöglings Törleß". After working as assistant director for Louis Malles “Viva Maria" in Mexico in 1965, Schlöndorff began shooting “Der junge Törless" in the winter of 1965/66. The film becomes a success, receives three German Film Awards (Best Film, Best Director, Best Screenplay) and is considered the first international success of the young German film.
With his second film “Mord und Totschlag" (1967) he staged the first colour film of a young German filmmaker, followed by the international large-scale production “Michael Kohlhaas - Der Rebell" (1968). From 1969 Schlöndorff worked closely with Margarethe von Trotta, who was first an actress, then his assistant director, co-author and co-director. They get married in 1971.
In 1969 Schlöndorff founded the production company Hallelujah-Film GmbH together with Peter Fleischmann in Munich and in 1974 as majority shareholder with Reinhard Hauff the Bioskop-Film GmbH, which since then has been in charge of his productions under the direction of Eberhard Junkersdorf. Volker Schlöndorff was also very active in film politics at this time. He has repeatedly been involved in discussions about film promotion laws and from 1974 to 1978 represented the SPD parliamentary group on the board of the Filmförderungsanstalt as a delegate.
Between his cinematic works, Schlöndorff also worked as an opera director again and again: in 1974 he directed “Katja Kabanova" by Leo Janacek in Frankfurt; in 1976 in Berlin “Wir erreichen den Fluß" by Hans Werner Henze; in 1976 together with Mathieu Carrière in Montepulciano (Italy) “Zoopalast" by Thomas Jahn; there in 1981 also “et Enée"; by Purcell; and in 1984 in Frankfurt “La Bohême" by Puccini.
Schlöndorff's big breakthrough with the cinema audience came in 1975 with the Böll film adaptation “Die verlorene Ehre der Katharina Blum" (“The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum"), which he directed together with Margarethe von Trotta (since then Margarethe von Trotta has directed her own films). Schlöndorff was massively attacked by the Springer press and the CDU in 1977 because of this film, which denounced the methods of the tabloid press and the police in the fight against the left-wing scene and alleged RAF terrorists, and because of his involvement in the “Legal Assistance Fund for the Defence of Political Prisoners". The following year, together with Alexander Kluge, he was one of the initiators and co-producers of the omnibus film “Germany in Autumn", which deals with the situation in Germany at the time of RAF terrorism. In 1980 and 1982, “The Candidate" and “War and Peace", two further highly political community films, followed, which attempt to form a kind of political counter-information to television in a mixture of fiction and documentary scenes.
During this time Schlöndorff's greatest success with critics and audiences to this day also occurred: The elaborate Günter Grass film adaptation “The Tin Drum” was awarded the Golden Palm in Cannes in 1979 (ex aequo with Coppola's “Apocalypse Now") and received the Oscar for Best Foreign Film in February 1980. Both honours, as well as the numerous other prizes awarded to the “Tin Drum", are regarded as signals of the international recognition of the new German film. After the Nicolas Born adaptation “Die Fälschung" (The Forgery), most of which was shot in Beirut in 1980/81, Schlöndorff realized the French-German co-production “Eine Liebe von Swann" (A Love of Swann) in Paris in 1983/84 with great effort and international star cast (Jeremy Irons, Ornella Muti, Alain Delon, Fanny Ardant), based on a chapter from Marcel Proust's novel “Auf der Suche nach der verlorenen Zeit" (In Search of Lost Time).
In 1985 Schlöndorff staged a film version of Arthur Miller's “Death of a Salesman" for American television in New York, with Dustin Hoffman in the title role. His following films, “Ein Aufstand alter Männer" (1987, TV), “Die Geschichte der Dienerin" (1990) and the Max Frisch adaptation “Homo Faber" (1991), which won a German Film Award in Silver, are also produced as German-American co-productions with a prominent international cast. In 1991 the marriage with Margarethe von Trotta is divorced. In 1992 Schlöndorff and film critic Hellmuth Karasek produced the six-part TV documentary “Billy, How Did You Do It?" about the legendary filmmaker Billy Wilder.
The tournament film adaptation “The Unhold" with John Malkovich premiered in 1996 at the Venice Film Festival, but was received ambiguously by critics and fell far short of expectations at the box office. Also the Neo-Noir “Palmetto" (1997) shot in the USA with Woody Harrelson and Elisabeth Shue does not find a big audience. Only with “Die Stille nach dem Schuss" can Schlöndorff again record a veritable success. The drama about the exile that parts of the German terror scene found in the GDR in the 1970s and 1980s is premiered in the competition of the Berlinale 2000 and brings the Silver Bear to the leading actresses Bibiana Beglau and Nadja Uhl. The chamber play-like Holocaust drama “Der Neunte Tag" (2004) with Ulrich Matthes and August Diehl also received almost all positive reviews and several prizes.
After the elaborate drama ”Strajk - The Heroine of Gdansk" (2006), about the life story of Anna Walentynowicz, co-founder of the Polish workers' movement Solidarnosc, Schlöndorff shoots “Ulzhan - The Forgotten Light" (2007) - a poetic drama set in the steppe of Kazakhstan about the strange relationship between a nomad and a weary European.
In addition to Peter Greenaway and others, Schlöndorff will participate in the 2010 film portrait of the composer, musician and artist Michael Nyman, “Michael Nyman in Progress". Two years later, the war drama “The Sea in the Morning", set in occupied France in the 1940s, celebrated its premiere at the Berlinale. Schlöndorff is responsible for direction and script. His next film also takes place during the Second World War and is presented at the Berlinale: Based on the stage play by Cyril Gély, “Diplomacy" (2014) depicts a (fictitious) dispute between the Swedish Consul General and the German city commander of Paris in 1944, when Hitler ordered the city to be razed to the ground. Volker Schlöndorff and Cyril Gély received the award for Best Adapted Screenplay at the César 2015 French Film Awards.
In 2016, Schlöndorff staged the ceremony to commemorate the Battle of Verdun during the First World War in 1916 on the occasion of the State Act, and decided to perform a kind of experimental performance: around 3000 young people from France and 1000 from Germany descended from the surrounding woods to the military cemetery to the drumbeat of the French “Tambours du Bronx", where they rapped and performed a kind of dance of death. The young people themselves filmed the events with their mobile phones. Afterwards, the politicians present looked at the mobile phone pictures and videos of the young people and began a dialogue with them.