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Film

Filmmaker Maren Ade: 'It's a big dream to be in Cannes'

Her film "Toni Erdmann" was greeted with an eight-minute standing ovation in Cannes. Many critics consider it a clear favorite for the Golden Palm. In this DW interview, Maren Ade discusses family, hard work and karaoke.

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Maren Ade in Cannes

Filmmaker Maren Ade, 39, comes from southern Germany and studied film direction and production at the Academy of Film and Television in Munich. She then moved to Berlin, where she and fellow producers founded "Komplizen Film," a production company.

Ade's previous films were also crowned with success. Her graduation film "The Forest for the Trees" (2003) won the Special Jury Prize at the US Sundance Film Festival. Her following film, "Everyone Else" (2009) received the Silver Bear at the Berlinale. Now, Ade's third film "Toni Erdmann" is the first German entry to be competing at the International Film Festival in Cannes in eight years.

DW: In one scene of your film "Toni Erdmann," the fun-loving father Winfried tells his career-oriented daughter Ines that life is about holding on to moments and not just checking them off from a to-do list. What are the moments you want to keep?

Maren Ade: A film like this one is necessarily personal. I've noticed that when making a film about family, it's hard to avoid your own - it's the only one you have. My father has a very strong sense of humor, and it is something that has always accompanied me. On the other hand, I can also recognize myself in the female figure.

What do you have in common with Ines, the business consultant?

The importance she gives to her profession and the absolute quality that drives her projects. Even though our jobs do not have much in common, I've noticed that many aspects overlap. For example, in the financial world, work has more value than individuals - unfortunately, this is sometimes the case in filmmaking too.

Your film is mainly set in Romania. How did you choose this setting?

During my preparation research I met different women working in the business world, including in Romania, and that's how I learned more about that country. I found its strong economic relationship with Germany interesting. After the fall of communism, the whole country was painfully sold out.

Cannes Festival, filmmaker Maren Ade with actress Sandra Huller, Copyright: Getty Images/P. Le Segretain

More in common than expected: Sandra Hülller, who depicts a businesswoman, and filmmaker Maren Ade

Besides directing your films, you also run a production company. Do you need to have control over everything you do?

Janine Jackowski and Jonas Dornbach, my co-producers in the company, do most of the actual production work. But we exchange ideas all the time. By creating this company, I also won a bit of freedom, as this close collaboration is the only way I can adapt my project to my needs. I believe that's essential in order to make a good movie.

You're the first German filmmaker competing in Cannes since Wim Wenders, with "Palermo Shooting," in 2008. How do you deal with the expectations?

I only managed to finish the film just before the festival began, so to stay calm, I just imagined the premiere here would be like a huge test screening! We finished the sound mix just a week before the festival - I wouldn't recommend that to anyone.

"Toni Erdmann" was nevertheless critically acclaimed. How do you feel about being invited to Cannes?

I can't really explain it myself. As a filmmaker, it's obviously the big dream to be running in Cannes - especially when you're stuck in the middle of a shoot, and it once again starts raining, and you wonder if you'll ever get a good take. Cannes is a special festival: Most of my favorite films were screened here, so that makes me very happy about it.

Festival de Cannes - Film Toni Erdmann

Hilarious and touching movie: estranged daughter (Sandra Hüller) and father (Peter Simonischek) confront each other

Your films are mainly characterized by the sharp performances of your actors. How do you work with them?

We work on the roles for a long time together. I also spend a lot of time writing the script. The film is not improvised; the dialogues are more or less set ahead of the filming. After that, I still need to feel that the scenes have their own character, as if it that moment was spontaneously driven by the characters. It is incredibly difficult, and it requires a lot of rehearsals for the actors to achieve both emotional openness and precision.

How did you know that your lead actors, Sandra Hüller and Peter Simonischek, were the right ones for your film?

There was a long casting process - that's very important to me. I knew that they were both great actors. But it was not enough to know that in theory. They had to be able to act together well - and that's something you can only find out through casting.

In one of the public's favorite scenes, Sandra Hüller belts out a karaoke version of a Whitney Houston song. How did you come up with that one?

We went to a karaoke bar once while preparing the film. I already knew that Sandra could sing. I just picked any number for her, and she had to sing that song spontaneously. And she did it so well, I knew that was how the scene had to be.

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