Legendary German director Margarethe von Trotta lightens up with New York comedy | Film | DW | 11.12.2017
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Legendary German director Margarethe von Trotta lightens up with New York comedy

Making a comedy was a big challenge for the renowned director of serious films like "Hannah Arendt." But Margarethe von Trotta's screwball comedy, "Forget About Nick," still reflects on deeper themes, as she tells DW.

Born in 1942 in Berlin, Margarethe von Trotta is arguably the best-known female German film director of her generation.

Having starred in films by the likes of Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Volker Schlöndorff — who she married in 1971 — von Trotta is also renowned for directing biopics depicting historic women figures, such as "Rosa Luxemburg" (1986) and "Hannah Arendt" (2012). 

Read more:
Leading feminist filmmaker Margarethe von Trotta turns 75

She has now created an unlikely feel-good comedy about two women who have been jilted by the same man and end up living together in his New York apartment. 

Von Trotta's first English-language film sees a successful model-turned-fashion designer, Jade (Ingrid Bolso Berdal), and Maria (Katja Riemann), a mother and literature lecturer who's now trying to instill an interest in German books in New York students, unwittingly flung together in the luxury New York loft of their mutual ex-husband Nick (Haluk Bilginer).

As these very different women struggle to live under one roof, the laughs keep coming in what becomes a witty screwball comedy. But as von Trotta, a vanguard of the earnest New German Cinema explains, getting laughs is a serious challenge.    

Filmstill Forget About Nick (M. Menke)

Maria (Katja Riemann) tries to make young New Yorkers more interested in German writers like Christa Wolf

DW: After all the heavy historical themes of your former films, why did you decide to shift to comedy?

"Forget About Nick" came into being as a cooperation with Pamela Katz, who wrote the screenplay. I'm good friends with her, she lives in New York and has a bit of that Woody Allen humor. And since actresses I've been working with once asked me to try to make something lighter, we did this. 

[But] it's not at all easy to produce a comedy. The material is light, but it's difficult to work with. Bertold Brecht once said that it's hard to do the simple things. So one could also say that the lighter a film is, the harder it is. And since I've never done this (a comedy) before, I have a great respect for it. 

German filmmaker Margarethe von Trotta talking to DW reporter Jochen Kürten (DW/J. Kürten)

German filmmaker Margarethe von Trotta talking to DW reporter Jochen Kürten

So what was so difficult about preparing and shooting this film?

Well, you have to find another rhythm. And you need to direct the actors in a different way. You have to watch speed. Once, I staged in Stuttgart an opera by Alban Berg, a work called "Lulu" — the only opera I've directed yet. That was a big challenge for me. I had to adapt; I just had to go with the music. 

The experience reminded me of my work with this film. It just wasn't my rhythm, not the rhythm that I might have had if I produced a serious film. It was the rhythm of Pamela Katz, and I needed to follow it.

But I certainly didn't follow it in the exact way. If this film had been done by an American, it would certainly have been even faster and more screwball-like. But I was still trying to introduce some sort of a deeper level, some fundamental meaning. 

Filmstill Forget About Nick (M. Menke)

Jade (Ingrid Bolso Berdal) still thinks a lot about her former husband Nick (Haluk Bilginer), even if he left her for a younger woman

What are the more serious themes in "Forget About Nick" next to wit, humor and satire? 

To be left behind, to grow older, love in general. Questions like: can you as a woman really submit to love in the way that Jade did in the film? Can you still regret that you're not with a particular man anymore? 

Incidentally, this has been criticized by many women — the idea of mourning an old love. I did however go through that. And I did observe this phenomenon with other women who pretend that these men don't play a role in their lives anymore. But when you take a closer look at them, you notice that they're still as vulnerable as before. I found that exciting, especially at my age — to accept that. 

Filmstill Forget About Nick (M. Menke)

Their marriage dates back quite a few years: Maria (Katja Riemann) and Nick (Haluk Bilginer)

When it comes to the main male role, you opted for Turkish actor Haluk Bilginer who plays a small, albeit important role, at the latter stages of the film.

In my opinion, he plays the true lead role. There's a lot of talk about him. They mourn him until he finally makes his appearance.

Because these two women have been yearning for him, people expect a dandy. They think Gary Grant is coming.

Yet Haluk Bilginer is just wonderful, very charming. He's short — although he's a big actor. He starred in "Winter Sleep" by director Nuri Bilge Ceylan that won the Palme d'Or of Cannes three years ago. He came across as a very generous person during the shoot. He said that he liked the screenplay a lot, and that men were just like that. 

How did the cooperation with Haluk Bilginer come about?

At first, I didn't even consider him. Pamela Katz and I were both thinking of a man who would be shorter than the women, and older as well — somebody who had not really been expected. My producer, Bettina Brokämper, had just done a film with [Bilginer] a short time before, and she then proposed the role to him. At first, I had my doubts. 

Filmstill Forget About Nick (M. Menke)

A conversation in New York: Maria (Katja Riemann) and her daughter Antonia (Tinka Fürst)

I had watched "Winter Sleep" and I was worried that he wouldn't agree to perform in a German film in that particular role. But he agreed right away. Of course, I was very happy about that.

The city of New York plays a very important role in the film. You've worked in the city before. Why go back? 

I got to know that city as a visitor in the early 1970s, simply because Volker Schlöndorff's brother lived there, and I was good friends with him. I was there very very often, and the city has always fascinated me. And then it was also the location for my 2000 film "Jahrestage" (Anniversaries), a four-part work based on the novel of Uwe Johnson set in both New York and Germany.

I loved it so much that I went back to New York for my next film, "Rosenstraße" (Rose Street), set partially in New York in 2003. It's a city that totally intrigues me; I love spending time there. 

"Forget About Nick" celebrated its world premieres at the Cologne and Tokyo Film Festivals and is now on show in German theaters.

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