For me, this retrospective of my films means something like returning to those decades of wishful thinking, for those were the years when effective, even dangerous dreams came true in the cinema. And I wasn’t alone along the way. At first purely fictitious, this film world I’d inhabited since my childhood and early adolescence in illusory fashion alone was also home to people who then accompanied me on my undertakings in its real-life counterpart. Some of them are no longer with us or I lost them in other ways. This flashed through my mind and provoked a stab of grief when DARK SPRING (1970) screened again two years ago, and they asked me to bring some of the actors to the screening. But Katrin Seybold and Edda Köchl, the two most important ones who also belonged to the same generation as me, had already passed away. And with DARK SPRING, that was particularly painful, because life had depicted itself to a certain extent in that film. A life in which working relationships became loving relationships, or vice versa, or both at the same time. And these relationships intervened into real life, they were life itself. This applies to my life-long collaboration with Gerhard Theuring, but also to the more short-lived one with Harun Farocki, whose innovations had an effect on me until his death. Films I made with both of them, FLUCHTWEG NACH MARSEILLE (1977) with Gerhard Theuring and ERZÄHLEN (1975) with Harun Farocki, form part of the retrospective, as do films in which I acted: LEAVE ME ALONE (1970) by Gerhard Theuring and ZWISCHEN ZWEI KRIEGEN (1978) by Harun Farocki. Then there is also the film by Gerhard Theuring that I produced in the 1980s with considerable effort: NEUER ENGEL. WESTWÄRTS (1990).
After those initial years of cinematic radicality and adventurous funding plans, I ended up going my own way with my features, with the playful fictional treatment of a lovers’ suicide pact in 1979’s LETZTE LIEBE, the adaptation of Klaus Mann’s exile novel FLUCHT IN DEN NORDEN (1985), or an actress’ obsessive autofiction in GINEVRA (1992). But traces of the aesthetic or political considerations from those earlier co-directed films always remained present in the features. Motifs from Anna Seghers' novel “Transit” appear, for example, in the FLUCHTWEG film as well as in LETZTE LIEBE. And for me, GINEVRA links in many ways to what I was connecting in thematic terms with NEUER ENGEL. WESTWÄRTS. To a certain extent, the focus of GINEVRA is a man at once absent and present, of whom the leading address says at one point: “He did what no one else ever did. And that’s why I love him.” As was already the case in FLUCHTWEG NACH MARSEILLE, Benjamin’s angel of history is evoked here: A “storm drives him irresistibly into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows toward the sky. What we call progress is this storm.” (Walter Benjamin).
With GINEVRA, I was on the trail of Benjamin’s angel in my own way, in the same southern French landscapes as in NEUE ENGEL. WESTWÄRTS, partially with the same actors. Following the “deceptions” of GINEVRA, there came MRS. KLEIN: a dive into psychoanalysis. Melanie Klein and D. W. Winnicott’s theories were somehow already in one of the earlier films, in KAMPF UM EIN KIND. In all the films, there is a visible continuity. The daring attempt to “connect cinematic beauty and new politics”, which Harun Farocki liked so much in DARK SPRING (in “Fragmente einer Autobiographie”), was actually always my innermost goal, also in FLUCHT IN DEN NORDEN, albeit in a different way. The political mission of a fleeing protester is captured in the beautiful world of the north. Her liberation only comes at the end. That’s what impressed me most about Klaus Mann’s novel, and it would actually have been enough for me just to adapt its last page. The therapeutic mission of the female doctors working in the maternity ward in KAMPF UM EIN KIND and in psychiatry in LETZTE LIEBE also has sociopolitical dimensions that are based on research and individual experience. A healing function as an approach also plays a role in GINEVRA upon closer inspection.
Then there is also the muted beauty of the actresses’ performances. The aloof tenderness of Lisa Kreuzer in KAMPF UM EIN KIND. The dark romanticism of Angela Winkler, who knew so well how to connect her natural tomboyishness with the depressive gestures of her role in LETZTE LIEBE. The wonderful clarity and precision of Katharina Thalbach’s performance in FLUCHT IN DEN NORDEN and the presence of the sensitive Swedish actress Lena Olin, her attractivity already ready for Hollywood even back then. And the tears of the angel in Amanda Ooms’ self-surrendering performance in GINEVRA, who Hanns Zischler described in a letter to me as “that unusual actress who is, for few moments, able to put the spectator back in the thrall of a silent movie”. As far as GINEVRA is concerned, I think in particular of the extremely cooperative and communicative cinematographer Gérard Vandenberg, who left us some long time ago already. At the same time, GINEVRA is a sort of turning point: those who worked on lighting and as the second assistant camera operator became very famous cinematographers afterwards. And Alex Block, who has been a companion of mine since the 1970s and was cinematographer on four of my films, generously helped out with the lighting settings for the digital film print of FLUCHTWEG NACH MARSEILLE recently.
I’ll let others continue when it comes to talking about the film. In the March 1976 issue of “Filmkritik” entitled “The Images of Women and the Dominance of Men”, I wrote about how my early films were made, the piece was called “Something about Final Images and My Love of the Continent”. In the February 1978 issue of Filmkritik, I wrote about the story behind making FLUCHTWEG NACH MARSEILLE together Gerhard Theuring. There are longer texts and interviews with me about the other films scattered in various places.
As far as the somewhat weathered term of “auteur producer” is concerned, I’d like to say that I always liked this form of organization a great deal, with the possibility it possesses for the sort of obsession for freedom and self-determination inherent to me. Back then, the doors of WDR and ZDR, for example, were open to us, and in general money was allocated in far more transparent fashion than now. There were still to a certain extent fiery souls who pushed ahead with new film policies. I always concentrated on the individual project and fought for as long as I needed to until I received the financing. That meant long periods of waiting and periods of impoverishment. But the euphoria was always there as soon as shooting could begin, even if the level of exhaustion was sometimes considerable when I was both directing and producing, as was the case for FLUCHT IN DEN NORDEN in particular, a German-Finnish co-production. In a lengthy interview with frauen und film (No. 22/1980), I described the existential situation of shooting as follows: “This feeling of powerlessness and omnipotence when shooting, the childish omnipotence that is created there. The feeling of omnipotence because the images being created are my images. I have the power to set the fiction in motion and at the same time, I know that I’m powerless without the help of the others, an omnipotence without real power… For certain things, you can retain your ability to take actions and move freely by paring everything down. If you go on film research trips without great expense, it’s possible. But on a production like LETZTE LIEBE, it’s not possible. Dependencies are produced. The only way you can save yourself is via total persistence, by concentrating on what you imagined.” There is thus very much a contradiction between an imaginative activity and social action, with the two often bordering on irreconcilable.
It’s undeniable that I have had many male heroes in my film life, ranging from Bresson via Godard to Mizoguchi and Cassavetes and many, many more, and that it was largely men who wrote about my films. Thematically speaking and at a pure level of work, I was always closely linked to women, I would like to have honored some of them who had meaning for me and recently passed away with a carte blanche. For example, the untiringly experimenting Chantal Akerman or Anne Wiazemsky, who acted for Bresson, Godard and Pasolini, or the incomparable Alexandra Kluge with GELEGENHEITSARBEIT EINER SKLAVIN. This retrospective is also woven together with the memories of the landscapes I grew to love and that left their mark on my films, such as the Rhine landscapes in LETZTE LIEBE or the southern landscape of the resistance in the Drôme all the way to the southern French coast from FLUCHTWEG NACH MARSEILLE to that of GINEVRA, which I inhabit to this day. Unreconciled, I look into the future with new projects. The dangerous dreaming continues. (Ingemo Engström)