Auteur filmmaker Werner Schroeter, a radical experimentalist and prominent auteur filmmaker of New German Cinema, died Monday in Kassel, German, of cancer. He was 65.
Schroeter held a unique position in German cinema since the 1960s. In 1980 he won the Berlinale’s Golden Bear for “Palermo oder Wolfsburg,” the story of a Sicilian immigrant in Germany.
Although a contempo of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Werner Herzog and Wim Wenders, the idiosyncratic helmer never shared their commercial success. Yet he was described by Liberation as “the Cocteau of our times,” whose cinematic work was “pure magic.”
Schroeter’s early work was shaped in large part by his passion for opera and his love of Maria Callas, and he went on to earn great acclaim as a theater and opera director, staging productions in Germany and abroad. Among his most notable works were his first feature-length film, 1969’s operatic comedy “Eika Katappa”; 1986’s “Der Rosenkoenig,” 1991’s “Malina,” starring Isabelle Huppert, and his final work, “Tonight” (Nuit de chien), which unspooled at the Venice Film Festival in 2008.
“Werner Schroeter was not only one of the most renowned and innovative directors of cinema, but also of theater and opera. We mourn the loss of a radical and highly creative artist,” said Berlinale director Dieter Kosslick.
Schroeter was on hand at the Berlinale’s Teddy Awards earlier this year to accept a lifetime achievement award. His work encompasses some 20 feature films and just as many short and mid-length films and more than 70 opera and theater productions.
A pioneering homosexual artist, Schroeter met fellow filmmaker and gay activist Rosa von Praunheim in 1967 and the two embarked on an intense artistic and personal relationship.
In a loving ode to his former partner, Praunheim recalled their early days: “It was a time that was not as conservative as today, in which audiences loved our provocations and did not force us to film grand lavish productions or crime dramas for primetime. … We lived and worked in a time in which everything seemed possible, in which experimentation and political content were still treasured.”