Barbet Schroeder Talks About Cannes Film ‘Amnesia’

Those familiar with Cannes history may recognize the house that serves as the principal location in Barbet Schroeder’s new film, “Amnesia,” which screened out of competition at the festival. The iconic white abode, located on the island of Ibiza, also featured prominently in the director’s debut feature, “More,” which premiered at the Cannes film festival in 1969.

“Amnesia,” which is arguably Schroeder’s most personal film, represents a homecoming in more ways that one for the director. There’s the Cannes angle, of course. The director has been attending the festival since he was 16 years old. (Those first few years, he stayed at “a wonderfully cheap hotel” of questionable repute near the train station, booked by prostitutes in the early evening, but available to impecunious guests for the remainder of the night.)

More significantly, that Ibiza building has been in Schroeder’s family for decades.

“It was a house where my mother (now 98) lived alone by the sea for more than 20 years,” Schroeder told Variety at Switzerland’s Visions du Reel festival, where the Maitre du Reel honoree gave a two-hour master class a few weeks prior to Cannes. “That made it a very good setting to create a character that was very loosely based on my mother and to talk about her past — basically, a woman who refused to speak her native language (German),” he said. “The movie explains why I don’t speak German.”

His motives for using that location on “More” were more practical than personal. “For my first film, I chose a location I knew inside-out,” he said. “At the time, I took the lesson from American cinema, where I sensed that directors were talking about what they knew, like Howard Hawks about driving cars and flying airplanes.”

According to Schroeder, “Amnesia” was conceived as a love story — albeit a platonic one — between a World War II survivor (Marthe Keller) and a German youth (Max Riement), who forces her to reexamine her feelings toward her fatherland. The title is a pun of sorts, referencing both the woman’s mental condition and the name of the Ibiza mega-club where the electronic music scene exploded in the mid-’90s, when the film takes place.

Doing research for the movie, Schroeder realized his mother wasn’t the only one who’d been suppressing aspects of Germany’s past. He discovered that in addition to the country’s notorious concentration camps, German factories also maintained small detention facilities, using captive Jews as a form of slave labor. “I have a map of Germany and a list of all the factories, and it covers the whole country,” he said.

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