Capturing the history of East Germany in microcosm, the film, based on an adaptation of Eugen Ruge’s bestselling 2011 autobiographical novel, revolves around a 90-year-old communist patriarch who has never lost his belief in the socialist utopia even as his son and much of the country’s younger generation yearn for change and greater freedoms.
“Everything that has happened faces the threat of being forgotten,” award-winning screenwriter Wolfgang Kohlhaase told reporters Thursday. “It’s our duty to tell these stories in the hope that they continue to have meaning and continue to touch people.”
Kohlhaase stressed that “respect” was the most important factor in adapting books to the screen, and that while every book has its own prose, it’s all about “lovingly bringing the essence of that writing to film.”
Producer Oliver Berben of Berlin-based Moovie noted that Ruge, the author, only ever “wished to have one screenwriter for the project, and he’s sitting right here.” Kohlhaase’s participation was critical for the film’s realization, Berben said.
Geschonneck, who grew up in the German Democratic Republic, said Kohlhaase’s screenplay “offered a delicate look into East German life.” The director said he thought of his own father, late East German actor Erwin Geschonneck, in the role of the main character, who is played by Bruno Ganz in the film.
Ganz remembers the renowned thespian. “I knew this actor. As a Swiss citizen, I could travel to East Berlin without any problem, unlike West Berliners, and I often saw his father on stage. I also saw many of his old DEFA films. He was a great actor, and I’m happy to be compared to him.”
Ganz said he was attracted to the role because he had really liked the book when it first came out, but also because of his own past experiences with the political left and former East Germans who had defected to the West.
“I was a leftist for a long time. Early on I had the chance to meet many refugees from East Germany. The events of the first half of the 20th century – this is a subject that will never let me go.”
Actress Hildegard Schmahl was similarly moved by the film’s political themes and the unshakable belief in creating a “utopia” at any cost. “The so-called utopias of the 20th century resulted in millions of deaths. This word scares me. I don’t want a utopia.”
On her role as the family matriarch in the film, Schmahl quipped: “I’m 77. I’m always playing the matriarch of catastrophic families. In ‘Die Nibelungen,’ I play Uta – all of my four children are murderers. In this film, my children, my grandchildren, my daughter-in-law, they are all impacted by fate. This film is really moving.”