In “3 Days in Quiberon,” Berlin-based filmmaker Emily Atef captures a key moment in the turbulent life of the late actress Romy Schneider, a cinematic icon in Germany and France.
The Berlinale competition screener focuses less on Schneider the star and more on a person in the midst of a life crisis, according to Atef.
“3 Days in Quiberon,” which stars Marie Bäumer as the famed star, finds Schneider in 1981 recuperating at a seaside spa in Brittany, where she agrees to meet journalist Michael Jürgs and photographer Robert Lebeck for an in-depth interview for the German magazine Stern.
While Atef is not a fan of biopics, she loves reading biographies. “There’s a lot more detail, and that’s what really interests me. It’s through the little, totally banal details that sometimes you understand the person much more,” she said.
It was in biographical films that focus on specific moments in people’s lives, such as “Frost/Nixon” and “Selma,” that she found inspiration.
“Another big influence was ‘Last Days,’ from Gus Van Sant – one of my competitors! I’m a huge fan of his work. That film has been inspiring me for many years. I’ve shown it to many of my actors before we’ve started a shoot,” Atef said.
“3 Days in Quiberon” focuses on what would be Schneider’s last major interview, allowing Atef to dwell on the star’s emotional state and her effort to overcome personal crisis.
While beloved in Germany for her light-hearted 1950s films about Sissi, the young empress of Austria, Schneider holds an iconic status in France for her later, more serious films.
Atef, who was born in Berlin to French and Iranian parents, moved with her family to Los Angeles at the age of 7 and then, when she was 13, to France.
“I’ve always liked Romy Schneider. I grew up with all those French films she did later in her life,” Atef said. Her favorites include Claude Sautet’s “A Simple Story,” Pierre Granier-Deferre’s “The Last Train” and “The Swimming Pool,” by Jacques Deray.
Atef’s film also depicts Schneider’s difficult relationship with the German press and her efforts to distance herself from the Sissi films that rocketed her to stardom.
“She really had a problem with the German press, which always trashed her and never forgave her for leaving Germany for France,” Atef said.
Schneider struggled with the fact that her popularity in Germany mostly revolved around Sissi, a role she played as a teenager. “At the age of 42, people in Germany still considered her to be Sissi, which is totally ludicrous,” the director noted.
The film also stars Charly Hübner as Lebeck, whose photos of Schneider in Quiberon inspired Atef to shoot the film in black and white; Robert Gwisdek as Jürgs, the ambitious and manipulative Stern reporter who eventually warms to the vulnerable star and wins her trust; and Birgit Minichmayr as Schneider’s friend Hilde.
“3 Days in Quiberon” was initially developed by the late French producer Denis Poncet, who died during the making of the film. It was also Poncet who convinced Bäumer, a native of Hamburg who lives in France, to take the role of Schneider. “Denis did not give up,” Atef says. Poncet and Bäumer then approached Atef with the project.
The film was eventually produced by Karsten Stöter’s Leipzig-based Rohfilm Factory in co-production with Austria’s DOR Film; France’s Sophie Dulac Prods. and Tita B Prods.; and German shingle Departures Film. Beta Cinema is overseeing international sales.
Atef’s latest film follows last year’s “Don’t Worry I’m Fine,” which follows a teenage German boy who travels to Syria to join the Islamic State, and such earlier works as the 2008 Cannes screener “The Stranger in Me,” about a young mother suffering post-natal depression.