Emily Atef, the outspoken French-German filmmaker, may have stepped into a minefield with her latest movie, “Someday We’ll Tell Each Other Everything,” which looks to be one of the Berlinale’s most divisive movies in competition. With such a cute title, one might expect a flowery romance drama, but the movie goes far to break deep-entrenched taboos about female sexuality.
Based on Daniela Krien’s novel, the film is set in the summer of 1990, shortly after the fall of the Berlin wall, in the countryside of former East Germany. Marlene Burow plays Maria, who is about to turn 19, lives with her boyfriend at his parents’ farm. She engages into a passionate and lustful affair with Henner (Felix Kramer), a reclusive neighbor who is twice her age.
“Making this film would have been like a suicide if I was a man. I would have been lynched,” Atef tells Variety ahead of the film’s world premiere in Berlin’s competition. And yet, she says her film is “unattackable,” mainly because she’s a “very vocal feminist” who’s been “fighting for years for women behind and in front of the camera.” Indeed, all of her films have been driven by fierce female protagonists and looked at different layers of womanhood. Her previous movie, “More Than Ever,” for instance, portrayed a woman (Vicky Krieps) who faces terminal illness and takes charge of her life. And in “Three Days in Quiberon,” she portrayed actor Romy Schneider as a real woman rather than just a myth.
Atef says “Someday We’ll Tell Each Other Everything” could be made thanks to the birth of the #Metoo movement, which she describes as “revolutionary.”
“(#Metoo) is giving us more possibilities because finally there’s a light shone on the fact that we have not been allowed to tell our perspectives. And I mean, every female perspective, even female perspectives that are not politically correct in the global context,” she says.
She says she read the book 10 years ago and managed to obtain the rights, which were owned by someone else. “I was fascinated about the perspective of the young woman, her sexual desires, the fact that she was emancipated from what society tells her she should do because she just wants to go there,” Atef says.
“I don’t see why we are not as women allowed to show that even though it’s with an older guy — who cares? This is what she wants. It’s her perspective. Who are we to judge?”
The filmmaker says she’s seen many movies about young men experiencing “the darkest fantasies with older women.”
But getting “Someday We’ll Tell Each Other Everything” made proved highly challenging, in spite of the fact that she was just rolling off “Three Days in Quiberon,” a big critical and commercial hit.
“We thought it would be easy — it was not that expensive, all in one place and no stars. But it wasn’t easy at all because [financiers] were like, ‘We’re not allowed to show that. How could she even fall in love with the guy like that? It’s disgusting.'”
She says she got “so pissed off” by the rejection that she wrote a manifesto to go along the presentation of the project sent to financiers in which she explained her motivations and feminist take. And it finally worked.
The whole movie hangs on the chemistry between the two leads, Kramer and Burow, who are fairly new to the world of arthouse cinema and had never met. Atef says Burow, whom she cast among 60 girls she auditioned, and Kramer “rehearsed for months” with an intimacy coach to be able to perform these sex scenes, which are “the DNA of the movie.”
“They had to trust me totally and I had to trust them totally,” Atef says. The helmer praised the intimacy coordinator for “making her vision happen.” “It’s like a stunt coordinator. When there’s a huge fight, the stunt coordinator has to find a good axis and has to make sure that the actors don’t get hurt,” Atef explained. The coach also helped the actors draw boundaries and express what they didn’t feel comfortable doing. She also got Burow and Kramer to imagine their animal avatar to embody their characters, and find inspiration for the gestures and the gazes during intimacy scenes. Ultimately, these sex scenes are “all choreographed, it’s not at all erotic,” she says.
“Someday We’ll Tell Each Other Everything” is also set against a rich historical backdrop, in the aftermath of the fall of Berlin wall. It sheds light on the struggle of Eastern Germans in the wake of reunification.
“You can’t imagine how traumatized a lot of East Germans are [of the reunification] and they’re so bitter because they got such a bad deal — there was the winners and the losers. And the losers are just losers,” says Atef.
Atef said she was moved to present “Someday We’ll Tell Each Other Everything” at the Berlin Film Festival as she’s about to leave Germany, where she’s lived for over 20 years. She’ll soon move to Paris for several months to work on a “Shakespearean” series about a fictional fashion house, produced by TOP, the banner behind “The Bureau.”