Emily Atef • Director
The stranger in her
by Christoph Groener – German Films
- Emily Atef • Director The stranger in her
Franco-Iranian filmmaker Emily Atef lives in Berlin, but she makes films for the world: her characters are always traveling – in search of themselves. Emily Atef can argue quite passionately about films. And things really heat up if you call her works “women’s films,” because she doesn’t like categories. “I don’t want a label of any kind. I just want to tell a story close to my characters,” she says. She is interested in dramas that still give hope some chance.
And yet up until now, it is true that she has explored the worlds of women; most recently in The Stranger in Me [+see also:
film profile], which is all about postnatal depression. “Of course this is an illness that only women can get. But it affects everyone: fathers, a woman’s friends, and the whole family.” She shows not only the woman concerned, but also her environment – in an equally credible way. At the beginning of the film, the illness has led the young mother Rebecca into the middle of nowhere: she is lying in the woods, unprotected and lifeless. The film is realistic, but at the same time Atef works very precisely with her motifs, with an iconography of birth – from Rebecca’s confinement via her spiritual rebirth to her later attempt to rebuild her relationship. A woman who was ready to drown herself becomes a person buoyed up by water.
Atef writes in English, which is the closest she comes to a language of “her own” among many. Her “creative partner” Esther Bernstorff translates English passages into German and writes part of the screenplay herself: in the case of The Stranger in Me, this team work took an uncharacteristically long time – two years: “We made so many mistakes,” Atef recalls. In earlier versions of the script, Rebecca was over-burdened by her past as a child brought up in an institution. But dramaturge Annedore von Donop recommended telling just the mother’s story, rather than presenting a “social drama”. A second supportive colleague was found in Nicole Gerhards; she and Nikofilm demonstrated great courage in backing such difficult material.
However, Atef’s assertive ability had already been obvious at an earlier date, when she pushed through her third-year film as a full-length feature: in Molly's Way [+see also:
film profile], pregnant Irish woman Molly travels all the way to Poland in order to find a man with whom she has spent only one night. The film discovers poetry in industrial grime and presents some unusual encounters: in the end, Molly does not find the man of her dreams, but she does find herself. This is exactly what Atef’s full-length films to date have been: journeys to oneself – and that is not going to change with her next project.
Kill Me tells the story of a 13-year-old girl who does not want to go on living. When she comes across an escaped murderer close to her parents’ house, she makes a plan. She will help him to escape and in return for this, she will ask him to kill her. This road movie begins in the German countryside and leads through the South of France to Marseille. A girl and a 43-year-old man on the road – not a women’s film, surely? Atef has had the material in mind for a long time, she says, for the idea was born around the same time as Molly's Way. Up until now, however, she thought that it seemed too complex: even the dramatic story of a mother was easier than a road movie involving a child. She is taking one step at a time: 100,000 Euros were invested in her first film, and Kill Me – being produced by Wueste Film West – should cost three million Euros or more. The next step is already definite: Night Train to Lisbon. The Swiss company C-Films will take responsibility for the film version of Pascal Mercier’s best-seller, which is to be a large-scale international production. Here, an ageing professor faces a crisis over the meaning of life and sets off in search of his place in the world.
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