"I wanted to show the intricacies of a father-daughter relationship"
by Fabien Lemercier
- CANNES 2016: German director Maren Ade talks about her audacious family and social comedy Toni Erdmann, an exceedingly pleasant surprise in the Cannes competition
Flanked by her two superb lead actors, Sandra Hüller and Austria’s Peter Simonischek, and her partners from production house Komplizen Film, German filmmaker and producer Maren Ade talked to the international press to lift the lid on the origins of her third feature, Toni Erdmann [+see also:
Q&A: Maren Ade
film profile], a truly stunning film that left no one indifferent when it was presented in competition at the 69th Cannes Film Festival.
Was tackling the subject of a complicated family the starting point for you wanting to make this movie?
Maren Ade: Yes; for a long time, I’d wanted to make a film about family, about the role that each family member plays, and about the things that recur constantly in that environment. On one hand, we feel a deep desire to break away from our family, to start from scratch. And so in the film, you’ve got the father, who’s a real joker and later assumes another guise, that of Toni, which gave me the chance to recount these family stories in a different way.
How did you develop the father-daughter relationship that lies at the heart of the film?
While I was writing the screenplay, I discovered that a father-daughter relationship is very strong, brimming with emotions that are buried to varying degrees, with a somewhat aggressive aspect of secret love to it. I wanted to show the intricacies of a father-daughter relationship, and I tried to be very accurate in terms of the characters and what happens to them, and to always think as if I were in their shoes. Even if certain things were not especially believable, I wanted everything to be possible and logical, and I wanted the feelings to remain truthful. The film needed a certain realism – otherwise, you wouldn’t be able to identify with the story any longer. So we did a lot of work on the emotions. The internal disputes had to be conveyed to the viewers, while staying faithful to the story.
How do you like to work? Do you give the actors a final script? Do you do a lot of rehearsing?
I work for a very long time on the screenplay, and once it’s almost finished, that’s when I do the casting. Then, using the screenplay as the basis, we work long and hard, and in considerable detail, with the actors. For this movie, I didn’t change the script very much, but occasionally I modified it in relation to the actors, including during the shoot itself. And we rehearsed a hell of a lot. But seeing as Sandra Hüller and Peter Simonischek are very well known on the stage, they are used to doing these fairly long rehearsals.
Why did you choose Bucharest as the main setting for the plot?
The young woman in the story works abroad, in the corporate world, and I thought that Romania could be an interesting country because it has close economic ties with Germany. After the fall of communism, a lot of German and Austrian businesses took a very close interest in Romania. There are multinationals there and therefore a lot of projects for consultants. What I was also interested in was the fact that there is a sort of hierarchy amongst the countries of the European Union, and that is also the case with businesses. Lastly, besides the fact that we had a good relationship with a local co-producer, Romania is a country that really intrigued me because I love Romanian cinema – that of Mungiu and Puiu, for instance.
You said you didn’t want to include any emphasis on feminism in your approach to the lead character. Do you think that the current debate about men and women is overly simplistic?
People have indeed been telling me that the character of Ines is quite cold. And as people are talking a great deal about the problems with gender equality at the moment, everyone wants my opinion on the matter. But even if this character is a real woman and I’m a female filmmaker, it’s not any more or less important in my view just because she’s a woman. You shouldn’t get too bogged down in this gender business. I felt very close to my various characters, and as a viewer, I can often identify myself more with male characters. When I watch a James Bond flick, I identify myself with James Bond, and not with the women. So there’s no need to focus in too much on the fact that Ines’ character is not overly feminine.
(Translated from French)