Ulrike Ottinger • Director of Paris Calligrammes
“Sometimes, even the most beautiful pieces didn't fit in the whole mosaic”
by Kaleem Aftab
- We talked to German director Ulrike Ottinger on the occasion of the release of her new documentary Paris Calligrammes in her home country
At the recent Berlin Film Festival, Ulrike Ottinger was awarded the Berlinale Camera for her impressive body of work. At the festival, she also debuted her documentary Paris Calligrammes [+see also:
interview: Ulrike Ottinger
film profile], about her time in Paris in the 1960s. The film, which follows on from her exhibition and a book of the same name, is released in German theatres today. It is her 25th film, if one counts both her short and her feature-length titles.
Born in Konstanz, Germany, in 1942, Ottinger worked as a painter and photographer in Paris from 1962–1968. She founded the Visuell film club in Konstanz in 1969 and headed it up until 1972; she also founded galeriepress, an art gallery and press. She has lived in Berlin since 1973. Alongside her film work, she also produces operas and theatre, and is present on the international art scene with her photo exhibitions.
Cineuropa: Paris Calligrammes is a more straightforward film than a lot of your work.
Ulrike Ottinger: Do you see it like this? That’s interesting. Of course, this film is different from my other movies because here, I've worked with a lot of citations – film citations and others – but in a way, each film of mine is different. I think that for each movie, you should find the right form, and I found that this was a film that needed to be told with a long form of narration.
Normally, I work more with images. The first thing I did was the narration. I tried to remember how I felt at the time, which raises certain questions. What is your memory? What do you remember clearly or see from the perspective of your present-day experience that you didn't have at the time, because you were very young? So, for me it was very interesting. When making films, I'm always surprised by what is possible and what is not possible, and maybe it’s the narration that has produced this effect that you're calling straightforward.
With the images, you bring out an incredible feeling of what it was like in Paris between 1962 and 1969. How did you choose these visuals?
What was really challenging was finding elements that could show a little bit of the atmosphere of 1960s Paris. There was so much there. I had to build up a really specific mosaic, so the edit was unbelievable because I had mountains and mountains of wonderful material, and I had to find out which pieces to leave to one side and which pieces to put in. Sometimes, even the most beautiful pieces didn't fit in the whole thing. It was extremely complicated and challenging.
You have organised the years not in chronological order, but in segments; why so?
There are stations in my film. When I was very young, I was really interested in Asian dramaturgy, in opera, dance and music, and one of the oldest dramaturgies is the dramaturgy of stations. It gives you a sense of order, but at the same time, you are completely free. I find it an excellent dramaturgical style, and I use it a lot in my films.
The movie is a mixture of personal and political observations that seem to fit the chapters; was it essential to combine both?
I see myself not only as a private person, but also a person who lives with other people in society, so I have to reflect on it and refer to it. And so it is also a portrait of the interests of a young, intellectual, artistic group of people in Paris at the time. It was a city with many different interests that was going through the end of colonialism in Algeria.
Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.