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Helma Sanders-Brahms • Director

Fallen for film


Helma Sanders-Brahms • Director

Outside, dawn, the Mediterranean in Ostia: The young lady walks down from the dunes to the beach. She wants to interview the great Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini, who will be filming a scene of his film Medea here. Dawn breaks and contours gradually become visible: the sea, the beach, the tracks on which the camera will move. At the edge of the sea, four young men are sitting on brown horses. The men are naked, there are shells in their hair. The brown hue of their skin blends in with the brown of the horses. A short, skinny man walks towards them. It is Pasolini. She tells him the reason she has come. He looks at her with large, luminous eyes and says: “You are going to make films!” Then he goes back to the set, because the moment has now come for which he has been waiting for half the night: the sun is rising above the horizon. And then the camera begins to move, the naked men ride into the sea – it sprays and blinks in the sun...

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“Unfortunately, he cut that scene out later”, says Helma Sanders-Brahms. “But that he said: ‘You are going to make movies’ – that really threw me for a loop back then.”

She was 29 and a television anchor at WDR when she met Pasolini in 1969. He offered her a place on the set and she stayed because she noticed that she had fallen for film. Ten years later, she introduced the film that made her famous: Germany, Pale Mother – her own story and that of her mother in the post-war Germany of the 50s and 60s. The film got a slating in Germany. Agitated, the director took a trip to France, where her film was shown at a women’s festival in a large cinema with 1500 seats – and was a huge success. It ran for a year and a half in France, for months in Japan. And soon, the German distributors noticed that it was a mistake to take the film from their program.

In the mid-80s, things quieted down around Helma Sanders-Brahms. Like many others in her generation, she was cut by young, ambitious producers who dismissed the “author film” of the 70s as antiquated and outdated and thought that German cinema had to be reinvented. Since that time, however, she began to recognize signs that the wind was changing and that “fantasy was again getting more free rein”. But she had to fight for 11 years for her newest project, Clara, before the film finally was realized as a German-French-Hungarian co-production.

It tells the story of the piano virtuoso Clara Schumann (Martina Gedeck), who finds herself in a love triangle with Robert Schumann (Pascal Greggory) and the young composer Johannes Brahms (Malik Sidi). When her husband Robert dies, she would be free to be with Johannes, who loves her as she does him, but she decides to stay alone. She suspects that she can only be an artist if she remains independent. The project was filmed in Hungary and in North Rhine-Westphalia. Now the rough edit has been done, and at the beginning of next year, Clara film should come to the cinemas.

The film is also an autobiographical project. Not only because the director herself is distantly related to Johannes Brahms and the cameraman to Clara Schumann, but because it de-scribes a woman who has fallen for music as hard as the filmmaker Helma Sanders-Brahms has for film.

"Cinema", she says, "is the most beautiful thing that people have thought up, the most com-plex, the best of all. A really great film – everything is in it. All the arts that man has devel-oped in the history of culture come together here. And that is what I would like to fill out. It is a gift, you either have it or you don’t. I can’t do a lot of things that normal people can. But when I am on a set, I feel an enormous amount of security. Then I know: I can do this. And I already had that feeling when Pasolini said: ‘You’re going to make films.’ Afterwards, I drove back to Cologne and gave my fiancé the ring back and said: I’m going to make films." Back then, she already suspected what she knows today (and what becomes painfully clear to Clara in her film): “Art is so possessive, when you get involved with it, it absorbs you. You have to give it everything – everything.”

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