Telling a secret story

On the set of Return To Montauk with Margarethe von Trotta and Pam Katz.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Pamela Katz, Carrie Welch with Margarethe von Trotta on the Return To Montauk set
Pamela Katz, Carrie Welch with Margarethe von Trotta on the Return To Montauk set Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Volker Schlöndorff, Oscar-winning director for The Tin Drum, based on Günter Grass's novel Die Blechtrommel, invited me to join him on the set for his latest film, Return To Montauk (Rückkehr Nach Montauk), while he was shooting scenes with Stellan Skarsgård and Susanne Wolff at the New York Public Library. The film also stars Nina Hoss and Niels Arestrup (brilliant in Diplomacy with André Dussollier). Screenwriter Colm Tóibín, along with Margarethe von Trotta and her co-writer Pam Katz (The Other Woman (Die Andere Frau), Rosenstrasse and Hannah Arendt) were up on the steps.

Margarethe von Trotta with Volker Schlöndorff
Margarethe von Trotta with Volker Schlöndorff Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Von Trotta co-wrote and co-directed The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum with Volker, based on Heinrich Böll's novel and he directed her in their script for Coup de Grâce. Barbara Sukowa won Cannes Best Actress for Margarethe's Rosa Luxemburg and has starred in Marianne & Juliane, Vision - Aus Dem Leben Der Hildegard Von Bingen, Die Andere Frau and Hannah Arendt.

I became an extra with Margarethe, Pam and the library's Chief External Relations Officer, Carrie Welch, placed by Volker at the top of the steps, as Colm Tóibín and Stellan Skarsgård walked up towards us to enter the library.

Before the cameras rolled, I spoke with Margarethe and Pam about their latest collaboration and found out that it was going to be a comedy written with Barbara Sukowa in mind. We talked about Max Frisch and the riddles of Return To Montauk, which is not an adaptation but an homage to Frisch's book Montauk.

Anne-Katrin Titze: So a dinner brought you to the library today?

Margarethe von Trotta shares a laugh with Return To Montauk co-writer Colm Tóibín
Margarethe von Trotta shares a laugh with Return To Montauk co-writer Colm Tóibín Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Pam Katz: Yes. Margarethe and I were having dinner with Volker because she and I are here working on another project of our own. And Volker said,"I'm shooting at the New York Public Library, why don't you both come by and be extras?" So we said okay, that's fun. I've never been an extra before, so I thought it would be fun.

AKT: What are you working on now?

PK: We're working on a comedy. I'll let Margarethe say more about that. I don't know how much is out there. But we decided we would do something fun and funny and contemporary for a change.

AKT: Is Barbara Sukowa going to be involved at all?

PK: We hope so, yes.

AKT: I hope so too! You are such a good team.

PK: She is planning to be involved.

Anne-Katrin Titze: Montauk, the book by Max Frisch, is that meaningful for you?

Margarethe von Trotta: It's a sort of myth, because we all liked Max Frisch so much. He is linked to some of the words in his work - Montauk is one of these. For me, it's breathing, because I like his work. But I don't know the script, because he [Volker] didn't give it to me! He didn't want to give it to me, so he didn't want to be criticised. I would never criticise him! So you are playing this part [of the journalist] now with me?

Stellan Skarsgård as Max Zorn with his editor (Mathias Sanders) and Lindsey (Isioma Laborde-Edozien) with Colm Tóibín on set for Return To Montauk
Stellan Skarsgård as Max Zorn with his editor (Mathias Sanders) and Lindsey (Isioma Laborde-Edozien) with Colm Tóibín on set for Return To Montauk Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: Maybe!

MvT: This is part of it? There is somebody interviewing me.

AKT: Volker told me to just go ahead up here on the steps. I suppose it will be part of the film.

MvT: Yeah, let's just go on.

AKT: Okay, on we go. Pam just told me you are working on a comedy. Can you say anything about it?

MvT: That you have to ask her!

Big laughter all around as I am starting to feel a part of a Lubitsch comedy. So I turned to the fourth person in our quartet of extras, Carrie Welch, and asked her if she perhaps - in a Maurizio Cattelan kind of way - would like to comment on the comedy. She offered that she was a big fan of Rosenstrasse. Then we get back to the film that is being made here and now.

Margarethe von Trotta: I can say nothing about this film! Just about the word Montauk, that's all. I can tell you what films he [Volker] did. What kind of man he is. [She was married to Schlöndorff for 20 years] What kind of director he is - because I was his actress before. So I know everything! But not about this film.

AKT: When I talked with Volker almost two years ago, he already said that the script was moving totally away from Max Frisch.

Hannah Arendt star Barbara Sukowa with director Margarethe von Trotta
Hannah Arendt star Barbara Sukowa with director Margarethe von Trotta Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

MvT: Totally away!

AKT: And towards his and Colm's biography. So you are possibly in it!

MvT laughing: I don't know. Maybe I'm a character in the film without knowing! And then when I see the film, I go "Oh, my god, you did it all wrong!"

AKT: It could be the case.

MvT: No, no, no. It's about his lover, love affair, I think. I have a certain idea, but we will see that when we see the film.

AKT: Thank you.

MvT: Stay like that! Let's keep on talking!

Coming up - Brooklyn author Colm Tóibín in conversation on his Return to Montauk collaboration and Volker Schlöndorff speaks while shooting in New York.

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