Looking at us

Christian Petzold on A Day In The Country, Summer With Monika, The 400 Blows and Undine

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Transit director Christian Petzold with Anne-Katrin Titze on Jean Renoir's A Day In The Country: "More than Vertigo, which is also very important. And The Searchers is also very important. But this movie is the most important movie in my life."
Transit director Christian Petzold with Anne-Katrin Titze on Jean Renoir's A Day In The Country: "More than Vertigo, which is also very important. And The Searchers is also very important. But this movie is the most important movie in my life." Photo: Aimee Morris

At the Film Society of Lincoln Center reception before the sneak preview screening of Transit, starring Paula Beer and Franz Rogowski, Christian Petzold told me about his new project, to be realised next year. It is an Undine story set in present-day Berlin. Earlier that afternoon the director/screenwriter met with me for a conversation that included Jean Renoir's A Day In The Country which is screening in the program Carte Blanche: Christian Petzold Selects, organized by Dennis Lim and Dan Sullivan, and presented by Goethe-Institut with the support of German Films.

Bertrand Tavernier on the end of Jean Renoir's A Day In The Country: "It still makes me cry when I see it. The music of Kosma at this moment! And Sylvia Bataille, when she says: 'Me, I'm thinking all the time about that.' This is so poignant."
Bertrand Tavernier on the end of Jean Renoir's A Day In The Country: "It still makes me cry when I see it. The music of Kosma at this moment! And Sylvia Bataille, when she says: 'Me, I'm thinking all the time about that.' This is so poignant." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Ingmar Bergman's Summer with Monika, starring Harriet Andersson and Jean-Pierre Léaud as Antoine Doinel in François Truffaut's The 400 Blows also came up. When I met with Bertrand Tavernier during the 2016 New York Film Festival for a conversation on Voyage A Travers Le Cinéma Français inside the Amphitheater of the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, he told me why a scene with Sylvia Bataille in A Day In The Country with the music of Joseph Kosma is "so poignant" for him.

Looking at the audience, it seems, is to be the thread that links Renoir’s filmic take on Guy de Maupassant’s story to Christian's upcoming movie. In his take on Undine, she works for the Senate in city planning. A man leaves her and - as the classic tale would want it - she would have to kill him to return to the waters. But she doesn't want to. She is a mythological figure who doesn't want to kill anymore.

The 1811 novella about the water spirit by Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué was adapted by ETA Hoffmann into an opera in 1814 and has since inspired artists around the world. Of course, Hans Christian Andersen's Little Mermaid may come to mind, where the heroine also refuses to kill the Prince on his wedding night and gains a pathway to an immortal soul as reward.

Christian did not elaborate any more, only the fact that it will reunite Paula Beer and Franz Rogowski, and so we will have to wait patiently, sitting on a seal maiden trunk, to see what sprites and spirits he will conjure up.

Film Society of Lincoln Center Assistant Programmer Dan Sullivan with Christian Petzold and New York's Goethe-Institut Program Director Sara Stevenson at the Transit reception.
Film Society of Lincoln Center Assistant Programmer Dan Sullivan with Christian Petzold and New York's Goethe-Institut Program Director Sara Stevenson at the Transit reception. Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Anne-Katrin Titze: I saw that you picked Jean Renoir's A Day In The Country [Partie De Campagne] to show in the series [Carte Blanche: Christian Petzold Selects]. When I spoke with Bertrand Tavernier, actually right outside where we are now, he told me he's always crying during that film. He said, he can't see it without bursting into tears.

Christian Petzold: I'm getting goosebumps, when you talk about that. This is one of the, no … This is the most important movie of my life, I must say. More than Vertigo, which is also very important. And The Searchers is also very important. But this movie is the most important movie in my life.

Next time, when I'm shooting in the summer my next movie [Undine], I will also have a rehearsal week with the actors where we'll just look into cinema and looking. We'll go to a cinema watching movies.

A Day In The Country is part of this program because I want to show them movies where the actors are looking at us. It's the first movie the actors are looking at us that's not a comedy, like Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy - they're always looking at us. But they are looking at us because they lost something. And they're looking at us and we can't do anything.

Christian Petzold on A Day In The Country, starring Sylvia Bataille: "The movie by Renoir had the possibility to create a new kind of cinema. It's 15 or 20 years before the Nouvelle Vague that he created it."
Christian Petzold on A Day In The Country, starring Sylvia Bataille: "The movie by Renoir had the possibility to create a new kind of cinema. It's 15 or 20 years before the Nouvelle Vague that he created it."

Later in Summer With Monika by Ingmar Bergman, she's [Harriet Andersson as Monika] also looking at us. François Truffaut's The 400 Blows, he [Jean-Pierre Léaud as Antoine Doinel] is looking at us. [In A Day In The Country] these women had a possibility of a real love and a real life.

And also the movie by Renoir had the possibility to create a new kind of cinema. It's 15 or 20 years before the Nouvelle Vague that he created it. And then the Second World War and fascism is coming and he had to interrupt the movie.

AKT: It's incredible. And Sylvia Bataille is in it and her whole history.

CP: Unbelievable, isn't it?

A Day In The Country in the Carte Blanche: Christian Petzold Selects program at the Film Society of Lincoln Center will screen on Tuesday, December 4 at 4:00pm - Walter Reade Theater - print courtesy of the Institut Français.

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