INTERVIEW WITH DIRECTOR AND WRITER EMILY ATEF
“Bringing a state of being to life”
For generations of German cinema and television audiences, the annual „Sissi“ viewing at Christmas is a part of life. Romy Schneider‘s other works – especially those in France – are perceived quite differently. How did you approach the topic and the person Romy Schneider?
My mother is French and I spent most of my childhood and youth in France. As a result, Romy‘s early films had no influence on me and I only saw them a few years ago for the first time. In the mid-1980s I was at boarding school in France and my flatmate was a fervent Romy fan. She really wanted Romy to be her own mother and decorated her room with posters and articles about her. I included this experience in the film, when teenagers speak to Romy in the village pub. So every day I fell asleep at the boarding school surrounded by these images, which have also come to fascinate me. At that time, Romy had already been dead for several years – but her iconic status in France was undiminished. Romy was so beloved that she was considered by many French people to be one of them and she is still very much loved there. But of course her private dramas in France were always very present in the media. I remember when her son died: people genuinely suffered with her for years afterwards. So, for me, Romy is more of a „French Romy“, I love her films from that time. I grew up with the films of Claude Sautet like “The Things of Life” and “César and Rosalie”. Actually, my favorite films with Romy are “A Simple Story”, “The Last Train” with Jean Louis Trintignant and “The Swimming Pool”, by Jacques Deray. Romy‘s acting is just wonderfully authentic! In these projects she could really delve deep into her characters and show all facets of her acting. As far as her German productions are concerned, I can understand that she, as an artist, was looking to distance herself from them. Nobody offered her character roles in Germany, Romy was considered only as the sweet girl in beautiful costumes. Nevertheless, they are part of a collective film memory and still continue to move many people.
Did you initiate the project?
No, it came to me through the French producers and friends Denis Poncet and Marie Bäumer. Unfortunately, Denis died during the process of making the film. The idea for the film originally came from him. Marie Bäumer lives in France and is – like Romy – very Francophile. Up until that point, she had refused to play a major role in a biopic or TV movie about Romy Schneider. Denis did not give up, however, and finally convinced Marie to take the lead in „3 Days in Quiberon“. But it was clear from the start that this film should be a German film – after all, it is inspired by an interview in a German-language magazine. So when I was offered the project, I already had an emotional attachment to Romy Schneider and then I did a lot of research. Robert Lebeck‘s photos in Quiberon immediately appealed to me. These intimate, unpretentious, true images touched me. In many photos Romy is not even wearing any makeup. In 1981, Lebeck succeeded in photographing the human Romy, not the international star, mythical Romy Schneider. Afterwards I read Jürgs’ interview in Stern, which also concentrated very much on Romy Schneider as a person and not one of the most famous European actresses of all time. For me, it was also vitally important to focus on this personal approach when I started shooting my film.
Why exactly are the „3 Days in Quiberon“ the time frame for your film?
The French producer Denis Poncet and his wife worked intensively with Robert Lebeck‘s photographs. Michael Jürgs‘ Stern interview from 1981 also greatly impressed them, much like it did me later. Lebeck‘s black and white pictures on the rocks, in the bar and during the interview cast a spell over me. I have no idea how many times I‘ve looked at them. In them, Romy seems so open and vulnerable and the whole, today inconceivable situation, between her, her friend and the journalists almost resembled an intimate conversation among friends. I was also able to question Michael Jürgs, who conducted the interview in Quiberon in 1981, extensively on his experiences. He has a good memory, spoke at length – even told some short anecdotes – and I could always call him while writing the screenplay. I was also able to visit the over 80-year-old Robert Lebeck a few times shortly before his death. He was already very ill but his memory of the time was very clear. Incidentally, the title comes from him: when I was with him, he said: “The movie could be called ‘3 days in Quiberon.’” I liked the idea immediately.
Indeed, such an interview with a star of this magnitude is unthinkable today, even the place: a luxury health spa hotel to which Romy had retired in order to relax.
Journalism was certainly a different industry back then but the likes of an actress-personality such as Romy Schneider has rarely been seen. Romy had no filters, could open up completely – all the more with a drink in her hand as she would become even more emotional. And yes, the place: the magic of Quiberon is that, due to the strict building regulations of Brittany, hardly anything has changed in the area. Miraculously, we found exactly the same rock constellations as in Lebeck‘s photos and were able to create a very similar atmosphere. The hotel is still in operation today, many celebrities go there for treatment. The outer facade has been completely preserved, the entire interior was built by my production designer Silke Fischer and her team for the film on Fehmarn (a small German Island in the Baltic sea).
Why did you decide to shoot your movie in black and white?
Lebeck and his wife Cordula entrusted me with all the pictures that Lebeck took during the three days in Quiberon. Only 20 images had been published at that time and now I had access to an archive of almost 600, including test shots, snapshots from the night in the bar and blurry photos that Jürgs had taken of Romy and Lebeck in the bar with the wrong exposure. For me as a writer and director, these photos were an invaluable and highly inspirational source. When I started writing the script, I saw all the scenes in black and white. It had to be, black and white just felt right. It works for me as a bridge to the fictional story that we are telling: away from Marie Bäumer, towards Romy Schneider and the atmosphere of Lebeck‘s pictures. The images, which my cinematographer Thomas Kiennast subsequently captured during shooting, look stunningly beautiful. Overall, how do you see the relationship between truthfulness and fiction in your film? Lebeck’s photos and Jürgs’ interview plus the conversations with both were my inspiration. In addition, of course, I researched, read a lot, watched documentaries and films. What is very important to me is that it is not so much a realistic retelling of the experiences of those involved in these three days in Quiberon but bringing a state of being to life. The reality served as inspiration for me to develop my own story. This meant that not only was extensive research required, but also still more invention. The interview by Michael Jürgs is not the word-for-word interview from the Stern, but my own interpretation. Incidentally, the figure of the friend Hilde is completely fictitious, even if there is a real role model for her. I did not just want to show „Romy and the men”, but also the different kind of intimacy between female friends. Romy‘s friend, who was there at the time, did not want to appear in the film, unlike Jürgs and Lebeck – it was too emotional for her. But, luckily for me, she allowed me to create a fictional friend.