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the 20.06.2011 at 12:00 AM - Updated on 24.10.2013 at 5:10 PM
Dreamed up before the Second World War (Louis Lumière should have been its first President!), the Festival didn´t actually get underway until 1946 — one effect of Germany's most disastrous contribution not only to history, but also to the world of cinema. Since then, the history of German films on the Croisette has been as varied as that of German post-war cinema itself. Directors and films have fallen into oblivion, while others have been remembered with astonishment and joy. (Let me immediately express my apologies to those who do not feature in my account of the Festival´s history).
The only German in attendance that first year, in 1946, was an exile: Billy Wilder with "The Lost Weekend". Oh what I would give to watch and discover that selection again, which included Alfred Hitchcock, Roberto Rosselini, David Lean, George Cukor, Charles Vidor, René Clément, Jean Cocteau ("Beauty and the Beast"), amongst others! One wonders how they felt about this first international festival: an unknown event on the Riviera which, at the time, was not a tradition. For us, for whom Cannes has been ever present in our minds, it's strange to think of it as a new phenomenon back then.
|Under the Bridges, Helmut Käutner, 1944 |
One German film, which could have been shown at the first festival, was made in 1944, around Berlin, by Helmut Kaütner. The world première of " Unter den Brücken" (Under the Bridges) took place in Locarno in 1946. This love story involving a woman and two men, my favourite film of the entire post-war period, was a minor miracle: it was made while Berlin and Potsdam were being bombed by the allies, and completely slipped through the radar of Nazi control. The absence of war is not so much a form of repression as a utopia. The film is a hymn to peace, the likes of which are all too rare in cinema.
This same Helmut Kaütner, who has since been largely forgotten in the history of cinema, would nevertheless be the first German representative at Cannes a little later, with "The Original Sin" in 1949. (He was to return in 1955 with "Ludwig II"). That year, 1949, surprisingly featured four German films In Competition, with (now forgotten) works by Josef von Báky ("Der Ruf" also known as The Last Illusion), Kurt Maetzig ("Die Buntkarierten") and Hans Betram ("Eine Grosse Liebe" also known as The Great Love). A real "German wave", when you think about it.
|The Bread of Those Early Years, Herbert Vesely, 1962|
German Cinema in the 1950s and '60's is represented by directors such as Staudte ("The Sins of Rose Bernd" in 1957 and "Der letzte Zeuge" (The Last Witness) in 1961), Kurt Hoffmann (1958) (with a very commercial film called "Das Spukschloss im Spessart" (The Haunted Castle)), Herbert Vesely (with his important "Das Brot der Frühen Jahre " (The Bread of Those Early Years) in 1962), Franz Peter Wirth with "Helden" in 1959 and Harald Braun twice with "Herz der Welt" (No Greater Love) in 1952 and "Solange Du da bist" (As Long As You´re Near Me) in 1954. In 1964, Michael Pfleghar brought us "Die Tote von Beverly Hills" (Dead Woman from Beverley Hills). Bernard Wicki attended in 1964 with "The Visit" and a further time at the end of his career with "Das Spinnennetz" (Spider's Web), in 1989. (He also played the role of an ill-fated doctor in my film, "Paris, Texas"...)
My generation, the so-called "New German Cinema" had very little contact with these directors. They could have been our fathers, but we neither sought them out nor accepted them. We attempted to dig deeper into history in order to find our grandfathers, the Fritz Langs and Friedrich Wilhelm Murnaus of this world... Or the Americans...
|Metropolis, Fritz Lang, 1927|
|Sunrise, Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau, 1927|
|Volker Schlöndorff||Young Torless, 1963 |
The precursors of another kind of German Cinema arrived in Cannes during the 1960s (the boundaries between this generation of directors and "us" are sometimes blurred). First came Edgar Reitz, back in 1963, with his short "Geschwindigkeit" (Speed), followed by Volker Schlöndorff in 1966 with his sensational début "Der junge Törless" (Young Torless). "Es" (It) by Ulrich Schamoni was shown the same year and "Die Widerrechtliche Ausübung der Astronomie" by his brother, Peter Schamoni, came out a year later in 1967. Schlöndorff returned that same year with "Mord und Totschlag" (Degree of Murder) and then "Michael Kohlhaas" in 1969, winning a legendary Palme d’Or in 1979 with "Die Blechtrommel" (The Tin Drum), which he shared with Francis Ford Coppola's "Apocalypse Now". The 1970 line-up featured Peter Lilienthal's "Malatesta", followed by Peter Fleischmann's "Das Unheil" (Havoc) in 1972.
The Tin Drum, Volker Schlöndorff, Palme d'or 1979
And then it was our turn, we fatherless directors, quickly labelled "New German Cinema".
First came Werner Herzog. At Cannes for the first time in 1970, he brought us "Auch Zwerge haben Klein angefangen" (Even Dwarfs Started Small). He returned on many occasions with "Aguirrre" (Aguirre: the Wrath of God) in 1973, "Kaspar Hauser" (The Enigma of Kasper Hauser) in 1975, "Woyzeck" in 1979, the magnificent "Fitzcarraldo" in 1982, which won him the Best Director Award, and "Where the Green Ants Dream" in 1984.
|Fitzcarraldo, 1982||Werner Herzog|
Faßbinder made his mark for the first time in 1974 with "Angst essen Seele auf" (Ali: Fear Eats the Soul). He returned in 1978 with "Despair" and in 1979 with "Die Dritte Generation" (The Third Generation). He appeared as an actor in Daniel Schmidt's "Schatten der Engel" (Shadow of Angels) in 1976, and took part several times in Critics' Week.
|The Third Generation, 1979||Faßbinder|
Werner Schröter took part in the Directors' Fortnight on several occasions and then In Competition with "Tag der Idioten" (Day of the Idiots) in 1982 and "Malina" in 1991.
Thomas Brasch had two films In Competition, "Engel aus Eisen" (Angels of Iron) in 1981 and "Welcome to Germany" in 1988. And let's not forget another film — this time from East Germany — that featured in 1975: Egon Günther's "Lotte in Weimar".
Bernard Singel brought us "Kaltgestellt" (Put on Ice) In Competition in 1980.
|Day of the Idiots, 1982||Werner Schröter|
And if I may include myself, to complete the picture, I presented my first film, "Im Lauf der Zeit" (Kings of the Road), at Cannes in 1976. Gilles Jacob asked me on behalf of the Festival´s Director, Maurice Bessy, a few hours before the screening, if I would be willing to cut a scene from the film (quite a delicate one, that "defecation" viewed from a distance, I grant you), but that famous scene in which Rüdiger Vogler takes a dump had been cut from the film so often during the editing that I’d had enough. So I said no. I wanted to experience that moment which had started out as a sort of bet or joke between the actor and myself.
We arrived (after scuffles with the police who didn't want to let us in) with the actors at the old Palace, in the old lorry which was the main prop of the film. Our first red carpet, and no-one was taking us seriously! Just who were these youths getting out of a lorry?!
My first appearance at Cannes reaped me the Critics Award, jointly with Alexander Kluge, whose "Der Starke Ferdinand" (Strong Ferdinand) was being shown in the Fortnight. We found our way through the maze inside the building to pick up our certificates and when we finally emerged, we opened the scrolls as we walked down the steps and burst out laughing: they'd spelt our names wrong!
That would never happen again! Since then I've come back to Cannes over twenty times, as a director in and out of the Competition, or for Un Certain Regard, as a producer (with Peter Handke for "La Femme Gauchère", Claire Denis for "Chocolate" or Holger Ernst for "The House is Burning") and my Palme d'Or in 1984 for "Paris, Texas" was definitely one of the happiest days of my life. However, the best moment of all was in 1989, when Gilles Jacob made me President of the Jury! That time at least, I got to see all the films, didn't have to give a single interview, and had my own permanent chauffeur! There were intelligent, animated, passionate discussions and meetings every day. Those ten days at Cannes remain a genuine "cinema paradise" in my mind.
Faye Dunaway, Wim Wenders, Dirk Bogard - Paris, Texas, Palme d'or 1984 © AFP
Of course, there have been difficult moments too. In that respect, it would be hard to top my experience with "End of Violence", in the 1977 Competition, on the Festival's fiftieth anniversary. Gilles had persuaded me to show my film the very night of the grand anniversary party. All my fellow directors who had won the Palme were present and we formed a big line-up on stage. Plenty of speeches, of course, along with excerpts and the rest. And then, after this already emotionally-charged opening, they showed my film, in front of all these giants of the cinema (only that, by then, everyone was tired and wanted to go for dinner!). I was more stressed than I'd ever been during a screening. I found the film too long and badly mixed (an experience I no doubt share with plenty of directors during a world première) and I wanted the ground to swallow me up. And then, for some inexplicable reason, there were no subtitles! There was a black bar in their place, which disappeared bizarrely if I looked further down the screen. I was too nervous to take this visual effect seriously. The next day, the black bar was still there, only bigger. This was getting worrying. I went to see an ophthalmologist in Cannes who told me to go to Paris immediately for an operation on a detached retina! My wife put my in the car and drove all the way, stopping just to fill up, to Marburg in Germany, where there was a great ophthalmologist who knew me and operated on me early the next morning. Not a moment too soon. I fully regained my vision in my right eye. But here's my advice to all my director friends: avoid showing a film to all the world's directors and producers at once!
The End of Violence, Wim Wenders, In Competition 1997
The "New German Cinema" couldn't stay "new" for ever. This new century has witnessed a whole new generation of directors representing Germany. Jan Schütte began in 2000 with "Abschied". Max Färberböck continued with "September" in 2003. Hans Weingartner presented "Die fetten Jahre sind vorbei" (The Edukators) in 2004. Angela Schanelec brought us "Marseille" in 2004, further to giving us "Plätze in Städten" (Places in Cities) in 1998. Benjamin Heisenberg was invited to Cannes with "Schläfer" (Sleeper) in 2005. That same year, Fatih Akim attended with "Crossing the Bridge", (when he was also a member of the Jury under the Presidency of Emir Kusturica) and then again with "Auf der anderen Seite" (The Edge of Heaven) in 2007, the same year in which Robert Thalheim was also invited with "Am Ende kommen Touristen" (And Along Come Tourists). Andreas Dresen's "Wolke 9" (Cloud 9) was screened in 2008. And I´ll finish off my list with Christoph Hochhäuser's "Unter dir die Stadt" (The City Below) in 2010.
|Jan Schütte||Max Färberböck||Hans Weingartner||Angela Schanelec||Benjamin Heisenberg|
Fatih Akin, Award for Best Original Screenplay 2007
The Edge of Heaven
German Cinema in all its aspects owes a great deal to the Cannes Film Festival - this much is clear, even if many gripe about "the German absence" almost every year. I'm living proof of it! I've certainly had a special relationship with Cannes, and I'm grateful to Gilles Jacob for both his kind Presidency and presence, always highly competent and discreet at the top of the steps, and over the last ten years, to his General Delegate Thierry Frémaux who so admirably oversees the entire programming.
The story of the Cannes Film Festival, from its very beginnings, is a perfect reflection of the history of cinema, and that includes German cinema.
Halt auf freier Strecke (Stopped on Track), Andreas Dresen, Un Certain Regard ex-aequo award 2011
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BY WIM WENDERS, German film director, producer, and scriptwriter, as well as a photographer.
The Festival de Cannes would like to thank all the authors for contributing to the official website for free.