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Vanessa McMahon

Vanessa is a novel writer, screenwriter, rep and a film producer. She shares her discoveries and film surprises. :-)



Christian Friedel on 'The White Ribbon'

Interview with Christian Friedel from 'The White Ribbon' (2009)



Today I have the privilege to share with you a much anticipated interview for me...Christian Friedel from the award winning sensational film by director Michael Haneke, ‘The White Ribbon' (2009) (German: Das weiße Band, Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte), a dark story filmed in black and white about a German village in pre-World War I and the almost supernatural forces bubbling beneath the surface during this key time in German history.  



From Christian Friedel: ‘Greetings from Dresden!'



ME: First of all, I noticed that this is your first film! How did you manage landing your first part in a film with a main role like this?... and not just any main role but one in a film that has been nominated for two Academy Awards, winner of the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film and which won the 2009 Palme d'Or at Cannes... and, well I can't list all the other awards it has won and been nominated for as there are so many! :-)



CHRISTIAN: To me this film was an unbelievable gift and it was an honor to be able to work with Michael Haneke. Of course, I knew some of his films but I never thought that he would choose me for the part of the teacher. The auditions with him had already been very special experiences - and above all educational.



ME: For those readers out there that have not seen the film, can you please give an idea as to what the film is about and what your role as the School Teacher is?



CHRISTIAN: The plot of the film starts short before the beginning of the First World War and plays in a small village in Northern Germany. The viewer is allowed to have a look into the world of many different families in this village - from baron to small farmer. The film deals with their personal stories and includes the education of the children as well as their living conditions at that time. During the time shown weird accidents happen. The teacher tries to probe the causes of these accidents and at the end of the film he has a suggestion that is quite clear due to his observations who is responsible for the accidents. Furthermore, the teacher encounters and gets to know Eva, a young and very shy girl, and they fall in love with each other. They even want to marry which appears not to be easy.



ME: Can you speak with us about the experience of making such a film? The film makes the hair rise on my skin it is so subtly spooky. For me, this film is scarier than any Hollywood horror film. Its modesty and symbols speak volumes. Was it ever a bit creepy at times during filming? Perhaps you have some anecdotes or moments on set that you can share?



CHRISTIAN: The shooting was like a travel through time for me. Due to the detailed and expensive set it was like being shifted in another time. Despite the darksome issues there was a positive and inspirational atmosphere on the set. The film was shot in three different places - in the small village called Netzow, in Johannstorf and in a studio in Leipzig. In Netzow, for example, a big street was ripped out and instead a big and very beautiful alley was recreated. The main part of the film was shot in Netzow. In Johannstorf all scenes at the manor of the baron were shot. And in the studio in Leipzig they built up the whole vicarage. Haneke's work is very precise and he puts a lot of emphasis on authenticity. He told me to wear my original clothes long before the beginning of the shooting so that they would wrinkle up and not look new clothes any more. And for the scene with Eva in the night when I comforted her with a piece of music played on the harmonium, I had to take lessons to learn how to play the harmonium.



ME: What was your past year like after winning all of these awards? Have you been on one nonstop press tour around the world? And please share with us what it must have been like to see it win the Palme d'Or at Cannes. This must have been a moment of pure bliss for all of you.



CHRISTIAN: Winning the Palme d'Or at Cannes was absolutely a highlight for all of us. I already had returned from Cannes (which was an unbelievable experience for me) and watched the prize giving ceremony on TV at home with a friend. It was so amazing and I was really delighted and got a lot of phone-calls and sms that evening. Above all, the attention of the media then was directed at Michael Haneke and the production. Of course, all the actors gave interviews but in each case the requests mainly came from the local media. Therefore I was able to concentrate on my theatre work and rehearsals there which I appreciated very much. It goes without saying that I also enjoyed very much the "small trips" when I was asked to present the film as an actor, such as Moskow, Vienna, Turkey and, of course, Los Angeles at the Oscars. This trip was my own absolute highlight and it was like a dream come true for me to be able to attend the ceremony.



ME: What was it like to work with the brilliant and ingenious Michael Haneke? Is he tough and cryptic or open to suggestion and easy going?



CHRISTIAN: Michael Haneke is a director who has the complete film in his mind. He knows exactly what he wants and therefore he is very precise and also uncompromising in this work. This is what impressed me most but despite his precision I felt very free and also secure while working as I had to give life to the character of the teacher with my personality. To be able to watch Michael Haneke during his work fascinated me, and I really learned a lot.



ME: I think that what makes this film so profound is its mere suggestions and mystery to something deep and dark bubbling beneath the surface of this seemingly pure white world. And how perfect that it is filmed in black and white, adding to the symbolism of a world that has been drawn with black and white ethics and psychology. Can you give us your take on what this film means to you? I mean, as this is a film where every viewer can read from it what they want to, what does ‘The White Ribbon' mean or say to you personally?



CHRISTIAN: I do not like to answer a lot to this question as I agree with Michael Haneke in this context that it is absolutely to the viewer to find his own answers and interpretations to the film. You should not stop the viewer from thinking. I have my own theory about the film and it has surely also to do with the suggestion of the teacher. Anyhow, I do not like to say more to it.



ME: Can you tell us about how this film has been received in Germany and how close to reality does it take us to this time in Germany during this generation before WWI?



CHRISTIAN: The reception of the film was positive in every respect. The feedback I received was how moving and fascinating but also how depressing the story was told. Older people remembered their own childhood even when they grew up long after WWI. And many viewers remembered what their grandparents had told them who witnessed this time very intensively. Anyhow, this film succeeds in bearing a relation to our time, too, as it is not only a contemporary document but a film that deals with the root of the matter "fascism" - and fascism cannot only be found in Germany which gave the film an international appreciation.



ME: Haneke has become a world-renown and respected auteur director. I have to say that his themes remind me of Lynch in a strange way. Almost like ‘The White Ribbon' reminds me of ‘Mulholland Drive'. And why do you suppose Cannes always favors these light and dark themed films? Do you think it's perhaps because of the age of angst we seem to be living in, which is somewhat the exact opposite situation of the uber repressed time period portrayed in the film?



CHRISTIAN: I believe that in Cannes films that go deeper to our souls and touch them more like other films are being considered more carefully and more precisely. Hollywood is ruled by mainstream, which makes sense to a certain part as due to this it is possible to finance a lot of other films, too. In Cannes only the quality of a film is important - and in case an in-depth film deals very explicitly with violence, fears and human abysses and shows this with fascinating and impressing pictures, this film sticks to the viewers' mind - and sometimes also to the jurors' minds. Michael Haneke says that fear is the deepest feeling, in 1913/14 and also at our times. Art tries to find expressions for it and we look for it again in art. This will always be a current issue as man finds himself by looking at his fears.



ME: My last and an easy question. And sorry for all the complicated questions but ‘The White Ribbon' merits it. :-)... So, can you tell us what you will be working on next? Will you continue to act?



CHRISTIAN: I was really glad to be able to play a small character in the international film production "Chicken with Plums" directed by Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud in September 2010. As far as theatre is concerned, I am now rehearsing for the title role in "Oedipus". The premiere is planned for mid of November 2010. And I am looking forward to some very exciting theatre and film projects in future about which I am not allowed to say more at this moment of time. Thanks for the interview!



ME: Thank you, Christian, for a gold ribbon performance in ‘The White Ribbon' and for taking your time to speak with us. We'll be watching you devotedly on stage and on screen. Danke Schoen Christian!  :-)



Interview by Vanessa McMahon October 24, 2010



see trailer for 'The White Ribbon' here:



  • actor Christian Friedel



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