Category Archives: Hanna Schygulla

The Edge of Heaven (2007)

 “I’m a lady of easy virtue.”

Lives intersect and create permanent changes in the wonderful film The Edge of Heaven (Auf Der Anderen Seite) from writer/director Fatih Akin. Akin was born in Germany but is of Turkish descent, so his films provide a unique cross-cultural view of the lives of Turks living in Germany.

Edge of Heaven DVDThe film begins in Germany with elderly Turkish widower immigrant Ali (Tuncel Kurtiz) visiting the red light district of Bremen and selecting prostitute Yeter (Nursel Kose). With her vinyl mini-dress and blonde wig, Yeter doesn’t seem the cozy type, but Ali is drawn to her. After a few encounters he suggests that she move in with him, and she accepts. She has few other choices at this point–she can’t stay in the red light area as she’s been identified and threatened by fellow Turks, so she moves in with Ali.

Add Ali’s son Nejat (Baki Dvarat) to the picture–he’s a university professor of German, and no doubt while he’s a success by cultural and societal markers, there’s something wrong…we see a scene of Nejat sitting in his messy office. Is he bored out of his mind or just contemplative? Another scene shows him listlessly lecturing students, so without explicit narrative or plot development, it seems clear that Nejat has ‘succeeded’ in German society, but he’s not thrilled about it.

Nejat doesn’t object to his father’s new housemate–in fact Yeter and Nejat have an excellent relationship. And this is in contrast to Ali’s relationship with Yeter. While he couldn’t wait for her to move in and promised to pay her, things quickly turn sour.

Circumstances take Nejat to Turkey and he begins a search for Yeter’s missing daughter, Ayten (Nurgul Yesilcay). The film takes us through Ayten’s story and activities in a revolutionary group. Seeking asylum in Germany, Ayten becomes involved with a German girl, Lotte (Patrycia Ziolkowska) and Lotte’s mother Susanne (Hanna Schygulla).

The Edge of Heaven is a wonderful film, and if I’ve managed to make it sound confusing, it really isn’t. The story threads are very well woven, and although the characters are connected, the viewer retains the knowledge of those connections–we have knowledge of those relationships that eludes the characters.

Watching The Edge of Heaven, I was reminded of Ozpetek’s wonderful film Haman (Steam: The Turkish Bath)–a film that also shows the exoticism and the dangers of Istanbul. Just as the main character in Steam, Francesco, is beguiled by Istanbul, Nejat is similarly entranced. There’s one scene where he walks into–of all things–a German book shop. There it is, apparently waiting for him. He steps inside and with a sense of quiet wonder he scans the shelves and silently logs the titles….

There’s a lot happening in this film–cultural identity, loss, redemption and the relationships between parents and their children who learn to accept loss and forgive errors and crimes. This is the best Akin film I’ve seen to date (In July, Head-On, and The Edge of Heaven).

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Filed under German, Hanna Schygulla, Turkish

Circle of Deceit (1981)

  “Never stand still in Beirut.”

German journalist Georg Laschen (Bruno Ganz) leaves behind his troubled marriage for Beirut, Lebanon to cover the outbreak of civil war in 1975. He arrives in a hotel full of other foreign journalists who’ve become used to the odd mortar hitting the building. The hotel is located in “No Man’s Land”–a zone in between Christian and Muslim fighting factions. Laschen is calmly told that most of the fighting takes place at night, but that during the days, it’s fairly quiet. Shortly after Laschen’s arrival, the country explodes into civil war.

circleAs the danger intensifies, Laschen and his photographer, Hoffman (Jerzy Skolimowski) take to the streets and pass through the zones of various fighting factions. At each checkpoint, chaos reigns–people are summarily rounded up and executed, and the bodies of the victims burned to hide the carnage. Laschen and Hoffman pass unscathed through scenes of death and destruction, while those a few feet away are coldly murdered. Both men feel the elation of a facade of invulnerability, and they begin to take more risks. The film assumes a surreal element as fighters on all sides vacillate between wanting photos taken of their deeds and not wanting any evidence left behind. As insanity reigns in Beirut, entrepreneurs sell weapons to the highest bidders and rival papers bid on grisly photos.

Meanwhile, war is good business for the journalists fortunate enough to be on the spot. A party atmosphere reigns at the hotel, and as Hoffman notes to Laschen “we both feed our families from this kind of event.” Laschen begins his assignment with the agenda of recording whatever he sees, but he finds it increasingly difficult to remain emotionally apart from the atrocities taking place around him. He seeks out Ariana (Hanna Schygulla) a fellow German who has chosen to remain in Beirut

Directed by Volker Schlondorff, Circle of Deceit captures the beginning of an important piece of history–the Lebanese Civil War–while exploring the inhumanity of war–and those who provide coverage for the rest of the world. The voyeuristic element of the journalist’s job becomes a moral question for Laschen as he witnesses the carnage of Beirut. Circle of Deceit is in German, French and English with English subtitles.

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Filed under German, Hanna Schygulla, Political/social films, Volker Schlondorff

Forever Lulu (1987)

“My stars have uncrossed.”

In the film, Forever Lulu, Elaine (Hanna Schygulla) works for a toilet seat company by day and writes scripts for adult films by night. But what she really wants to do is to write a serious novel. Things go from bad to worse when she’s fired, receives an eviction notice, and her agent tells her to re-write her novel to make it more sensationalistic. Just as things hit rock bottom, Elaine’s life changes when a smartly dressed couple mistake Elaine for a mugger and hand over their valuables. Soon Elaine is being stalked by a Mafia hit man and surrounded by dead bodies.

The plot is, obviously, far-fetched. Normally, this sort of thing might be carried off if it contained great comic performances. Unfortunately Forever Lulu is cursed with cliched lines and uneven performances. Some of the roles are surprisingly good–the snotty waiter, for example. And the role of Elaine’s blind date, the obnoxious life insurance salesman, is a gem. Other performances are simply bad. Hanna Schygulla is a fine German actress, and Deborah Harry (from Blondie) has managed to deliver some good performances in the past too. Deborah Harry stars as the elusive and mysterious Lulu in this film. This role doesn’t call for many lines–just a few appearances, and the few lines Harry has aren’t very exciting. Schygulla and Harry–in spite of their talents–just can’t drag this film anywhere. All in all, Forever Lulu tries hard–perhaps too hard–but it’s just not an interesting, original or funny film.

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The Summer of Miss Forbes (1988)

 “The ghosts of the drowned will rule the world.”

summer-of-miss-forbesParents who plan to leave on a summer cruise employ a German governess, Miss Forbes (Hanna Schygulla) to take care of their two young boys. Up to this point, the two boys are having a wonderful time with little or no discipline or order in their lives. The highlight of the boys’ day is scuba diving in the ocean with Achilles, a laconic young man whose physique resembles that of a Greek god. When the governess arrives, the boys are subject to strict new rules, and most of them are arbitrary. It’s clear from the precision with which she eats a banana, that this woman is more than a little uptight. The governess implements a point system without explanation, and soon the boys lose many privileges–including scuba diving with Achilles. This means that Miss Forbes must scuba dive alone with the young instructor, and from the way she drools whenever she sees Achilles, it’s obvious that this was the plan she had in mind all along.

In contrast to the strict discipline Miss Forbes imposes during the day, her nights are spent in a Vodka haze as she wanders around the spectacular beach house in her underwear. Miss Forbes is quite obviously a troubled, frustrated woman, and just how frustrated and troubled she is becomes apparent by the film’s end.

The Summer of Miss Forbes is based on a Gabriel Garcia Marquez story, and this video is one in a series of six. Each one is based on a Marquez short story, and each one is a separate tale. The story has elements of the surreal, and it boasts a strange and startling conclusion. Hanna Schygulla is a marvelous German actress, and she carries this role with her usual aplomb and assured self-possession. While the film is in Spanish, it does have English subtitles. Regrettably, when Miss Forbes mutters German, this is not translated. The picture quality on my old VHS tape is not of the highest definition, but it’s certainly not bad enough to interfere with my enjoyment of this strange, hypnotic tale.

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A Love in Germany (1983)

“I’m only doing my duty.”

A man travels back to his small hometown in Germany after an absence of 40 years. With his teenage son in tow, his goal is to piece together exactly what happened to his mother during WWII. As he tries to talk to villagers and discover the truth, a story unfolds of a tragic love affair between the man’s German mother and a Polish prisoner of war. Their fate becomes the focus of the film, A Love in Germany.

Through flashbacks, the story unfolds of Paulina Kropp (Hanna Schygulla) who runs a small grocery shop while her husband serves in the German army. The villagers use incarcerated Polish prisoners-of-war for unpaid labour. The POWs are subject to strict rules–they are not supposed to live, eat or fraternize with the Germans. Polish POW Stanislaus (Piotr Lysak) sleeps in the stables, and he’s ‘loaned’ out for various tasks. Stanislaus begins doing work for Paulina, and they engage in a steamy affair. In the village, it’s impossible to keep anything secret–and soon the affair is common knowledge.

While A Love in Germany from director Andrzej Wajda is ostensibly the story of a love affair between two people who were supposed to be enemies, the film is much more than that. By retelling the affair, the film subtly examines Germany’s past. When the forbidden affair inevitably comes to the attention of the authorities, ordinary German citizens become involved with irrevocable decisions. What should be an intimate, private matter between two people is dissected, analyzed, and judged according to rules and regulations set forth by Himmler. The question of the “Ayran-ness” of Paulina and Stanislaus will help decide their fate, and neighbours, friends and acquaintances collaborate in a sick system. The fine actor, Armin Mueller-Stahl plays Mayer, a German officer who is out of his moral depth, but consoles himself by following the minutiae set forth in documents regarding interracial couples. Mayer’s underling, Schutze, is a petty bureaucrat given the authority and the uniform of a monstrous system. Based on the novel by Rolf Hochhuth, this excellent film is in Polish with English subtitles.

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Lili Marleen (1981)

 “You are a shining light in this regime.”

lili-marleenLili Marleen from German director Fassbinder is very loosely based on the autobiography of WWII singer Lale Andersen. This is one of the three films Fassbinder made in English, and it tends towards the epic soap in its depiction of the love story between the German chanteuse Willie (Hanna Schygulla) and her Jewish lover, pianist and composer Robert Mendelsohn (Giancarlo Giannini). When the film begins, Willie and Robert live in Switzerland where Willie–a mediocre singer–has a nightclub engagement. Here she comes to the attention of some visiting Nazis who urge her to come back to Berlin so they can boost her career. Robert is involved in smuggling Jews from Germany to Switzerland, and when he leaves for Berlin on another mission, Willie accompanies him. Unfortunately, Robert’s father, who doesn’t approve of Willie, pulls strings to forbid her reentry to Switzerland, and so the lovers are parted.

Willie reconnects with the Nazi officers she met in Switzerland, and she records the song “Lili Marleen.” Willie’s singing ability leaves a lot to be desired, but the song is, by chance, picked up on the airwaves and rapidly becomes extremely popular with the soldiers at the front. While the soldiers identify with the song’s theme–a soldier who longs to return home from war to the woman who’s waiting–propaganda minister Goebbels hates it. To Goebbels, the song has “the stench of death” and isn’t patriotic enough, but Willie enjoys Hitler’s patronage, and so she remains a popular singer and entertainer until she crosses her Nazi masters and is blacklisted.

In a different film, Lili’s character could contain some depth and complexity–after all she’s swept up in a maelstrom of moral complexity and chooses to survive through Nazi patronage. But Fassbinder’s Lili isn’t depicted as a complex character–instead she’s portrayed as a woman caught up by circumstance who operates solely on a desire to survive and her love for Mendelsohn. Hanna Schygulla–one of Fassbinder’s greatest actresses–plays the role with a slightly distracted, naive air. Still the story raises some interesting moral questions regarding the price of survival. The plot is problematic and a bit muddled in some parts of the film. This may be due to the fact that Fassbinder did not work with his own script here–but one he revised that was originally written by one of his arch-enemies Manfred Purzer. Fassbinder also plays a small role as an underground operative involved in rescuing Jews.

But in spite of its flaws, Lili Marleen is a feast for Fassbinder fans. The film contains moments of pure power. Some very moving scenes depict Willie singing and her words are broadcast over the airwaves to soldiers–some in the trenches, some in open fields. Soldiers bow their heads and fall silent as they recall the bittersweet memories of all they’ve left behind. In one of the best scenes in the film, Willie performs to a packed house of Nazi elite, and scenes of huge bouquets of flowers are juxtaposed with the bodies of soldiers falling from explosions. If you’re new to Fassbinder, I recommend starting with The Marriage of Maria Braun, Veronica Voss or The Stationmaster’s Wife.

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