Anyone who’s seen Hans-Christian Schmid’s "Requiem" won’t have forgotten Sandra Hüller’s chilling performance as Michaela Klingler, a character based on the epileptic girl in provincial 1970s Germany whose story inspired "The Exorcist".
Five years and many theatre roles later, Hüller’s inborn dramatic nature, her quiet, shy, and rather subdued exterior, at the surface of which simmers a fiery, unruly and unfathomable temper, comes in handy once more in Brownian Movement.
This difficult, mannerist film owes its salvation to Hüller’s perfect grip on her (rather slippery) character, Charlotte, a doctor, mother and a wife, who for no apparent reason puts her career and private life at risk by having regular sex with male patients she picks up at random from the hospital where she works.
Charlotte: is she a sick woman, a nympho, or just a social misfit?
I think she’s a very free and open-minded person.
There are many ways to be free…
I think it’s a freedom of the mind, and of course of the body. We never had the intention to make her a sick person, a clinical case, but rather a meditation about freedom. What is freedom in love? What does it mean? What does it mean when I say, “I don’t belong to you; you don’t belong to me.” We live together, but what I do in a very special room has nothing to do with you. It has only to do with me. I’m my own person. And she takes responsibility for what she does with the men she meets.
In a rather unsettling, matter-of-fact way.
Yes, she never tries to say she’s sorry. Just, “I did it.” It’s almost clinical, the way she looks at what she’s doing with the men, like a scientific experiment.
Isn’t she just totally selfish?
No. I feel like she’s giving all the time. Giving love to everyone. For example, I never felt we were doing sex scenes. They were love scenes. She embraces, strokes those men, loves them as they are, with their imperfections.
But she’s got a kid; she’s got a husband…
It’s got nothing to do with them. She’s not doing it inside the family space. I always felt she could as well be knitting in that small studio. So, it’s not about having sex. It’s just about having something for herself. She just wants a place where she can be herself and on her own. I understand that better than ever before, because I have a child and there is no room for that.
That’s the ultimate praise for a double life! It kind of flopped for her though. Do you think it is sustainable in real life?
I don’t know. I could never do it; I don’t have the strength. But I am an actress, so I can have other lives all the time.
Does that mean you are in constant need of identifying with the character you play?
Completely. It’s a big problem when it comes to choosing work, because I can’t do something I don’t say yes to completely.
So what did you like the most in Charlotte?
She is a brave woman. I admire her. I really wanted to incarnate her energy as someone who is free. Few people are. It’s an interesting issue in a society where everyone thinks they can do what they want. But we don’t.
Were you ever a rebel?
I cut off my hair when I was 14 and dyed it red. It was a really big thing in those days. So I think maybe it’s something about me that I am always trying to find the point when it gets difficult.
How did you like the film in the end?
I think, to be honest, it’s very difficult to sit through and stick with the characters till the end. There are many borders to cross. I like that it loves the people that it shows. It made me think about what I would do. It made me realize that we are judging all the time. Most people say this about movies, but it’s a journey. You go somewhere with the people, and you come home differently.
Speaking of: where is your home?
You’ve studied here and after years in Switzerland are back in Berlin…
But I still know where I come from. I know that I have a provincial heart.
I come from the GDR. I remember when the Wall came down. I feel like an East German person – I can’t change it.
In which way?
Things that we learned, like you have to stick together and be strong. It’s about discipline and friendship. It’s about brotherhood. I can’t really explain.
Some values you would like to pass on to your daughter?
Definitely, although maybe unconsciously. It’s a certain feeling, something to do with how to deal with other people.
Brownian Movement opens in Berlin on June 30.
Originally published in issue #96, July/August 2012.