Five years after 3 Days in Quiberon, Emily Atef is back at the Berlinale competition with Some Day We Will Tell Each Other Everything (Irgendwann werden wir uns alles erzählen) with Marlene Burow leading the cast.
Your film is an adaptation of a novel by Daniela Krien. How did you come across the book? What grabbed you about it?
The script writer on my first three films gave me the book after she read it back in 2012, saying, “You’re gonna love it, it’s totally your theme.” I read it in one go, and I adored it! I’ve never read a novel where I just immediately saw the whole film in front of me. This setting of primitive, untouched nature, acting almost as a witness to this very primal, animal-like physical attraction, and amour fou kind of love. Visually, psychologically, I just saw it. It was just so cinematic!
The love story is universal, but it’s set in that time of chaos, just after the fall of the Wall
Why wait almost 10 years to make the film?
The rights weren’t free, so after a few years I decided to try my luck and contact the author, Daniela Krien, telling her: “I know that the rights of the book aren’t free, but I still love your world. Maybe there’s something else that we could do together.” And I sent her my films. She wrote back right away. We met 10 days later. She’d seen my films and really understood them. It was like falling in love – in an artistic kind of way. We started seeing each other regularly, working on things together, and then, all of a sudden, the rights were free! I asked her to work on the script with me. She hesitated because she’d never done that before. But I convinced her, and the work was just amazingly rich and very easy, which is rare, very rare.
Nature plays a big role in your films: from Brittany’s seaside in 3 Days in Quiberon, to the breathtaking beauty of Norway in spring in More Than Ever. Did you know Thuringia?
I’d never been there in my life. We shot along the border of Saxony and Thuringia, and I was totally mesmerised by the beauty of nature there. It’s just gorgeous. It’s one of the least populated regions in all of Germany and you really sense it. You still find streets lined with trees full of ripe fruit that you can pick. It reminded me of the Jura countryside in France, where I lived as a teenager. I guess it stayed a little untouched – like back in the 1990s.
Good for Thuringia’s reputation! The eastern Länder often get a bad press for their alleged hostility towards newcomers…
We experienced the exact opposite! And you know, I’m part Iranian, so I don’t look like your usual German. The people there were just incredibly generous and helpful. They opened up their houses or farms, allowed us to shoot anywhere, helped us find this, do that… it was amazing. The most welcoming people!
The story unfolds in the first summer after the Wall came down. Was it tricky for a girl from the West to deal with this particularly painful time for many former East Germans? Was it important that it wouldn’t be another Wessi take on their history?
There’s something in her that wants to go to her limits. Even though she might burn herself
The thing is, I’m not a West German. I’m a French Iranian who was born in Berlin, left for America at the age of seven, then moved to a village in France at 14. When I came back 21 years ago to study and live in Berlin, it was a different country. I have many East German friends, and for me, it’s really important to tell their story. One of the aspects I love in Daniela’s novel is that there’s no black and white. There are people from the East who really use this new political situation as a chance to further themselves, and other people who never came out of it, they were left behind. She has a very subtle way of showing that and it was important to convey it in the film. That’s also one of the reasons why I wanted to adapt the script with her. I would have never adapted it alone. The backdrop had to be precise, so I needed to write it and to adapt it with somebody who lived it.
You describe your film as a story of amour fou between an 18- year-old woman and a 40-year-old man, which is an intriguing, controversial choice in our post-MeToo times. Do we need another movie about a young woman being seduced by an older guy? In the book, it’s even more controversial because she’s 16, right?
Why can’t I tell that story? When I read the book, I didn’t think, “Oh, it’s a male gaze thing to always show these relationships – older guys and younger girls.” I just thought, “Wow, what? It’s wonderful,” and I wanted to express it on film, this really muddy perspective of a young girl being attracted by the dark and then feeling that this is maybe the biggest love story she’s ever had.
Interestingly, people think it less controversial to see younger guys infatuated with friends of their mums, older ladies. Again, it’s something that I find totally human and wonderful. But I don’t see why this should be different. Women of all ages have sexual desires, and they have dark desires, and they can all fall in love with the wrong guy – very young women included. It’s something that maybe one doesn’t want to see because we’ve always seen it from the perspective of the guy.
So what makes your perspective any different from the good old male-gaze film? Would you say this is a more feminine or feminist take on this?
It’s totally different. Yes, he’s much older, but it’s her perspective on this incredible desire. Her choice. Her story. Past their first meeting, she’s the one who starts to get fixated on him. And yes, she’s 18 and he’s older, and she’s living with her boyfriend on his family farm, so it’s totally verboten – but there’s something in her that wants to experience this and go to her limits. Even though she might burn herself, she wants to go there. She has to experience it. And she’s the one who forces it, actually. She’s not the victim here – at the end you’re almost thinking he is the victim. And I find that fascinating.
Was the choice of Marlene Burow to play 18-year-old Maria decisive in conveying this – this idea of an empowered young woman?
Yeah, exactly. I saw many, many, many women. And for sure, one thing I did not want was a young, fragile Maria. I needed somebody who is young and maybe doesn’t know what she’s doing. But you know that whatever happens, it’s still her decision. It’s always her decision. You’re not thinking, “Oh my god, she’s being mentally manipulated”. And Marlene had that – she’s young but has this powerful, grounded aura, she’s an old soul, so she’s bringing this with her.
I have many East German friends, and for me, it’s really important to tell their story.
How does it feel to be back at the Berlinale competition five years after 3 Days in Quiberon, representing German cinema along with some of the country’s biggest names, including Germany’s grande dames, Shanelec and von Trotta?
It’s just so beautiful to be back in the Berlinale. 2018 was just magic! And this time, it’s also a German film. The love story is universal, but because it’s set in that time of chaos, just after the fall of the Wall, I believe that the German audience in particular will understand some of the subtleties that I tried to convey from the book. People whose families were divided or who experienced that time. And for me, after all this work and all this time, to know that at the premiere I’ll be sitting there with my team and my actors, many of whom haven’t even seen the film on this HUGE screen. It’s not even a room, it’s like a hall. It’s just magic.
You’ve worked for both TV and the big screen. With films having a shorter shelf life than ever and dwindling Kino audiences, what drives you to still make movies?
It’s why I started making films: I love telling stories and touching people doing TV, but making cinema, it’s just a different thing. You work for years trying to make something that will become uniquely powerful on that big, big screen, watched together by people who don’t know each other but will live these two hours sitting in this dark space together. For me, there’s nothing more powerful – and me bringing that to life with my partners, with my team and actors – you know, some films you see, you never forget!
BIO: Emily Atef is active in both TV and film. The prolific Berlin-based German-French-Iranian director made her breakthrough in 2018 with the Romy Schneider film 3 Days in Quiberon which won seven German Lolas. She’s since directed a Tatort and was at Cannes last year with More Than Ever.