Not afraid to mention the war

by Kaori Shoji

Filmmaker Roland Suso Richter grew up in Berlin at a time when the Wall and all its connotations had full impact on its citizens. “Being a child in Berlin meant growing up entrenched in war and history. There was no escape from it, it was a part of life,” Richter says.

After he became a filmmaker, Richter realized that though people talked about the war and their experiences “no one did movies about Germans being the victims. I think that part of it was guilt; part of it was a reluctance to dredge up bad memories.” But things are changing. “There’s now a new generation of filmmakers and viewers that are not overwhelmed by history and saddled with guilt. They can see the war from another perspective. And they have access to records and materials that hadn’t been available before.”

Richter says that under these circumstances, the time was ripe for a movie like “Dresden” and he was of the right age (46) to make it.

Originally made for German TV, the film attracted 12 million viewers. “The timing was right, more than anything else,” says Richter. “Ten years ago, it would not have been possible to get the funding for this project. Ten years ago, it would not have drawn such a big audience.”

Do you think it’s because audiences responded to a picture about Germans being the victims?

I don’t think it’s that simple. I myself am very uncomfortable about the Nazis and what they did. But it’s equally uncomfortable for me to depict the Germans suffering. . . . I think audiences felt the same way. They got emotionally involved because this is a love story that unfolded under difficult circumstances. In many ways, this is a very personal story and that’s what they responded to.

There’s also a lot of action and bombs. It’s a real war movie. Does that happen often in German films?

“No, we watch Hollywood productions for those because they have the skill and the means. We just didn’t have the funds for a full-scale war movie like this one, at least not until now. You must be prepared to spend a lot of money to achieve technical perfection and that was an option that hadn’t been open to us. And I think “Dresden” worked because this is a World War II movie. No car chases or modern-day machineguns. I mean, what do the Germans know about action anyway? It would seem very stupid to see a German in a car chase, on German streets. It just wouldn’t seem right, our cars are too hardy. The airbags will inflate and no one will get hurt!

Will we see more war movies coming out of Germany?

Yes, I think so but not because they’re war movies per se. Germans are just like everyone else, they want to see good storytelling and high-level productions. “Schindler’s List” for example, got a great following because it had both these things. But this time, this subject was important to me. I was born in 1961 when the Berlin Wall went up and all through my childhood, everywhere I went I was surrounded by walls. When I visited my grandfather, my parents had to first sign a lot of papers before I could get on a plane to go to another section in the same city where he lived. How could I not be affected by the war, but history? History was all around me.

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