Today in the FemalExperts Role Model interview we are pleased to welcome a true icon of European cinema: Margarethe von Trotta. For more than four decades, her name has been synonymous with bold, committed and independent filmmaking. As a pioneer of new German film, she has not only established herself internationally as one of the few female voices in the industry, but has also ensured that these voices are heard. Von Trotta is known for her profound and complex portrayals of women, both historical and contemporary. Her films often deal with themes such as power, identity and the role of women in society.
Her latest film,“Ingeborg Bachmann – Reise in die Wüste” (Ingeborg Bachmann – Journey into the Desert), remains true to this legacy and conveys the fascinating story of one of the most important Austrian women writers of the 20th century.
Today, we look forward to learning more about Margarethe von Trotta’s work, her insights into filmmaking, and the powerful message of female empowerment that resonates in each of her films.
Ms. von Trotta, it is an extraordinary pleasure for me to introduce you to our community as part of our Role Model Interview and I would like to start right away:
1. you are one of the most important female directors in the history of German cinema. How do you think the position of women in the film industry has changed over the course of your career?
The only woman who was able to make films in Germany during the Nazi era was Leni Riefenstahl. I was also immediately asked about it when I received a Golden Lion in Venice in 1981 for my film “Bleierne Zeit” – Anni di Piombo. Question: How do you feel as the first woman after Leni Riefenstahl?
In Venice I was the first female director to receive the Leone d’Oro, but there were directors like Liliana Cavani and Lina Wertmüller who had made very important and respected films long before we woke up in Germany, but I was not the only female director in Germany. In the Federal Republic at the beginning of the seventies there was a whole group of female filmmakers: Ula Stöckl, Helma Sanders-Brahms, Helke Sander, Jutta Brückner…to name just a few, whose work I had seen at the time, before I, in 1977, was able to realize my own first film. For a very long time, all these women had a hard time being noticed and being as “visible” as their male counterparts. The label “women’s film” was attached to them, which meant a certain devaluation. Today, if you look around at what films are being shown in cinemas and what films – this has become very obvious in recent years – are being shown and also awarded prizes at the major festivals, there are more and more films by female directors. I’m waiting for the time when a film is perceived solely by its power and originality, and it no longer matters whether a woman or a man made it. Because it has become a given that women CAN make films.
2. you yourself lead the way here as an extraordinary example of a successful career in the film industry, but you are in the spotlight not only with your own biography as a role model, but also in terms of portraying extraordinary strong, courageous and non-conformist women. Is there any advice you would give to aspiring female directors, producers or actresses on how to succeed in the film industry in the long run?
The “exceptionally strong, courageous and non-conformist” women. They are not the only ones I have portrayed in my films, but they are probably particularly noticed by the viewers. Unfortunately, I can’t give any advice, except: to have confidence in oneself, not to look at the “success results” of others, but to ask oneself again and again: What seems important to ME, what is possibly also important to tell for the time in which we live. Making films because you want to be famous is the wrong way to go. The right way is to make films because you are convinced that you can say something to others, and perhaps especially to women, that could be important for them and their lives.
3. in your long and successful career as an actress, director and screenwriter, you have repeatedly dealt with strong female characters. How do you choose the women you want to portray?
Very often, these portraits of women are offered to me from the outside, e.g. “Rosa Luxemburg”, – the film Fassbinder wanted to make. It was only after his death that his producer came to me, or “Hannah Arendt,” also a film brought to me by a producer friend. I am initially afraid of these “century figures”. But the longer I then deal with them, especially discovering “correspondences” in their nature to me, I become more courageous.
4. her latest film “Ingeborg Bachmann – Reise in die Wüste” is dedicated to this great Austrian writer and lyricist and portrays the story of a female writing and silencing. What was the special fascination for you in the portrayal of this particular woman?
I knew Ingeborg Bachmann’s poems, had already read them in school and also quoted them in some of my films. Still, I wouldn’t have thought of making a film about them. The same problem: my respect. But this time, too, the impetus came from outside, from a producer from Switzerland, Katrin Renz. She brought in three more producers with whom I had done Hannah Arendt. With her, too, I first asked for a period of reflection in order to engage with Ingeborg Bachmann in other ways, not only as a reader, before I agreed. I’m brave, and that’s how it always looks to the outside world, but I’m also afraid that I won’t be able to do justice to the people.
5. how did you engage with Ingeborg Bachmann’s complex personality before and during the filming process to ensure that her character and story were portrayed authentically?
I re-read everything about her, including what others have written about her. I read her correspondence with Paul Celan and Hans Werner Henze, tried to meet people who still knew her, for example her younger brother, who was very friendly and open-minded. Until I found out that her time with Max Frisch “got me” the most, because they both thought they were growing on each other at the beginning, yet failed so painfully. Whether everything I describe of them is true…the film is not a documentary, so I have some freedom. Any portrait can only ever be an approximation.
6. how do you hope the audience will react to “Ingeborg Bachmann – Reise in die Wüste” and what messages would you like to give to the viewers?
I have no messages, I can only hope each time that people who watch the film will recognize themselves in their own desires and also disappointments.
7. can you tell us something about your future projects? Is there a story that you think is still important to tell?
I don’t have a project yet, just a few ideas and maybe wishes, but I don’t want to talk about them until I’m a little more certain of theirs.
Thank you for this extraordinary and highly exciting insight into the world of directing and film. Our readership consists of a variety of interested women and I am sure that one or two will also find their way into the film industry. We are already looking forward to the film premiere of your latest film: “Ingeborg Bachmann – Reise in die Wüste”..
Info about the film premiere
- 19 October 2023 In the cinema / 1 hr. 51 min. / Drama, Biopic
- Director: Margarethe von Trotta
- Screenplay: Margarethe von Trotta
- Cast: Vicky Krieps, Ronald Zehrfeld, Tobias Resch
About the author
Kinga Bartczak advises, coaches and writes on female empowerment, new work culture, organizational development, systemic coaching and personal branding. She is also the managing director of UnternehmerRebellen GmbH and publisher of the FemalExperts magazine .