She skipped the Berlinale premiere in February for fear of Covid, as she says. At the theatrical release of “Peter von Kant”, Hanna Schygulla talks about the new film , her youth in Munich and the years with Rainer Werner Fassbinder . The 78-year-old tells of abuse of power, bondage, difficult directors and the time when she turned her back on acting.
SZ: “Peter von Kant” is based on the Fassbinder film “The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant”. Back then you played the mistress, now the mother. What did you think of this role reversal?
Hanna Schygulla: Time moves on, that’s just the way life is. I’m in a different age category now. And either you’re still part of the game – or you’re not. When François Ozon asked me if I wanted to play the mother in his film ” Peter von Kant “, I was delighted. But I also said that he should let a little bit of me flow into the role.
Fassbinder’s film is 50 years old. Can you still remember the shooting?
Yes, as always with him, everything happened very quickly. The film was finished in 14 days. But I was never a fan of this project. That was because I knew the private background.
The story went back to a private relationship drama of Fassbinder, he himself was the manipulative fashion designer Petra von Kant.
Exactly. As a director you’re in a position of power, you’re the inventor of the world and a little god in this world. This slide from love to living out positions of power made up the tragedy of his life. Rainer was someone who couldn’t believe that people liked him for his own sake. He thought everyone just wanted something from him. Which is understandable, after all he could also offer them a new life. There was hardly anyone whose life path he had not decisively changed.
Yes, of course. I met him at a private acting school, which he attended because he wasn’t accepted at the film schools. And to which I only went because I was accompanying a friend. But I soon realized that I wasn’t made for it. I had already left school again when Rainer contacted me.
Shortly thereafter you had acted in a dozen of his films. How did you find the first few years with Fassbinder?
That was like a dream. Because everything was so easy and you could be someone else. At the same time, I always thought to myself: What does all this have to do with me? In the first films I only played women who were the opposite of what I was. I went to college and was on my way to becoming a frustrated intellectual. But in front of the camera I embodied little suburban whores or Marilyns.
In “Petra von Kant” you played the lover of the title character. Was the lesbian issue a fuss at the time?
Fassbinder often made films about society’s outsiders and outcasts. But that was more of an alienation measure for him. He wanted to show that the so-called different people suffer from social structures in the same way – and, when in doubt, behave in the same way. It’s a very universal topic: when you’re in love, you should be careful not to slip into power games. That stuck with the audience, “Petra von Kant” was a success and was then often performed as a play.
So he wasn’t interested in depicting homosexuality ?
no The alienations had more Brechtian traits, even if he didn’t call it that. The characters are like strange puppets on invisible threads in a claustrophobic, muggy studio world. Rainer has understood: When the truth comes along in the usual guise, nobody notices it. But if you alienate them, people wake up. That’s what art is all about. Otherwise it would only be a doubling of the world.
There is a role reversal in the new film: there are no longer lesbian women, but gay men. Peter von Kant is also clearly based on Rainer Werner Fassbinder. What do you think of this approach?
A bit obvious, I would say. But you know, the film is also from a different time and country. He speaks a different language, Fassbinder’s stage German doesn’t come out that well in French. Despite the heaviness and hysteria of the original, Ozone managed to comedic lightness. Only the French can do that.
Do you like the new movie?
I like it, but I can’t say “like”. As I said, I’m biased. And if I may say so myself, I would have found the film more interesting if something new had been added. He’s also set in the 1970s; I would have found him more daring if placed in today’s world. In a time when the virtual is so close to the real and the boundaries are becoming more blurred.
Both films are characterized by abuse of power and bondage. At Fassbinder, it wasn’t just in front of the camera. Such a way of working is no longer conceivable today, is it?
Yes, you’ve made progress there, if only because of “Me Too” . Although I don’t think Fassbinder physically raped anyone. Mentally, yes, according to the sadomasochistic approach: “I torment you to get more out of you.”
Do we still need this kind of mind games? Those ringmasters cracking their whips to make great works of art come out?
no But it needs a director. But he doesn’t have to crack his whip. I’ve also worked with directors who did it with a lot of charisma. Klaus Michael Grüber, for example, didn’t look, just listened carefully. Marco Ferreri and Andrzej Wajda also gave the actors a lot of freedom.
You’ve also worked with filmmakers who weren’t exactly easy people. For example, how did you fare with Jean-Luc Godard , who just passed away ?
Well, you can just enjoy the genius there. I made a film with Godard, who asked us to come to Lake Geneva before we started shooting. Then we should all go to work for a few days – in the profession that we do in the film. So I worked in a gas station and Isabelle Huppert in a screw factory. In the evening we had to do reporting. Godard then collected the pages and wanted to get suggestions from them. When everyone was ready, he said: “I’m not ready yet, you can go home again.” Fassbinder would never have done anything like that, he was always ready.
You have been living in Paris and Berlin for many years. How often are you still in Munich ?
Not that often anymore, maybe once every two years. When my parents were still alive, I was here a lot more often.
You also put your film career on hold for a long time for your parents. That was another role reversal, wasn’t it?
Yes, for almost twenty years I led a double life between Paris and Zorneding near Munich. My parents moved there when they got old and needed help. Other relatives also lived there. That was a very intense time, I felt the need to make up for what they hadn’t been lucky enough to do. So we really grew together as a family.