Friday, 13 November 2009

Romy, Torsten C. Fischer, Germany 2009, (ARD - German television)

A few days ago, on November 11, Torsten Fischer's long-awaited and much discussed biopic about the German-Austrian actress Romy Schneider was screened on the German national television channel, ARD. Predictably, the reviews were mixed. Romy Schneider's biographer, Michael Juergs, called it 'a great film, a film that does the ARD proud', while the influential daily Frankfurter Allgemeine ran a 'pro and con section' in which one critic, Johanna Adorjan, claims that 'the film is like a ticking off of Wikipedia entries' while Dieter Bartetzko defends Fischer's film by particularly highlighting Jessica Schwartz's performance and by specifying that 'Romy may not be a great film, but a precise one'.

Well, that's pretty much what could be expected considering the genre - biopic - and, moreover, the subject, Romy Schneider, an actress born in Austria but who had a German passport and who, misunderstood - or some would argue: rejected - by both countries during her lifetime, is now reclaimed by both: the Austrian Film Awards are named after her, Berlin is currently discussing to have a street named after her, and so on. Romy Schneider grew up in Berchtesgaden, but went to boarding school near Salzburg. Later, she lived in Cologne, Berlin, Hamburg, and, of course, Paris, the latter surely being the most important station in her life and career ... But then again, some might argue that Sissi had more impact on her life and career than did her French films. There's no denying: Sissi is what made her, and without it there might not even have been a career in France. Nevertheless, Romy came to loathe her Sissi image. What's more, French directors such as Claude Sautet, Claude Chabrol, or Robert Enrico offered her roles so daring and challenging that she couldn't get in Germany as she was deemed a remnant of 'Grandpa's Cinema', which the then dominant New German Cinema took pains to distance itself from. In fact, Romy Schneider was one of many victims falling prey to their rigorous principles, which included looking down their noses on established stars of the German screen which included talent such as Nadja Tiller, Maria Schell - or Romy Schneider. The careers of Tiller and many others was thenceforth relegated to television, while Romy re-emerged as a star of international calibre. Romy: the only film star known beyond the borders of Germany (and Austria) since Marlene Dietrich. Seen in hindsight, it is a terrible, terrible, shame that none of the New German Cinema directors had any use for her.

As a film genre, there may be no other that has so many detractors and supporters, one that stirs up so much controversy, as the biopic. Any attempt to reconstruct the life and the persona of a person - alive or dead - is bound to upset those who disagree with the portrayal while, of course, it pleases those who are in favour of it. Hence, I can't think of any biopic off the cuff that was free of this controversy and which was universally critically acclaimed. In my opinion, biopics are not that different from literary adaptations, for what is the point of adapting a novel - or indeed: a life - for the screen, unless the screenwriter and the director have an angle, or manage to bring out something in the book, or someone's biography, that has been either overlooked or ignored.

Generally speaking, in my own experience, if my interest in a particular person reaches the point where I want to learn more about him or her, I tend to rely on books rather than film, choosing, if available, two biographies that take a critical approach towards the person in question rather than simply chronologically retelling their life. The trouble is, having read many biographies about Romy Schneider, there's not a single one that does her justice or which I consider even remotely good.

Below is a trailer (in German) to Torsten Fischer's Romy, followed by interviews with celebrities who attended the film's première at Berlin's Delphi Palace on October 28 (see previous blog entry about this event in the October Archives!).