Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Admired: Senta Berger

Senta Berger

Senta Berger was born in Vienna in 1941. As she writes in her candid and insightful autobiography, Ich habe ja gewusst, dass ich fliegen kann (I've always known that I could fly), at the age of 16, she was accepted at Vienna's prestigious Max Reinhard Seminar to study drama, but left prior to graduating to accept a part in a film starring Yul Brynner, which marked the start of her international film career. Simultaneously, Senta became the youngest member of Vienna's Theater in der Josefstadt, and all her life, in between films Senta would always return to the stage.

Senta Berger as a young actress

Between 1962 and 1964 Senta Berger went to Hollywood where her career was managed by the German emigrant Paul Kohner who also had numerous other European actors and actresses under contract. While in Hollywood, Senta collaborated with Kirk Douglas, Charlton Heston and Dean Martin, to name a few. However, similar to her fellow European hopefuls, for instance, Romy Schneider, Senta's Hollywood career eventually fizzled out before really taking off.

Senta Berger in the 1960s

Additionally, in 1963 she met Michael Verhoeven, the son of the German actor Paul Verhoeven. Although Michael was a medical student at the time they met, Michael would soon change careers and he went to become one of Germany's most important post-war voices in film. One German daily dubbed Michael Germany's conscience for his focus on Holocaust and WWII topics. Moreover, together with Senta Berger, whom he married in 1966, they founded a production company called Sentana Films, through which they produced such acclaimed masterpieces and milestones in post-war German cinema as Die Weisse Rose (The White Rose, W-Germany 1982) and Das schreckliche Maedchen (The Nasty Girl, Germany 1991).

Senta Berger and her husband, Michael Verhoeven, at the 1978 Berlin Film festival

After her return from Hollywood, Senta Berger continued her film career in Europe, starring in Italian and French films. She collaborated with Volker Schloendorff on Die Moral der Ruth Halbfass (The morals of Ruth Halbfass, W-Germany 1971) and with Wim Wenders on The Scarlett Letter (W-Germany/ Spain, 1973) as well as having an increasingly strong presence in German television.

Senta Berger and Louis Jourdan in Peau d'espion (To Commit a Murder, France/ W-Germany/ Italy, 1967)

Perhaps her most memorable part - and certainly my own personal Senta Berger favourite - was in the 1980s German TV cult series, Kir Royal (Helmut Dietl, W-Germany 1986), in which she played Mona, the girlfriend of a gossip columnist, Baby Schimmerlos, played by Franz-Xaver Kroetz. As Mona, Senta was able to draw on her full talent as an actress for Mona, a multifaceted character, is as glamorous as she is vulnerable yet unlike her on-screen partner who puts glamour and scandal before everything else, she also has a political conscience.

Senta Berger as Mona in Helmut Dietl's cult series, Kir Royal (W-Germany 1986)

With her Kir Royal co-star Franz-Xaver Kroetz

This political conscience, however, is also very much part of Senta Berger's private life. A staunch and outspoken defender of a woman's right to abort, Senta has long been an active supporter of Germany's biggest left-wing party, the Social Democrats, and through their production company, Sentana Films, her and her husband's contribution regarding Germany's coming to terms with its Nazi past cannot be underestimated.

Senta Berger today

After the foundation of the German Film Academy in 2003, Senta Berger became its first president alongside producer Guenther Rohrbach. In 2010, they both stepped down to be replaced by Iris Berben and Bruno Ganz. Senta Berger has been the recipient of literally every award Germany and Germany's cinematic landscape have to offer, including Germany's Federal Cross of Merit, the Golden Camera, the Adolf-Grimme-Award, and the Billy-Wilder-Award.

Senta Berger and Michael Verhoeven have two sons, Luca and Simon.
The couple divides their time between Munich and Berlin.