Bridges between New German Cinema and Today's Generation of Political Filmmakers: An Interview with Michael Verhoeven

By Moeller, Hans-Bernhard | Journal of Film and Video, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview

Bridges between New German Cinema and Today's Generation of Political Filmmakers: An Interview with Michael Verhoeven


Moeller, Hans-Bernhard, Journal of Film and Video


MICHAEL VERHOEVEN WAS A MEMBER OF the first wave of the New German Cinema known as the "Young German Cinema" that emerged during the second half of the 1960s. Born in 1938 in Berlin, into a theater and film director/actor family, he was involved, as an actor, in stage and screen projects even as a teenager. He made his debut as a stage director in 1962, and in 1966 he married actress Senta Berger, who has played the lead in a number of his films; together they founded the Sentana Film Production that year. In 1967 Verhoeven directed his first feature film, Paarungen [Making It], based on Strindberg's Dance of Death. Parallel to his artistic development, Verhoeven also completed medical studies, earning an MD degree in 1969. In 1970 his experimental Brechtlan antiwar picture o.k. caused a controversy that prematurely closed down the Berlin Film Festival; nevertheless, it won the German national film award for best screenplay in the following year. This film, as well as Die Weisse Rose [The White Rose] (1982), Mutters Courage [My Mother's Courage] (1996), and his 2006 documentary Der unbekannte Soldat [The Unknown Soldler], propelled him into the ranks of today's most prominent political German filmmakers. This status was only reinforced by his 2008 documentary Menschliches Versagen [Human Error], in which his research revealed not only the methodical deprivation of the Jewish minority during the Third Reich but also the role German citizens played to profit from it. A further politically oriented film with marked comic elements is his Das schreckliche Mädchen [The Nasty Girl], which was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Foreign Film category in 1991 and which also won the 1992 BAFTA award. He lives in Munich (Gruenwald) and Berlin (and is not related to Dutch blockbuster filmmaker Paul Verhoeven). This interview was conducted on 13 September 2007, at the University of Texas, Austin.

hans-bernhard moeller: Let me begin with the documentary. Prior to The Unknown Soldier1 you have had experience with this form, for Instance with the documentary about Anja Rosmus, the real-life model foryour/Vosfy Girl. I remember hearing at some point about a similar companion documentary to go with The White Rose.2 But when I checked on that last fall, I could not find anything except your 2001 Die kleine Schwester. Die Weiße Roseein Vermächtnis [The Little Sister. The White Rose- a Legacy]. This documentary does not appear In the Internet Movie Database (imdb. com). Could you tell us something about the "Little Sister" and any other documentaries you might have made earlier?

Michael verhoeven: Actually, when !showed the film The White Rose in schools, I liked to have the younger sister of Willy Graf with me. She was one of the students of the White Rose and in later years a teacher. I thought she would be able to explain how it was, how she saw it then, [and] how she sees it today, and she knows how to talk to young people. She was committed more or less to the life of her brother, which was very short. She wanted to fulfill what the brother couldn't do, because the Nazis killed him. He was executed like the other students of the White Rose and their professor, [Kurt] Huber. I accompanied her, when she was traveling in other countries, to talk to school children and to tell about what the White Rose was, what her brother had in mind, why they resisted, how they resisted against the Third Reich, and how it Influenced her all of her life. We did this quite often, so I had the feeling it would be nice to make a portrait forTV of this marvelous old woman, elderly woman I should say, because in schools there is always just a very small audience. Not many people can see this TV film. It is not on DVD, and this might be the reason why it is not in certain handbooks or collections like the IMDb. It is a TV film, coproduced with WDR in Cologne and only forty-five minutes long. It is not a real documentary, though it is a documentation. …

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