After making several films in the US, or at least by US standards, you've made another film in Germany. How did that come about?
Schlöndorff: I simply wanted to tell a powerful story. I love all the characters in the film, the young member of the Red Army Faction (RAF) who takes on a new identity in East Germany (GDR), the State Security officer (Stasi) and the young physicist who spends his summer as a lifeguard. They're all great film stories because something happens to simple people they weren't expecting.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Why did so much time go by before the histories of the RAF and the GDR played a role in any films?
Schlöndorff: It took so long because the screenplay was turned down five years ago by other producers who were to help finance the film. The reasoning at the time was that no one would be interested in the story. We worked over the story again and realized that it was very much like a documentary. But we didn't want to compete with films like "Das Todesspiel" ("The Deadly Game") by Heinrich Breloer. We're telling an emotional story, so we had to create something with as much truth to it as possible.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: How does the balance between truth and fiction work out?
Schlöndorff: I hope the film has a lot of truth but few facts in it.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Have you ever had any contacts with RAF members?
Schlöndorff: By 1968, I had already made my third film, so I wasn't part of the student movement. I was already established, but my sympathies were strong. I'd already met Fritz Teufel [co-founder of a radical socialist commune in January 1967] and others whose names I don't want to mention before the "June 2 Movement". A lot of them wound up in prison. I paid a lot of visits to the so-called "Gruppe Rote Hilfe München" ("Munich Red Help Group") that Teufel had founded and tried to break through the isolation of prison. That led to my coming into contact with the lawyer for the RAF, Klaus Croissant, but also with Otto Schily [currently Interior Minister] and paid a few visits to Stammheim [where four RAF leaders were jailed and eventually died].
SPIEGEL ONLINE: The RAF chapter in history isn't over yet. Are you treading on dangerous ground?
Schlöndorff: Just last fall someone was shot, or someone presented themselves at the airport. There are still searches and investigations. Many are still punished more severely than any violent criminal or sex murderer. There is still a unique law. The accusation is disturbance of the public peace, which means they're calling the state into question, and that is an indictable offense that is not forgiven in this country. You can't expurgate this part of the story. You have to deal with it.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: How much of this goes into the film?
Schlöndorff: Our film begins with a young woman emigrating to the GDR and you don't know what she's done before. Our theme is what she experiences in the GDR, not what she's done previously. We show her going underground and whether or not she gets along in her new environment and how she's forced to deal with her past. A leftist anarchist who gets along quite well in an "unjust" state - that's the paradox and the theme of the film.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Do you think your film will be able to draw people from both states, once divided, a bit closer?
Schlöndorff: I make films because I'm curious and because I like to observe people and show who they are. I hope that the understanding and the love that I discover in a film will bring about more tolerance. If a film doesn't have this dimension to it, it doesn't even deserve to be called a film. The machinery of pure entertainment leads to indifference.
translated by David Hudson