Valeska Grisebach talks about MEIN STERN


«When I began to do the research, it fascinated me how such young people try to be a couple in the same way as adults, and how they instinctively or intuitively play the game. They think it's so exciting to suddenly be a part of it and throw themselves into the situation with incredible seriousness.» Valeska Grisebach on Mein Stern


Mein Stern is set during a time of life which is rather difficult to understand. How did you approach your 15-year-olds?

VALESKA GRISEBACH: When I started doing the research, it fascinated me how such young people try to be a couple in the same way as adults, and how they instinctively or intuitively play the game. They think it's so exciting to suddenly be a part of it and throw themselves into the situation with incredible seriousness. At the beginning, I had the impression that it all wasn't so long ago for me. I went in feeling quite young and thought that I'm not so different, and I suddenly realized how old I seem to them at first glance, and I noticed that a long time has passed after all. On the other hand, that age was right there again.

How did you do research for the screenplay?

VALESKA GRISEBACH:At first, I combined the casting with research among boys and girls, first all over Berlin, and then I concentrated on my district. After two or three months, I wrote a combination of screenplay and treatment in just a few weeks, and certain things turned up, things I had heard from others and other things which involved the two leads only.

How did you run the casting?

VALESKA GRISEBACH: We talked to people on the street over a period of six months, including for the adult roles. In the beginning, I was almost addicted to casting::: we looked at people three or four days every week like lunatics. We just weren't able to stop at first. The order was like this: There was the interview, where we asked questions from our list. That went fast in some cases, and we had relatively long talks with others. The interesting thing was that there was a basic need, and most talked about themselves quite openly. Then there was a second round, where we tried out situations, a mixture of improvisation and following written lines strictly. Then groups started to form - there were real-life sisters and real-life friends. We then started to rehearse more with those groups.

What kind of questions did you ask during the interviews?

VALESKA GRISEBACH: I thought asking them more or less the same questions was a good thing so that common denominators could be identified. The main themes were daily life, ideas about happiness and their future, and labels. This is an age when people feel a need to find labels for their lives: What do I want to become, who do I want to be, where do I want to live. In my opinion, choosing an occupation at the age of 16 is terrible. Especially with the ideas which dominate in Germany and the rest of Europe concerning jobs and professions. After saying you want to become a carpenter, you have to stay a carpenter for the rest of your life. Another theme was love, simply ideas about love, whether love in their lives has conformed to their ideas so far. I was surprised to see that their ideas about what love should be like are so strong and unshakable. They were all linked by a collective idea of love which was very strong and straightforward.

Young people who apparently have such a strong inclination toward conventions and "normality," who are in a rush to act like adults and express such resignation in connection with partnerships: Doesn't that all seem somewhat pessimistic?

VALESKA GRISEBACH: I wouldn't say pessimistic. It touched me, how these kids' wishes reflect things which will stay with them for the rest of their lives. Many of them have this idea of mother, father, child and living room, bedroom, child's bedroom. Some of them are incredibly materialistic, which surprised me: boy- or girlfriend, apartment, car and everything that goes along with them. Their dreams also touched me, even if some of them made me wonder why anyone would wish for that. Not pessimistic, but I think that it can be an almost physical shock when ideas about being a couple are so strong, and when they learn for the first time that everything can be completely different, that love is dangerous, that love can hurt, that love is not logical. Some of them said things like, "I'll never lose you," and "forever" and "never again," all these promises for eternity which are a part of that. They were confronted with the situation right away that some people can say, "I love you," and then do something totally contradictory. I found that interesting, because there's something prototypical behind that. There are some extremely long shots in this film, which make it resemble a documentary in a way.

Is this a drama about Nicole and Schöps or did you also intend to present them as representative for life at 15 or 16?

VALESKA GRISEBACH: What was important for me was not to convey a "we're teenagers in the year 2001" feeling. This aspect interested me while doing the research, and I think it's a part of it, but it shouldn't be a major focus. I wanted this film to have something timeless. The story of Nicole and Schöps is about a boy and a girl, and they represent a certain time which involves being 16, but at the same time something which has nothing to do with this specific age. The film does have a certain documentary touch because I employed work methods familiar to me from making documentaries::: documentary situations were set up in this film in a playful way. But basically, this is drama and fiction. When watching this film, it is of course tempting to concentrate on the documentary elements. That became obvious when I talked with audiences, where it's extremely important to make clear that Nicole and Christopher, even if their real names were used, are fictional characters.

Was the plot laid out precisely in the screenplay, or was a great deal worked out with the actors?

VALESKA GRISEBACH: That's difficult to say, as there's no magic formula which always works. I always hid the screenplay. I didn't want the leads to see it, because I didn't want them to start learning their parts line by line. The information on the film which I gave you is based on the principle of oral communication. There were scenes which they had been familiar with for six months. There were other scenes for which they learned their lines without realizing it. At times, I read them certain passages aloud, and sometimes they improvised and we transcribed what they said. I read it back to them, and then they continued, adding to it as they went along. That's how it came to be. Certain scenes were also written out in the screenplay, and others just described what I wanted. At times, we spent weeks or months rehearsing, though there were only fifteen minutes of preparation for other scenes. In those cases, someone wrote something down fast, I rewrote or shortened it, they were then given a text and acted it out. There are other scenes, such as those in the photo shop and at the job interview, which were made almost like a conventional documentary. I talked to them about what they normally do, I told them what they should leave out, and then we filmed everything.


That sounds like a great deal of work for the actors.

VALESKA GRISEBACH: They didn't always show it, there's something incredibly cool and brazen about them, a pubescent toughness, so that you're not really sure why they're doing it, why they stand by for months on end and then perform with such intensity and discipline. That really impressed me, because they have interesting lives with lots of other things happening. They went about it in a very intuitive way, I thought that was great. There are a number of scenes which involve a certain amount of discomfort for actors at that age.

Was it difficult to work with young people in those cases?

VALESKA GRISEBACH: I have to say that the two leads used to date. This was a factor which almost spoke against using them, as I had the impression of entering a sphere where I was not sure if I could justify it. But we talked a lot until I felt that it was OK. We three then shook hands on it, and the parents were present. There were difficulties at first, which I could well understand. In the end, I think it provided them with a kind of protection, the fact that there was an authoritarian moment, when we said that an agreement had been made and that this is the way we're going to do it. In every instance that involved bodily contact, sex or kissing, I wanted everything to be thoroughly choreographed, so that I never had to say "and now improvise a little." At times, it was even quite athletic. During the love scene, you have to imagine that the assistant director was practically sitting on top of them, they were really surrounded, which removed all embarrassment. They could then deal with the whole thing as a kind of gymnastics. These things were put together in a really technical manner. Mein Stern is your thesis film at the Vienna Film Academy and was shot entirely in Berlin. It can be easily categorized as a style which has been closely associated with the Academy in the past few years.

What do you consider your artistic roots?

VALESKA GRISEBACH:  I knew that I wanted to shoot my thesis film at home in Berlin. It was exciting, on the one hand coming home and at the same time being a stranger among the filmmakers there, and practically not knowing anyone, in a city where everything is changing like the Wild West. There was also a moment when I realized what studying in Vienna meant for me, the people I studied with, the people I discussed film with. That was for me an even greater gift. It made me feel while I was in Berlin that Vienna was a good place for me. I noticed that I had been given something very positive. To an extent, I'm looking in from the outside, I arrived in Berlin with a different point-of-view, and there was a group dynamic which developed from conversations, that was tied up with friendships, with conversations about film and how people influence each other. That's something which I feel very strongly.


What is so fascinating about Berlin?

VALESKA GRISEBACH: The dynamics of change are still there. It has a visual presence due to the architecture, but the impetus of change is also still there. It also evokes quite contradictory feelings, the Germans are still in the middle of it, even if that isn't so obvious anymore. I now live in Mitte, I'm from West Berlin originally, and it was strange to return to my hometown and a strange city at the same time. I might not have returned at all otherwise. Being a stranger here and there is just exciting and what's happening really affects me. The fascinating thing about Berlin is that so many life stories and desires are connected with it, and so many things go wrong.


Interview: Karin Schiefer