Q&A: Maren Ade


More Berlinale coverage
Film Review: Everyone Else

The high drama of ordinary life is in focus in the films of young German director Maren Ade. Her low-budget debut, "The Forest for the Trees," winner of the World Cinema Jury Prize in Sundance, is a heart-wrenching tale of a lonely schoolteacher driven to the edge by the casual cruelty of her pupils and colleagues. Her sophomore feature, "Everyone Else," traces the disintegration of a relationship. Ade spoke to The Hollywood Reporter German bureau chief Scott Roxborough about finding the drama in the everyday.

The Hollywood Reporter: What are your feelings on being accepted to the Berlinale?
Maren Ade: I am crazy happy and very surprised that the film will be in competition. It's so amazing to have such a success for what is just my second film. You can never count on something like this -- it's what you dream of.

THR: Were you surprised because "Everyone Else" is such a small, low-budget film?
Ade: For me, it's not a "small" film. It's only my second and it was a very elaborate production in my eyes. I don't know where a film stops being small and starts being big.

THR: The plots of your films seem deceptively simple -- what's the real story of "Everyone Else"?

Ade: I always find it very hard to tell the story. A synopsis is easy: a couple go on vacation and then meet another couple and this encounter throws their own relationship off the rails. They start to compare their relationship to that of the other couple. It's I guess about conforming, about life models -- what "everyone else" is doing. But I really don't want to describe my own film. That's for others to do.

THR: our debut, "The Forest for the Trees," was a portrait of a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. In "Everyone Else," it's a relationship that's breaking down. What connects the two films?

Ade: I don't know. I think, I hope, I've done something new. That's what I was trying to do. The character in "Forest for the Trees" is a teacher in rural Swabia. For this film, I saw it as a challenge to try and depict characters whose lives are closer to my own. The couple are both around my age and the man is an architect, which is not too far off being a director. But I hope both films have a similar subtle humor and a particular exactness.

THR: The topics of your films are very commonplace -- loneliness, isolation, depression. What do you find so fascinating (and dramatic) about so-called "ordinary" life?

Ade: I think it depends on how you tell it. Everyday conflicts are as big, powerful and dramatic as any other. These ordinary conflicts interest me -- the things we go through every day. Of course, it's fiction. I'm not interested in making a documentary. But I am interested in authenticity. I don't think the conflicts are smaller. When you concentrate on things very carefully, these everyday conflicts can be as dramatic as any thriller.

THR: The dialogue in your films seems very authentic, almost off-hand. Is this all in the script or as a result of improvisation with the actors?

Ade: On my last film, that's what a lot of people said, if the script was the result of improvisation. But it's actually how I write. I spend a long, long time writing dialogue and then I file it down. I rehearse with the actors and improvisation alters the script somewhat. But when I was doing the subtitles for "Everyone Else," I was surprised how the dialogue in the final film was virtually identical to the original script. The script for me is the cornerstone of a film. If you have a good script and a good cast, not too much can go wrong.

THR: How do you write? Do you start with the plot, with the characters?

Ade: I usually start my films with a character. For "Forest," I had the idea of this particular woman and for "Everyone Else" it was this very unequal couple. She is very tough, full of life, he is more reflective, melancholic. So I had these two and then I waited to see what sort of story would crystallize out of that. And slowly, the plot emerged. I decided to put them on vacation because I wasn't interested in what their apartment back home looked like. I was interested in the relationship and on vacation the focus is on the relationship. The conflict emerges from the characters. Always. When I was writing the script, first, I'd write from the woman's perspective for 1-2 months and then I'd switch and write from the man's perspective. I wanted to be careful there was no victim in the story and not just one person at fault.

THR: You remain very close to your actors -- almost claustrophobically close. How do you establish the trust and intimacy needed to work this way?

Ade: That's actually a major part of the work. It was clear from the start that this would be an actor's film. That it would stand or fall depending on the actors. So a good half year before we started principle photography, I rehearsed with the actors and my camera man in the garden behind my house. We read the script and watched certain movies. I knew they had to be believable as a couple. When we shoot, all other aspects of the film are subordinate to the acting. We take a lot of time, do a lot of takes, to create this intimacy.

THR: You don't use any elaborate camera work or much music on your films. What's the purpose of this sort of reduction?

Ade: I don't think of it as reduction, I think of it as concentration, intensifying. I feel that a single gesture or a glance of the eye is stronger if it's pure, without any distractions. Over the full length of the film, all these details build up and the impact, hopefully, is much greater. I don't rule out using music. In this case, and in "The Forest for the Trees," I found that it just didn't work. In "Forest," I originally had several music pieces that were an integral part of the plot but I decided that it would make a much greater impact to just have one song and play it at length. I believe in authenticity but not in the sense of copying reality. I am interested in fiction. But a film has to be internally consistent and believable. It can create an entirely different world, a complete fantasy but, within that world, it has be emotionally believable.