'Toni Erdmann,' 'Frantz' Stars Discuss Success of German Films, Actresses

German Actresses Face to Face
Courtesy of German Films/Mathias Bothor

Sandra Huller and Paula Beer, along with Julia Jentsch and Liv Lisa Fries, kick off a new worldwide campaign promoting German cinema during the London Film Festival.

Four young German actresses in London on Sunday helped kick off a new worldwide campaign promoting German cinema and its success and met with reporters to discuss the reasons behind it.

The Face to Face with German Films promotion, launched by state body German Films, is built around six actresses who represent the new wave of German cinema.

Toni Erdmann star Sandra Huller, Paula Beer (Frantz), who director Francois Ozon has dubbed the next Romy Schneider, Julia Jentsch, star of this year's Berlin film festival competition entry 24 Weeks, and Liv Lisa Fries, the lead in Tom Tykwer’s upcoming series Babylon Berlin, came out for a Sunday brunch on the sidelines of the London Film Festival to put the spotlight on the new campaign.

Lilith Stangenberg, star of Nicole Krebitz's Wild, and Saskia Rosendahl, whose next role is in Work Without Author from The Lives of Others director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, are the two other stars featured in the campaign. It will run throughout the year, with the actresses taking part at festivals and other events around the world.

Huller this year made headlines as the lead in Cannes surprise hit Toni Erdmann, in which she plays a corporate executive whose prankster father disrupts her life. The film has since become Germany's submission for the 2017 foreign-language Oscar race and will open in the U.S. via Sony Pictures Classics on Christmas Day.

"We're still working on Toni Erdmann, because it just doesn't stop," Huller told THR on Sunday. How excited is she about the film being in the best foreign-language Oscar race? "We're just happy that the project worked out so well," she said. "Of course, we have to do work for this now. But still, it's a lottery. Nobody knows what's going to happen."

She also lauded German films for having put the spotlight on female directors and actresses as of late. "It seems to be a strong time for women in German cinema," she said. "It's great."

Asked about the strong female characters that German films have highlighted as of late, Jentsch said: "It's really like that. I don't know why. I couldn't say if it's a natural development. But it's great to have this, because often it's the other way round."

Jentsch is one of the best-known faces of the campaign. She has been a fixture of the arthouse scene since her role as a would-be anarchist in The Edukators alongside Daniel Bruhl and then starred in the Oscar-nominated Sophie Scholl: The Final Days.

2016 has been a stand-out year for German films with representation, and awards, at major international film festivals and success at the box office. Why have German films done so well at various film festivals this year?

"I think German movies have a certain atmosphere," said Beer, who recently won the best young actress award at the Venice festival for her work in Ozon-directed Frantz.

And Fries, best known in Germany for her TV work and her award-winning performance in Frederik Steiner's Zurich, said: "Maybe it's a German thing. We're pretty much serious and deep in a way. What I like, for example with Toni Erdmann, [German films] really try to seek the truth. They are searching for something. What I really like is when it's deep and light."

Added Jentsch: "I see that there is such a big variety of themes and sorts of films that are made. Not each gets the attention. I don't feel there is this one sort of German films we're doing. There are very different [films] and very different directors, also German directors from very different cultural backgrounds like Turkey, Poland. They are Germans, but they bring different cultures with them."

Asked how she feels about being compared to Romy Schneider, Beer told THR: "What I like about it [is] I think people compare you because they have the same experience or same feeling with your performance when they were really touched or were like wow, she really told me the truth. That's a nice compliment. It's a huge compliment, but at the same time, well, I'm not really looking like Romy Schneider, I'm not really moving like her. So I don't feel pressure."

Fries added about comparisons with other stars: "It's really nice. I don't want to be compared to anyone, but at the same time it's nice when she is good and when I admire her, I feel honored."

Asked about her dream project, Beer told reporters: "I'd love to do something like Bonnie and Clyde."

And Huller shared that she will in spring be shooting a movie in Leipzig where she lives with A Heavy Heart director Thomas Stuber. "It's called In den Gangen [In the Hallways or In the Aisles]. It's a story about a bunch of people working in this wholesale market. [Following German reunification] their lives don't really work outside of it. And we have to drive these big machines, forklifts."

German Films chairman Peter Herrmann said the stars were picked because they represent a new wave in German cinema that is “exciting, modern, bold, dramatic, funny, unexpected and very multifaceted.”