Legendary German director Volker Schlöndorff, who won an Oscar and a Palme d’Or for “The Tin Drum” back in 1979, has been in and out of critical favor ever since, last releasing a film in 2007 (“Ulzhan”). He’s back, on the European cinema scene at least, with France-set World War II story “Calm at Sea,” which played yesterday at the Göteborg International Film Festival (review to come), and when we spoke with the director here earlier, he told us in a little more detail about his upcoming projects, one of which will mark a return to the U.S. for the first time since 1998’s potboiler noir “Palmetto,” starring Woody Harrelson, Gina Gershon and Chloe Sevigny.
“Montauk” is the title of the New York-based project, on which Schlöndorff is working with Irish playwright and novelist Colm Toibin (whose book “Brooklyn” is itself being developed into a movie with Rooney Mara attached to star). Schlöndorff, who has over the course of his long career often adapted existing works of literature or dramaturgy (“Death of a Salesman,” “The Tin Drum,” “Michael Kolhaas,” “Swann in Love,” etc.) is here writing an original screenplay, albeit one with literary connections, in the form of his co-writer.
“Colm and I wrote this four-handed, literally, and now we’re finishing it via Skype. The odd thing is we both consider it 100% autobiographical, each one of us,” he said, going on to give us a few details on the plot. “It’s a European writer coming for a few days to New York to assist the opening of his play in some Brooklyn off-Broadway theatre. He finds himself in a triangle of three women and the play is actually ‘Don Juan,’ so between the stage and [reality is a connection]. It is a contemporary story, and basically he is meeting an old flame and they find out that for both of them, twelve, thirteen years ago they have each been the other’s greatest love, but they failed at it. And during a weekend in Montauk they try to see whether they can’t pick up the pieces and they find out that you can’t.”
We wonder if the couple would still have such a fire burning for each other had they actually managed to get together all those years ago?
“They would have been divorced by now!” laughs Schlöndorff. “Or now been happy ever after. I’m an optimist. I believe they were made for each other, but sometimes that is not sufficient to get together and then you live with the regret for a whole life and that’s hard to cope with. That’s basically what the movie is about. So I don’t know whether it’s going to be a drama or a comedy, there’s a lot of irony in it but a lot of sad emotion – so sad you can only laugh it off.” He goes on to tease: “It will have a brilliant cast but I cannot announce it yet because they are still negotiating the deals, but I am very confident that it will work out and it will be striking.”
However, working with a writer of Toibin’s calibre did have an effect on the process. “He never wrote a screenplay and I suggested that to him,” states Schlöndorff. “I had the basics of the story and he came back with 20 pages where he put a lot of his own into this very open frame, so in a sense [the film] is still a literary adaptation, because he first wrote a short story, that we are now adapting into a screenplay.”
“Montauk” will shoot next winter, and we’ll have more from our Volker Schlöndorff interview in Göteborg soon.