To Return to Innocence From the Other Side: Christian Petzold on Afire | Interviews

This was, for me, the start of “Afire,” thinking to myself, “What happened there?” The Americans, the French, and the Swedish—like Ingmar Bergman, with “Summer with Monika”—all have summer movies, which are so important. In summer movies, there’s no state, no parents, no school, no factory. We have a break in life and, in this break, something’s decided. Some things are at work; some things you make wrong, and some things you make right. Love might be at work, or that love could turn out to be misunderstanding. Germans, we lost our summer. Together with the actors, I thought about summer movies in Germany—and why, in the German summer movies of nowadays, in each picture, there are parents, factories, and policemen. We don’t have our freedom. It was destroyed in 1933.

Your films combine certain temporalities, between past and present and future. “Afire” is set in the present, but its use of voice-over suggests it might be a memory, or Leon’s adaptation of events, playing out on screen. This made me consider the difficulty of someone like Leon, who doesn’t experience the present moment, whose artistic ideas are informed by the past, and whose existence suffers as a result. Are artists always working in a time out of time?

We made this house, this cabin in the woods, ourselves. It didn’t exist. The forest glade, we made our own, and we made our own beach. They existed, yet we created them. The people swimming there were not really there; the film is not a documentary. But as we built “Afire,” we reflected on all the things we built, and on all the cabins in the woods, forest glades, and beaches in the history of storytelling — not only cinema, but also literature, theater, Shakespeare and “ A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” We were working in a tradition.

Howard Hawks made remakes of his own movies; we could have a long discussion about that. I think storytelling itself is always a remake. I don’t like to go into movies about which somebody says, “This is a completely new story I’ve never heard of before.” I love remakes. For hundreds of years, we’ve been telling the same stories, each time always in a different way. Éric Rohmer was always criticized by really sh*t people, who always said he made the same movie over and over. His films were similar, but as Bill Clinton might say, “It’s the differences, stupid!”