Darstellerin, Regie, Drehbuch

A Plea For Inner Liberty

Portrait of Maggie Peren, German Films Quarterly 4/2010

Maggie Peren sits on a Biedermeier sofa in the study of her old-style apartment in Munich, her legs tucked on one side. There is a painting hanging on the wall behind her. It shows a girl smiling past the viewer in a rather laconic way. I ask Peren who painted it and she tells me about the artist Jozef Melichercík and how fascinating she finds his works. As our conversation continues, my gaze drifts back repeatedly to the "laconic girl" behind her, and I wonder why this particular motif appeals to Peren so much. I begin to think the question may be answered in the course of our interview.

Maggie Peren has just completed the shooting for her latest film, "Die Farbe des Ozeans" ("The Colour of the Ocean") – a project close to her heart, as she admits: "After I had seen 'We Feed the World' in 2005, I couldn’t believe the way we are undermining the existence of people in the Third World with our subsidized foodstuffs, and the fact that those people are so desperate they flee across the Atlantic in boats to Europe."

Peren is making a very European film in "Die Farbe des Ozeans", for which she also wrote the screenplay. An African refugee boat is stranded in the middle of the Spanish holiday idyll Gran Canaria, shaking the encrusted moorings that many people call life – German holiday maker Nathalie questions her apparently secure existence, and a Spanish policeman escapes his self-chosen, inner imprisonment. Peren spirits her viewers off to this holiday paradise to reveal the existent rifts in an apparent idyll, not for the sake of beautiful images.

The 36-year-old director made "Die Farbe des Ozeans" with an international cast – in Spanish, French and German. Although it was not easy to generate German film support for a trilingual production that was also made abroad, Peren has not regretted her decision to direct it for one moment: "It was extremely important to me to tell this story in a subjective way – in other words, from three different perspectives. To do that, I had to adopt the African, the Spanish and the German viewpoint. It certainly benefited me a lot working together with different nationalities. After all, several European countries feel the effects of this issue. During shooting, the Spanish were very interested in the subject, and they asked a lot of questions. I am sure they will enjoy the film as well."

The emerging refugee drama captures attention with its realistic portrayal, although Peren consciously avoided one-to-one realism. "From the beginning, it was important to me to reject the documentary perspective for this film and tell the story of the refugees' problems in the style of a parable. In other words, every character stands for a specific standpoint," Peren explains. By adopting the viewpoints of her characters, the filmmaker immerses the audience in a microcosm of diverse standpoints and so makes it possible to experience the complex subject on an interpersonal level.

This is an approach that has proven effective for all her films and screen plays. In her directorial feature debut  "Stellungswechsel" ("Special Escort", 2007), for example: here, we also find complete dedication to her leading characters, whose financial difficulties lead them to establish an escort service for ladies willing and able to pay.

Peren, who describes herself as "fanatical about authenticity," says in this context: "I would like people to believe in my main characters, feel close to them and understand them. I don’t deliberately provoke laughter with my comedies or tears with my dramas. I don’t consciously play with emotions, but I do consider them admissible." Bearing this in mind, Peren demands all her actors can give. "Drilling my actors," she says with some sympathy and grins mischievously.

Peren not only reaches German audiences with this kind of filmmaking. Her film has also been a success abroad: "'Stellungswechsel' was shown at the Festival of German Films in Spain, where it won the Audience Award. The Spanish viewers laughed far more than the Germans. That really floored me, especially as they had to read subtitles. In Germany people laughed too, but I get the feeling that German comedies work best when the tone is extremely clear," she tells me.

Peren prefers to focus on the more subtle shades of her characters' emotional spectrum. She allows the viewer to take a look at her protagonists' imperfections, places them in totally absurd everyday situations, and shows characters who cannot change the way they are, but still make the best of things. In this way, she comes very close indeed to reality. Peren’s characters never experience comic or dramatic moments in a superficial way; they always result from the seriousness of their actions. And that is always somehow connected to liberation, as well. "That is the thread running through my creative work; my films and books are always about liberty," she explains. "Stellungswechsel" is not just about men who offer their services on the Internet and have fun in the process; it is also about the inner liberty which they are granted by what they do.

And the main characters in "Die Farbe des Ozeans" also achieve new inner liberty and are able to give freedom to others as a result. "My characters always emerge from their limitations and arrive in a place with more scope," Peren explains.

Inner liberty and a wider scope – my eyes stray once again to the "laconic girl" on the wall behind Maggie Peren. And now I realize: the girl’s smile is not laconic. It is a smile of secret victory. The girl takes over the painting’s background as her own personal space; she adopts it, charges it with her own personality, and so creates a self-chosen liberty for herself. It is the very same trait embodied by filmmaker Maggie Peren’s characters.

Author: Sandra Marsch

Source: German Films Service & Marketing GmbH