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Adapting from literature for cinema a bizarre business, says Volker Schlondorff

Volker Schlondorff during the master class at KIFF.

Volker Schlondorff during the master class at KIFF.   | Photo Credit: Shiv Sahay Singh

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The Oscar winning filmmaker was delivering a masterclass on adapting from literature for cinema at the Kolkata International Film Festival

German filmmaker Volker Schlondorff best known for award winning his film Tin Drum (1979), an adaptation of Gunter Grass novel going by the same name, said in Kolkata on November 10 that he did not think that the novel could be made into a film until the author asked him to visit the places where he lived as a child.

“The novel is so enormous in its imagination… I think it did not call for any realism,” Mr Schlondorff, said while speaking at the 25th Kolkata International Film Festival. The 80-year-old Oscar winning filmmaker, who was delivering master class on adapting from literature for cinema said that Gunter Grass told him that Tin Drum was a “very realistic book” and asked him to visit Danzig, where he grew up and his parents had a grocery shop.

Explaining the whole process of adaptation the filmmaker said that an author writes a book on the basis of lived experiences, where there are real characters and reality which he turns in fiction. From that fiction, the filmmaker prepares a screenplay and then during pre-production there is a detour back to reality, where there are real people, real places and acting, editing and adding music to it what comes in form of a film is a “new fiction”.

Mr Schlondorff said there are certain scenes in the film that are like “magic moments” and it took him a long time to understand that these are the ones which pushed the author to write the novels. The filmmaker, however, cautioned that an experience that the writer had or which pushed him to write the book ,a filmmaker cannot try to duplicate that.

“I think that is the argument that many people say you cannot make literary adaptations, you have to write your own screenplay you have to bring your own experience to the screen. Then you may have same effect upon your audience as the novelist does,” he said.

Reflecting on his own adaptation of the classic Tin Drum , he said novelist Gunter Grass lived in the town of Danzig and experienced childhood and youth and he chose his childhood to write a novel 15 years later and therefore the life lived becomes fiction. It becames a story with heroes and dialogue something removed from reality.

“ Then I sit down with Jean-Claude Carrière (fellow screenplay writer and French novelist) and we write a screenplay based upon the fiction, where we keep the best part, the part which we understand and the parts which we things could make a movie. Then, once we found money we start pre-production, which means from fiction we have to find real people. There used to be originally real people and after a long detour through literature we come back to reality, we take all these elements, the location, actors, costume the sets and through all of that we make cocktail and by editing and adding music we make a new fiction,” he said. “It is a bizarre business,” Mr Schlondorff added.

Using photographs, anecdotes and story boards which the filmmaker said was “scribble”, he narrated the whole process of making the masterpiece Tin Drum which won both the Palme d'Or and the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. From figuring out what a Tin Drum could look like to visiting every circus in Germany looking for dwarfs and then deciding that a gifted child who is half the size of his age will play the character of Oskar Matzerath,” Mr Schlondorff said that during the shooting which went on for 75 days he kept the child David Bennet entertained during the shooting to get the best performance from him.

While speaking about his films, the filmmaker said that half of were adaptations from literature the other half were political and historical dealing with German past of World War II. Mr Schlondorff said that he was born six months before the start of World War II in 1939 and his first memories are of American soldiers in Germany.

According to him, while he grew up in France during the new wave and “tried to escape his German identity,” he, along with other German contemporary filmmakers such as Alexander Kluge, kept grappling with the question of what happened in Germany in the past. “That made us historically and politically more conscious than the present generation,” he said.

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Printable version | Dec 7, 2019 7:16:29 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/adapting-from-literature-for-cinema-a-bizarre-business-says-volker-schlondorff/article29980452.ece

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