• Natja Brunckhorst © Jeanne Degraa
    “I’m content
    to sit on
    the fence”


Natja Brunckhorst © Jeanne Degraa

Sometimes, inspiration is found in the smallest details – Natja Brunckhorst can tell you a thing or two about that. Her new film ZWEI ZU EINS (TWO TO ONE) came from a sentence she discovered by chance, the director and screenwriter reveals in an interview: “In a book by the late GDR cabaret artist and satirist Peter Ensikat, I came across a sentence that caught my eye. The GDR’s paper money was stored in a tunnel. I knew immediately – this is cinema, no doubt about it! So, I started to do some research.”

The result of this initial idea is a story set in a small town in Saxony-Anhalt during that special summer of 1990, between the fall of the Berlin Wall and reunification. It is a story combining true facts with Brunckhorst’s flourishing cinematic imagination. At the time, a burglary was discovered in the aforementioned tunnel, and rucksacks turned up containing the stolen money, which had supposedly become worthless. In ZWEI ZU EINS, this now becomes the story of Maren (Sandra Hüller), Robert (Max Riemelt) and Volker (Ronald Zehrfeld), who have known and loved each other since childhood and, together with all their neighbours, find a way to trigger at least a minor slip-up in the capitalist sell-out of East Germany.

Instead of turning the material into a thriller or relying on deliberate exaggerations à la DEUTSCHLAND 83, the filmmaker, who was born in (West) Berlin, tells her story as a light-hearted summer comedy exuding authenticity. “I’m just a positive person, who likes to come out of the cinema in a good mood,” she says, referring to the film’s general tone, which is not dissimilar to that of her directorial debut ALLES IN BESTER ORDNUNG (2022). “Karl Valentin said that everything has three sides: positive, negative, and humorous. I always choose the humorous.”

Brunckhorst does not much like overly simplistic categorisations of her work, anyway: “I’m actually content to sit on the fence. It’s important to me for cinema to be fun – after all, it’s entertainment as well. But that doesn’t mean my film is not serious at all, or that it lacks dramatic moments.”

Of course, the trio in the leading roles, including Sandra Hüller in her first German film since SISI & I, also play a decisive part in the way this balancing act works. “With actors like them, all you really have to do is turn on the camera and watch,” the director points out, laughing – and she is glad when people say the lightness of her narration is not necessarily typically German. “It’s just so nice when two wonderful men adore a wonderful woman! And JULES AND JIM is a role model, of course. So, it is perhaps more French than German. Although otherwise, my humour is more British.”

The days when she stood in front of the camera herself as an actor are long gone for Brunckhorst, who became well-known beyond Germany’s borders with her first role as a teenager in CHRISTIANE F. – WIR KINDER VOM BAHNHOF ZOO in 1981. However, her experiences in acting are still an advantage when it comes to directing today, as she tells me: “Of course, I do have a heart for the actors, for the whole uncertainty of the profession and also for the courage you need to stand up there and open your soul.” She continues: “The right empa­thy for the inner processes taking place, and knowing what you need and when – not every director has that, as I know from my own experience.”

However, the Hamburger-by-choice does not regret her comparatively late move into the director’s seat. When her first, autobiographically inspired screenplay WIE FEUER UND FLAMME was made into a film at the beginning of the millennium, producer Stefan Arndt suggested she took over the direction herself. “But my daughter was still so small at the time, and I couldn’t imagine it for various reasons,” she remembers. “I also had huge respect for directing. I thought I would need to know everything about filmmaking to do it.”

“Now, I realise it’s not about that,” concludes Brunckhorst, whose next script is long finished. “Instead, it’s my job to give everyone involved – from the camera operator to the production designer to the actors – the space and opportunity to do their jobs as best they can. I am responsible for creating as much trust as possible.” And she adds with charming self-confidence: “If someone had told me after my first film that I should leave directing well alone, I would have done that. But after the second film, I am starting to believe that I do it quite well.”

Patrick Heidmann