One of the foremost German directors working today, Christian Petzold is a filmmaker of singular vision. Drawing from classic films, Petzold finds inventive ways of reimagining known tropes for modern times as in Transit (2018), a faithful adaptation of Anna Seghers’ novel of the same name that also comments on the obstacles facing asylum-seekers in Europe today. His latest film, Silver Bear Winner Afire, concerns a writer struggling to complete his latest novel in a seaside German town threatened by escalating wildfires.


Afire opens in U.S. theaters today.

WANDA, Barbara Loden, 1970

The last time I saw this film was 10 years ago with a friend of mine. There is one scene I love so much, when Wanda comes into the bar and is met by a nervous barkeeper. As she passes him, in one camera movement you see a man lying on the ground and realize that the barkeeper is not a barkeeper at all, but is a robber. Suddenly, between Wanda and this robber, we have a relationship for the rest of the movie. And this is so fantastically told by Barbara Loden. It’s one of the best movies I’ve ever seen in my life. The final scene where she is lost inside a group of people and she is staring in our direction, it’s one of those looks I will never forget from cinema.

PARTIE DE CAMPAGNE, Jean Renoir, 1936

This pick has some connection with Wanda because of the last look. This is not a long movie. It was made the last days before Germany invaded France and they had to interrupt the movie and restart 8 years later, when Germany had lost the war. It’s based on a novel, about a young woman who had to marry a man, so she goes on a weekend holiday to the countryside with him. There, she meets another young man dressed as a sailor, and both are in love but they cannot show their love; they share only through one brief touch. Years later, she, like the movie, comes back and meets the sailor and they both know that this was the real love in their life and that they’ve lost it. At the end, she looks at us and says “What happened to us?” This is also a look similar to that last look in Wanda. It is a look from women in cinema, staring into the camera and thus staring into themselves, in the same moment they are looking into us.

CONTEMPT, Jean-Luc Godard, 1963

I saw this again recently when it was re-released in Germany six weeks ago with original technicolor. It has the best score I ever heard in my life. Everything is great in this movie and when I saw it again, the whole energy was really something. There is a man who is an author and member of the communist party. He sells his wife to get a good job at an American film production company and so the wife starts to despise him. The man tries to come back into her life and rid her of this despair, but it is not possible. In doing this, he has lost her forever – but in this same moment, there is an allusion to Fritz Lang, who is making a movie about despair and it is fantastic.

SUMMER WITH MONIKA, Ingmar Bergman, 1953

This is one of my favorite movies, and it’s also a summer movie that we used as a reference for my latest film Afire, to see what could happen in the summer when people are idle, out of work, out of school, and just free in their bodies, free in their love; in tune with the ocean and island and small boats. What I love so much is that at the end of this film, when the summer has gone and the film is not finished, there’s a depressing tone. Monica, who tastes freedom in the summer, doesn't understand why she has to be a mother, why she has to pay rent, why she has to work. She takes all the money she has left for rent and goes to a bar where she can dance and where all the men want to fuck her. She pours all of her money into drinks, cigarettes and the jukebox. The people in the audience are thinking: you have a baby and a man, why can’t you be happy? But she says to us with this look, “What do you want from me?” This is one of the most fantastic moments in the history of cinema.

NOTORIOUS, Alfred Hitchcock, 1946

I watched this again about a year ago and I believe the opening scene is a party in Ingrid Bergman’s apartment. There, you see a man, only from behind, watching Ingrid who plays the daughter of a fascist who is now in jail, about to commit suicide. She is not a fascist but the man is a spy from the CIA. The structure of this scene, filmed from behind as he is watching her, creates something between the youth and the guiltiness of the youth; the male subjects who are watching the youth and yet don’t want to be infected by the youth. The entire movie is about the infection of Cary Grant, as he grows infected by youth and a love for someone who he doesn't want to ever be loved.