Sapphic Screen: Angelina Maccarone
How a lesbian filmmaker unveiled one of the great screen icons of our time.
Mention Kommt Mausi raus?! (Will Mausi Come Out?!, 1995) to a German lesbian and her face will light up: Angelina Maccarone’s made-for-TV movie was not only the first lesbian comedy made for a mainstream German audience but also an important coming-out film for many young lesbians. With three other lesbian-themed films under her belt, including the award-winning Unveiled (2005), the out, Berlin-based writer-director won herself an invitation to the prestigious Cannes Film Festival with Charlotte Rampling: The Look (2011), an intelligent, fascinating documentary on the enigmatic British film icon Charlotte Rampling (Swimming Pool, Melancholia).
What prompted your collaboration with Charlotte Rampling? Did you contact her or did she contact you?
It was the production company that brought us together. I, of course, was immediately drawn to the chance of making a film with her. The much greater obstacle was certainly to convince Charlotte to do the project. So when she allowed me to visit her in Paris, I knew I had to come up with something different from a conventionally narrated documentary.
And one that shows her talking with friends about love, death, desire, taboo—and interweaves these conversations with scenes from her movies. How did she respond to the concept?
At first, she was sceptical. Would it be interesting for people to listen to her for 90 minutes? I, of course, never doubted that! In addition, she was initially hesitant to drag her friends into it, because, I think, basically, she doesn’t like being thrust into the spotlight. But eventually, she started to trust me and my ideas.
Were you concerned that she wouldn’t approve of the movie, given that in 2009 she tried to block the publication of Barbara Victor’s biography of her?
Yes, I was nervous. When the film was finished, I really wanted her to like it, not just because without her approval the film would never have come out, but also since she had put so much effort, time and trust in it. So I was deeply relieved when she called and said that the film even changed her view of herself, so that she could watch herself more easily on screen—something she never really liked to do before.
How would you explain Rampling’s iconic status with lesbians?
I think she has a very intelligent sex appeal. And there’s something enigmatic about her, some mystery. Also, she likes suits and looks really good in male attire. I can’t speak for all the lesbians in the world, but to me all that is very attractive.
Your career started with Kommt Mausi raus?! How did that film come about?
Mausi is the film I would have loved to watch myself at that time, a comedy that would make people laugh about themselves and the whole absurd concept of coming out. I won a contest with the treatment, and a TV network agreed to produce the film and let me co-direct as well.
Alles wird gut [Everything Will Be Fine], another lesbian comedy, won the audience awards at LGBT film festivals in Los Angeles, New York and Toronto.
That was great! It was overwhelming to have an audience who liked my film, even though it was from Germany and they had to read subtitles. And on top of that, with such a spoiled audience who has a wider choice of lesbian films than we do.
You shot two more lesbian-themed movies, Fremde Haut [Unveiled] and Vivere [To Live]. Were you ever worried you’d be pigeonholed as a lesbian artist?
Being put in a lesbian box wouldn’t make me feel uncomfortable. I just go with the story I want to tell, and happen to be interested in showing lesbian characters, although, apart from Mausi, their sexual orientation isn’t the only topic for me. Unveiled is a good example—it’s about an Iranian lesbian who is seeking political asylum in Germany and has to take on the role of a man. The potential financial backers said, “But does she have to be a lesbian? Do we really need two minorities in one film?” But it was exactly that multilayered aspect that interested me.
So do we still need lesbian movies at all?
Lesbian movies, that’s such a strange genre [pauses]. What we need are films with lesbian protagonists. But I don’t like a movie just because it has lesbian main characters. It’s the story that matters.
What are your reservations about the genre term “lesbian movie”?
As long as lesbian films are categorized as a specific genre, the following will happen: When you’re out pitching a project with a lesbian main character, it will automatically be regarded as the main topic and the production company will say, “We’ve already done a lesbian movie!” They won’t give you much room for anything else to tell, and that’s very limiting—I mean, how often can you tell a coming-out story?
Tell me about your experiences as a female filmmaker.
I have to admit, it is more difficult to be a female filmmaker and, on top of that, a lesbian filmmaker. In the beginning, I was in total denial about that, because the doors opened so easily for me. But by now, I have learned it’s more difficult.
The decision makers are predominately straight men, so it’s easier for them to relate to a guy’s story with straight characters, and believe in its success. But still, I’m lucky to have found a niche for my work. However, each time I finish a film, I feel very vulnerable because I don’t have the assurance my next project will get financed.
You like to collaborate with women—first and foremost, cinematographer Judith Kaufmann and editor Bettina Böhler.
Bettina and Judith are both very important to me because of the quality they bring to my work. We can trust each other enough to accept criticism. They are the first to read my scripts and they judge them mercilessly. Which I appreciate even though I might not like what they have to say. [Laughs]
Have you ever thought about going international with a feature film? An English-language movie would certainly attract a larger audience.
Actually, I’m developing a script right now that I hope to be able to shoot with Charlotte Rampling. It’s still in the early stages, so I don’t want to reveal more right now.
If Hollywood called and money was no object, what would you do?
Well, I wouldn’t tell any other story, although it would be great to have ample production conditions. Just give me $3 million, so that I can pay my cast and crew appropriately!