Wylie Writes’ One-On-One with Jutta Brendemühl

The primary of objective of Goethe Films is to bring German cinema and television to Canadian audiences.  Though the series is known for showcasing contemporary art house film, the selection this October is of a slightly different flavour.  On October 4th, Goethe Films will host the exclusive Canadian premiere of Bad Banks, a co-produced German-Luxembourgish mini-series.  I had to opportunity to chat with Jutta Brendemühl, curator of the Goethe Films series, about Bad Banks, and the importance of bringing European cinema and television to Canadian audiences.

“I first saw it in February at the Berlin International Film Festival,” Brendemühl said of her own introduction to Bad Banks.  “It was a dream when, in the midspring, I managed to secure this as an exclusive Canadian premiere and to show the entire first season for the Goethe Institute’s Goethe film series.”

She described the success of the show as “a wild ride”, an accurate term for the landslide of recognition Bad Banks has received since its initial release.  To date, the series has been sold to 40 countries world wide and premiered in the United States earlier this year on Hulu.  It as also won a Bavarian TV Award for Best Directing, as well as two German Screen Actors Awards.

“There aren’t many shows that I would see a third time, but I am looking forward to seeing [Bad Banks] again,” she told me.  “Firstly, because the cinematography is amazing.  The camera, from the first minute, is really seductive and it is part of the allure and beauty of the show.  But also, while I was curating it I had to read up on the background and the research they did. … Everything [in the show] is meticulously researched down to the last little bit.  For example, [the director] Schwochow talked about how while he was in London and Luxembourg and Frankfurt, where the show is set, he realized that wherever he went there were mice infestations in these big banks.  He was like “what is going on?”.  Probably it is because everyone eats at their desks, so they have exterminators in all the time.  And they put that in the show.”

Bad Banks is a mini-series of six episodes, which Goethe Films will screen in sets of two.  Because each episode is only about forty-five minutes long, each pair of episodes will add up to an approximately ninety-minute theater experience.  Brendemühl said the decision to show the series in three parts was impacted by the structure of the show, as well as its visual complexity, attention to detail, and social relevance.

“I’m still trying to put my finger on exactly what is at the same time so attractive and allusive about that main character, Jana,” she admitted.  “The way Paula Beer plays her is that she has these mental breakdowns that we see, they are just there, they are not commented on that much – and I like that.  There is a mental health toll and we get to see it.  It isn’t used as a ploy or as a gender distinction.  Paula Beer – we had her at the Goethe Institute for a talk during TIFF – explained the motivation for Jana.  She is just so high achieving and highly intelligent that I think that the normal “soft” motivations that you might attach to women in that field like envy or competing against each other, that doesn’t count.  Or pure greed – it isn’t about that… She doesn’t want to be a play-thing – she wants to be a player and she risks and loses a lot over it as we see over the course of the six episodes.”

While there are no plans to include television in the line up for next year’s programming, it is something that Brendemühl has included in pervious seasons and something she would like to explore more in the future.

“It’s that moment of discovery that I think is beautiful,” Brendemühl explained.  “The point overall of this ongoing series that I curate for the Goethe Institute, Goethe films, is to add different perspectives about German and European film.”

“I always say that I need to surprise myself as well with my programming, and then it can be something new and something that adds to what people see here [in Toronto].  We live here, we do see a lot of North American-type storytelling, a lot of it at an extremely high level, but it is so much more interesting to see what is going on in other countries.”

Brendemühl said that she hasn’t ruled out the possibility of screening season 2 sometime in the coming years, but it is the timeliness of Bad Bank’s first season and the relevance of its subject matter that she believes will resonate with Toronto audiences the way it already has with audiences in Europe, and across the globe.

“For me it [Bad Banks] shows augmented reality, or hyper-reality, or fictionalized authenticity,” she said.  “I think it rings true because it is so naked.  Maybe that is some sort of essence that I walked away with… I think he [Schwochow] wants to show that this sort of corruption of values and abuse is in-built in the culture.  [Schwochow] chooses banking but it’s a metaphor for society… He doesn’t want to make it black and white, or gendered – and that’s why it works.”

The Canadian premiere of the entire first season of Bad Banks will screen at Toronto’s TIFF Bell Lightbox on October 4, 9, and 11 – presented by Goethe-Institut TorontoClick here for more details!


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