dir. Volker Schlöndorff, Germany 2017.
It really is breathtaking to see just how much sweep #berlinale has over this city, though I shouldn’t be surprised. From Christmas markets to carnivals on the plaza or “beachfront” bars in the summer, Berlin is wildly adept at erecting temporary cultural spaces for every season and occasion.
Tonight was my first and likely only screening at the festival’s de facto main venue, which takes over the Theater Am Potsdamer Platz that usually presents long-running musicals for the tourist set. I wanted to see at least one German production in the program, and while RETURN TO MONTAUK is largely in English, it’s co-written and directed by the legendary Volker Schlöndorff, features music by Max Richter, and stars the incomparable Nina Hoss.
The swell of such a home-court advantage welcoming Schlöndorff and his main cast into this majestically repurposed space scaled up the context to make the intimate dynamics of the film itself play with that much more heart and soul all the way to those of us sitting on the second balcony of a full house.
The project has been a longtime passion of Schlöndorff’s, relating the few days of Scandinavian novelist Max Zorn’s (Stellan Skarsgård) book tour in New York City, bringing back all the choices and regrets he made there a couple decades before. Those regrets, which he poured largely unchanged into his latest work, mostly surround the love that was and could have been with fellow expat Rebecca (Hoss), a Dresdener who made a beeline for Manhattan and never looked back after the fall of the Wall.
Schlöndorff fulfilled his dream of shooting in New York, filming exteriors there for roughly half of the brisk 25-day production period, while production designer Sebastian Soukup and his team did a remarkable job making soundstages here in Berlin serve convincingly as the interiors. Bringing this film back to the city that plays a role in its story both off in the distance as a historical backdrop, and front and center as a standin for another locale altogether, truly emblemizes the values that make this festival feel so specific to its city, which fights on to remain a destination for cultivating creativity.