SPOILER ALERT: The following interview reveals plot points.
EXCLUSIVE: Babylon Berlin star Liv Lisa Fries recently sat down with us to discuss powerful and timely Berlin Film Festival Competition entry From Hilde, With Love, which debuts at the festival this coming weekend.
Andreas Dresen’s affecting and pared back film, set in Berlin during the Second World War, charts the little known story of Hilde and Hans Coppi, a young couple who courageously become members of an anti-Nazi group known as The Red Orchestra (Die Rote Kapelle). The two spend a summer together until they get caught by the Gestapo and Hilde is imprisoned, eight months pregnant.
Fries gives a memorable performance as Hilde. In the above first footage from the movie, she and co-star Johannes Hegemmann discuss an act of resistance for the first time. Pandora Film produces from a script by Laila Stieler. Beta Film handles sales.
Director Dresen describes the film as “a modern drama set in a difficult time, plain and straightforward, joyful and strong, renouncing heavy music, opulent production design or costumes. Die Rote Kapelle was a loose network of several Berlin-based resistance movements, more than 150 opponents to the Nazi Regime, mainly women, all coming from different social backgrounds and adherents of different ideologies. One of them was Hilde Coppi. A prison guard noted in her file, ‘Tender, fine, brave. Completely selfless. No hate. A touching personality. Never counted on human mercy. Never regretted.’”
The drama comes at a time when Germany is contending with the rise of another far-right movement, the AfD (Alternative For Germany). The group, currently polling second in the country, has been the subject of mass protests, and the festival’s opening ceremony invitation to its members sparked a significant backlash against organizers, which last week were moved to rescind the invitation.
When we asked director Dresen for this thoughts on the AfD’s rise, he told us: “Our film itself is the answer to the situation”.
Meanwhile, Hilde and Hans Coppi’s son, Hans Coppi Jr, who features briefly in the film, is a historian who has dedicated his life to his parents’ memory and highlighting the dangers of extremist movements. The 81 year-old was a recent signatory of a pro-Democracy open letter titled ‘Learn From History’, signed by more than 280 descendants of resistance fighters during the Nazi era.
DEADLINE: Liv, why did you want to tell this story?
LIV LISA FRIES: For me, I was particularly interested in the emotions and the feelings behind this story, which are transportive. I tend to respond to the emotions of pieces more than the narrative. I was interested in a number of questions the film raises, like ‘when is resistance worthy?’ I was also impressed by the depth of Hilde’s love for Hans Coppi.
There were very intense moments during production, because this was based on real events. For example, when I was holding the letter from Hitler rejecting Hilde’s plea for clemency before her death, it was the original letter I was holding.
I’m really interested in films like Hunger, Dancer In The Dark and Breaking The Waves, that are existential and which press moral buttons…. films about ‘really heavy shit’, basically. I remember being impacted for days after seeing Breaking The Waves. I had a similar feeling when I was reading the script for Hilde. Every now and then it’s important to go somewhere existential where we think about our humanity.
The subject is also somewhat controversial. Hilde made a decision to resist, which put her child in danger of being left alone. But we can’t know how it feels to be in her shoes.
I certainly saw a lot of heart in Hilde. It also reminded me of my grandmother who spent a lot of time caring for my grandfather. I remember how dutiful she was because of her love. That’s something Hilde felt…I got to know Hans Coppi Jr a little. He is dedicated to the story of his parents. But he’s also traumatized by becoming an orphan so young.
DEADLINE: Hans Coppi Jr’s voiceover at the end of the film was very moving. Like the movie, that moment wasn’t in any way gratuitous. It wasn’t obviously emotional or dwelled on, but was succinct and pared back and powerful for it…
FRIES: It’s very moving. When you see him in real life it’s very moving…
DEADLINE: How did you come to the project?
FRIES: Andreas [Dresen] asked me. We met. I was studying contemporary dance at the time so couldn’t commit immediately. I didn’t want to step away from that but then time freed up and he asked me to do a reading for it. I liked the idea of that actually because it gave me an idea of how we would work together. I had been interested in his films before.
DEADLINE: Did you know the story?
FRIES: I didn’t.
DEADLINE: And did you have any family experience from the time to call on during your research?
FRIES: No, I didn’t. Nothing in particular that could help me…The time is covered a lot in school here and in so many movies. I feel a big sadness and impact from it. I haven’t wanted to dig into it too deeply before. I find it very hard to understand the hard right mentality. It makes me anxious.
DEADLINE: How timely is the story given the current rise of the far-right in Germany?
FRIES: Yes, it is, definitely, and unfortunately. At the same time, each era is unique and the contexts are also very different.
DEADLINE: When I get to Berlin I hope to visit one or two of the small monuments to Hilde and Hans in the city…
FRIES: Yes, you should. I did that. I went to where she worked. It’s different today of course but to enter a room where she was is very powerful. A bit like De Niro driving a cab for Taxi Driver. You get a certain energy and a certain intuition. It’s a way to try to experience other perspectives.
DEADLINE: What’s next for you?
FRIES: I shot the movie Freud’s Last Session with Anthony Hopkins, in which he plays Sigmund Freud and I play his daughter Anna Freud. That is currently on release. I’m also in an upcoming series called Kafka, about the writer, in which I play Czech woman Milena Jesenská, one of his lovers.
I don’t think it’s a secret but at the end of this year we’re going to shoot the last season of Babylon Berlin. It’s still in financial process but they’re writing. Money is a question mark but my schedule is to shoot it later this year.
I’m also very excited to see how people react to Hilde. Ten years ago in Zurich I played a woman with cystic fibrosis who travels to Switzerland to carry out euthanasia. That was also an incredibly emotional journey. You can’t do those projects all the time.
I’m currently doing a writing project by myself, which is more poetic, not a script as such. And I have an audio project, I’m also working on.
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