SEE NL #18

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Berlinale feature presentation

Lust for life and death Saskia Diesing

Saskia Diesing’s coming-of-age, assisted suicide drama Nena won best director award at the Netherlands Film Festival. She talks to Melanie Goodfellow ahead of its screening in Berlinale Generation. When filmmaker Saskia Diesing was just 12-years old, her father, who was severely ill with multiple sclerosis, told her that he could no longer stand living and wanted to kill himself. Still a child, Diesing could barely comprehend the idea of committing suicide when there was so much to live for. “The conversation threw up existentialist questions I hadn’t considered before,” says the filmmaker. “He tried to kill himself on several occasions in different ways. Every attempt failed. It was a desperate situation.” Some 30 years later, that conversation is at the heart of Diesing’s award-winning feature Nena, supported by the Netherlands Film Fund. Set against the backdrop of a provincial town on the West German border in 1989, the film

revolves around 16-year-old Nena as she deals with her paraplegic father’s desire to die just as she is falling in love for the first time, and embracing life with teenage abandon. “The film is not strictly autobiographical but the conversation I had with my father is the source. You could say because I couldn’t help him then I’m trying to help him posthumously with this film,” says Diesing. The filmmaker recounts how she wrote the synopsis for the picture in a fury over 48 hours, after the Netherlands Film Fund rejected a previous project in the final selection round. “I was so disappointed and angry at the same time that I wrote it in two nights. Somewhere this story has been there in my self-conscious all the time,” she says. On agreeing to support the development of the new project, the Fund advised Diesing to collaborate with another writer due to the personal nature of the source material. Diesing approached successful novelist Esther Gerritsen whose novels include the recently published Roxy as well as Thirst, Superdove and Craving. “The idea of Esther just popped out. The fund was like ‘Good luck with that because she doesn’t do film,’ but I thought, ‘Ok, I want to try it anyway’. She was enthusiastic from the very first moment and we’ve since become very close friends.”

“Esther creates these quirky, sometimes amoral characters, who have a hard time fitting into society,” adds Diesing. “There’s also a humour in her writing which I like. The tone of the film was difficult to find. I wanted to strike a balance between gravity and lightness. We spent a lot of time tossing the dialogue back and forth.” Up and coming young Dutch actress Abbey Hoes, who is the Dutch Shooting Star at the Berlinale this year, plays Nena. “Abbey’s unbelievable. It’s a tough role for a young person,” says Diesing. “I had seen her in a TV movie a couple of years ago in which she played a 14-year-old who was dying of cancer. I couldn’t stop crying. I wrote the role with her in mind and was so happy when she agreed to take the part.” Alongside a best director award for Diesing at the Dutch Film Festival in September, Hoes also clinched the best actress award for her performance. The film, a Dutch-German co-pro between Amsterdam-based KeyFilm and Cologne-based Coin Film, was shot in the German border town where Diesing grew up with her German father and Dutch mother before they divorced. “Euthanasia is a controversial issue in Germany and I was actually surprised that we were able to get money for this sort of story so I am very curious to how German audiences will respond to the film,” concludes the filmmaker.

‘I wanted to strike a balance between gravity and lightness’

Nena Director: Saskia Diesing Script: Saskia Diesing, Esther Gerritsen Production: KeyFilm (NL), in c ­ oproduction with Coin Film (DE) Sales: Mountain Road Entertainment 8

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