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Director Stölzl talks about his chess novel: There is no playground for children

AZ Interview with Philip Stolzel: Born in Munich in 1967, the director initially trained as a theater worker at Kammerspiele and started as Jürgen Rose’s assistant.

Stölzl now lives in Berlin and is in demand for music videos, commercials, plays, operas and films. He worked with Rammstein and Madonna and made films such as “Nordwand”, “Der Medicus” and “I’ve Never Been to New York”.

Now Stölzl has dealt with “Schachnovelle” by Stefan Zweig in 1941. It is the story of the Vienna notary d. Josef Bartok, who was arrested by the Gestapo on March 12, 1938 during the “Annexation” of Austria and then was psychologically tortured in solitary confinement. In order not to go crazy, he teaches himself to play chess after smuggling a book with famous chess games into his cell.

AZ: Mr. Stölzl, Stefan Zweig’s “Schachnovelle” was first filmed in 1960 – with Curd Jürgens and Mario Adorf. How did the new version come?
Philip Stolzel: On the field. One of the producers, Tobias Walker, gave birth to his son in the same daycare group as my daughter. Then we became friends through children and he told me he was developing the theme of “Schachnovelle”.

Philip Stolzel: ‘It was somehow a sign of fate’

Does it often happen in Berlin that projects close in the stadium?
Everything is possible in Berlin. But of course you usually meet producers because they already have material for you. But I only spoke with Tobias Walker about “Schachnovelle” out of a common literary and cinematic interest, without any professional concerns.

Did you accept right away
immediately. I was pleased with Eldar Gregorian’s script. It was also, in a way, a sign of fate, because after my last very hilarious “I’ve Never Been to New York” movie I felt my turn came for a drama.

How is your film composition different from Curd Jürgens?
The old version of the movie has that slightly woody feel, as we know it from some movies from the ’60s. Jürgens plays great, of course, but you always have the feeling that you’re looking at him from a distance to see how someone gets more and more confused and crazy. We tried to personally tell the path to spiritual erosion caused by the torture of solitude, and the audience is drawn to it.

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Philip Stolzel: ‘As a boy I was a bookworm’

When did you first come into contact with Stefan Zweig’s novel?
When I was fifteen or sixteen years old, I was a fan of books as a boy and also drank works such as “Der Steppenwolf” by Hermann Hesse or “Der Fänger im Roggen” by J.D. Salinger. Kids today own YouTube and other digital media from which they can extract their experiences. But I come from a generation where you still deal with literature in your apprenticeship and years of travel.

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How well do you play chess?
I like to play, but poorly, but I’m lucky that my 14-year-old son Gustav also loves to play and plays “fairly well”. As fun hobbyists, we are ideal partners. How light-years we are from the real game of chess was only made clear to me by the many club players we hired for the film.

In which way?
At some point during play, a pro says, “Thank you, checkmate.” And you look at the board and have no idea why. They count 20 to 30 steps forward. A year and a half ago I played against a talented seven-year-old in a ski hut. He checked me out in 30 minutes. There was no escape, that was a little scary.

Philip Stolzel talks about his love-hate relationship with Berlin

You live in Kreuzberg, where there is now also a Rio-Reiser-Platz, with which the rock band Knockout Germany was launched in 1994 ??
There are still delays in renaming Heinrichplatz because some people have complained about it. I don’t know what to say against it. But we are the land of objections that can delay many. For this purpose, part of Manteuffelstrasse in Kreuzberg was renamed after the black poet Audre Lorde. I love change and I think a change from street names to icons of Prussian Junkers to icons of Kreuzberg is a good thing, and I’m also looking forward to living near Rio-Reiser-Platz soon.

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Why does a citizen of Munich feel at home in Berlin?
There is no talk of being satisfied. It’s more than a love-hate relationship. I am not alone in that. He also sang it in the song “Schwarz zu Blau” by Peter Fox. That day, while jogging on a Paul-Linke-Ufer, I spotted an ad for beer that had this split on the topic. I moved here in the early 90’s and was lucky enough to experience this very chaotic time, it connects you to one place. My kids go to school here, my sisters and their parents live here, all the friends, all the creative partners: this adds to “home” completely independently of the Berlin blues.

Philip Stülzel used the closure to cut ‘Schachnovelle’ at home

I shot two months in Rome in the summer.
Outrageously beautiful city, on every corner a picturesque paved square, and a sensual Baroque fountain. And I thought, What will it be like when I go back to Berlin? But then you get off the S-Bahn, the bike-packed streets, interesting people, funky cafes everywhere, a mixture of languages, and you immediately feel the colorful energy of this city again and think: It’s really good here.

What did you photograph in Rome?
Two episodes of the first season of “The Swarm” based on Frank Schatzing. This is an international series in English. Showrunner Frank Doelger is a USA series professional who has produced, among other things, “Game of Thrones”. That was fun, working in a team – and also it was all about directing and not about taking the whole burden of success when directing a movie. After three years with “Schachnovelle” it was a very nice change.

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How successful have you been in overcoming the epidemic so far?
he is fine. Although I lost a number of projects in theater and opera. But I was able to use closures to cut the “Chess Novella” at home. That was a good profession, but also a little strange, the torture of the Gestapo on screen, the children next door.

Stölzl: “My motivation is to tell powerful and moving cinematic stories”

Did you have any doubts about becoming a director?
No, I like him very much. It’s easy to be considered a workaholic, but I don’t see many projects as work. This may sound a bit too idealistic, but I always have a feeling that I can do exactly what I love. And then I can still make a living from it. This is a privilege for which I am grateful for life. To be honest, I was never a good student, which is why it was clear very early on: Art alone is really the choice.

The German Film Award will be presented on the 1st of October. Your movie “Schachnovelle” has been nominated in seven categories. Does this sound like “everything is done right” to you?
So far I’ve always been making more “general films”. Attending film festivals or awards does not play a major role for them. Even if it’s a little different now with “Schachnovelle”, I miss a bit of a mention of it. I’m happy with the awards, but if there wasn’t one, it wouldn’t be the end of the world for me either. My motivation is to tell powerful and moving cinematic stories. When people come to see it, when they take something for themselves from the cinema, an emotional experience, when the film means something to them in some way: this is my happiness as an artist.


Preview of “Schachnovelle” Wednesday at 7.30pm on ABC.