Martin Grady Interview: The White Ribbon & Haneke

November 26, 2009 by  
Filed under - Home, Features

German professor by day, translator to Cannes-ranked director by night, 47-year-old Martin Grady is an intriguing subject.

After studying German and art history at university in Scotland, Grady was propositioned by visiting German/French Brechtian film makers at London’s Goethe Institut, where he was working while completing his PhD. The word spread. And just as the Berlin Wall was coming down, Grady was becoming the go-to English translator for East German film makers in Britain.

Today, while teaching German cinema and documentary film making at King’s College and creating his own abstract films, Grady is the right-hand man of The White Ribbon’s Austrian director, Michael Haneke.

Speaking to Martin Grady over-the-phone, he provides insight into translating for high-profile German directors, but especially about working with Haneke for more than two decades.

OTB: What do the German cinema big-wigs look for in a translator?

MG: I have done it quite a bit for the normal German directors at the London Film Festival, and I think anyone can do that job. These film makers don’t want a professional translator. They want someone who knows their work, who has seen everything they have done. I have seen everything Haneke has ever done.

You have spent a great deal with the international director over the years. How is working with Haneke?

People expect filmmakers to be like their films. People think Haneke is going to be threatening and difficult, but actually, he is an extremely warm, humorous person. He is very thoughtful about what he wants to say, so it easy for me to translate. He is an intellectual and I teach at a university, so we can talk about history, philosophy, music, Austrian/German writers over a meal. And in fact, he is good company.

There was a 10-year gap while Haneke was in France. How is working with him again, now that he has returned?

This time is a totally different experience, because everyone came with excitement. We did about 15 interviews, and virtually everybody was enthusiastic about this one, which is quite different from the last time he was here. But Haneke hasn’t changed one bit. He is thinking the same things, talking the same way, the same sense of humour—as relaxed a person as ever.

Given your extensive knowledge of film as both independent film maker and university professor, what is your objective opinion of The White Ribbon?

To be frank, I think it’s his masterpiece. Not only for the obvious reasons that everybody’s been talking about—the way it deals with ideologies, family life, education, the performances—but the way it looks. I mean, this is a high-definition digital projection we’re getting here. He has created an extraordinary, completely new realism in this film, which hasn’t been seen before.

It has been discussed whether the film should be regarded as an Austrian or German production. What is your view on the matter?

I think those first early films of his were Austrian, although he of course has a German and Austrian background, his films are very much associated with the New German Cinema. And this one is specifically about a German place in a German period. One could argue that this film is perhaps less Austrian than the others.

The film has been selected as Germany’s submission for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film at the 82nd Academy Awards. What do you think are the film’s chances?

I may be being naïve, but I would think it has a great chance of winning. To me, it is certainly his richest film. It is not as violent. It is much bolder with its emotions. It’s got a love story. It’s even got this positive, almost optimistic feel. I am not a betting man, but I’d put some money on it if I was.

Danielle Jacoby

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