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The Woman Across the Way: East Berlin


The Woman Across the Way: Filming in Berlin
Walter Lassally Film-maker
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I was lucky enough to be able to make two more films entirely in black and white and they were both shot in Berlin. And, in those years, every time I visited Berlin I used to walk through the streets with this silly grin on my face, because I just loved hearing the familiar accents. Berlin has a very colourful local accent, just like Cockney in London. And I just love to hear that. So I used to walk through the streets with this silly grin on my face. So the first of these black and white films was for a director called Hans Noever whom you could say was a sort of on the edge of the German new wave, if there is a such a thing. With Fassbinder and the others. Wenders and Fassbinder.

Noever was a sort of minor character in that respect, but a very interesting guy, full of humour, very funny, and quite talented. He wrote the script as well as directing this film which is called Die Frau gengenüber, which means, The Woman Opposite, or The Woman Across the Way, it was called in English, because there's already a film called The Woman Opposite, I think. And this film is set in... it uses Berlin as the big city. It's doesn't... it's recognisably Berlin, but it doesn't have to be Berlin, it's just the character of the city. The city is a character in the story.

The story is about an obsessive husband who keeps thinking that his wife, who is completely innocent, is deceiving him in some way. So he devises this plot that he says he's going away for a few weeks, and he disguises himself, he dyes his hair and he moves into a block of flats which has a direct view onto the balcony of the flat that he's living in with his wife. Then he just spies on her, as it were. Before that, he's introduced his wife, who's a shy country girl, to his friend. He's an insurance assessor. So in the office where they work, he has his friend, and before he goes away, he introduces his wife to this friend, more or less to see if she's tempted, or if he can catch her doing something she shouldn't be doing, which indeed he does. But it's very much due to him that he's put them in that position. And the husband is played by a Polish actor, Franciszek Pieczka who was excellent. He was really excellent. And the wife was a relatively unknown German actor. Well, she was sort of known in Germany, but not well and she wasn't a star. The friend was played by an amateur, actually. He was also the assistant director. I think he used the name Jodi Buchman as the... for his acting work. And as I said, the city is this sort of character in the plot. We used the S Bahn, the overhead railway, the overhead Metro, in Berlin. There's an underground but there's also an over-ground. We used that as punctuation in the story. Every now and then you just get this shot of this little S Bahn train going across the picture. That worked very well, and the black and white is very... I think that film wouldn't have been a patch of what it is, in colour. It wouldn't be anything like as good. Because the black and white, as I've said many times already, enables you to stylise things, and you're not distracted by extraneous things, as you might be if it were in colour. The S Bahn, for instance, is yellow and red. Much better that it's in black and white. Much better.

Born in Germany, cinematographer Walter Lassally (1926-2017) was best known for his Oscar-winning work on 'Zorba the Greek'. He was greatly respected in the film industry for his ability to take the best of his work in one area and apply it to another, from mainstream to international art films to documentary. He was associated with the Free Cinema movement in the 1950s, and the British New Wave in the early 1960s. In 1987 he published his autobiography called 'Itinerant Cameraman'.

Listeners: Peter Bowen

Peter Bowen is a Canadian who came to Europe to study and never got round to heading back home. He did his undergraduate work at Carleton University (in Biology) in Ottawa, and then did graduate work at the University of Western Ontario (in Zoology). After completing his doctorate at Oxford (in the Department of Zoology), followed with a year of postdoc at the University of London, he moved to the University's newly-established Audio-Visual Centre (under the direction of Michael Clarke) where he spent four years in production (of primarily science programs) and began to teach film. In 1974 Bowden became Director of the new Audio-Visual Centre at the University of Warwick, which was then in the process of introducing film studies into the curriculum and where his interest in the academic study of film was promoted and encouraged by scholars such as Victor Perkins, Robin Wood, and Richard Dyer. In 1983, his partner and he moved to Greece, and the following year he began to teach for the University of Maryland (European Division), for which he has taught (and continues to teach) biology and film courses in Crete, Bosnia, and the Middle East.

Tags: The Woman Across the Way, The Woman Opposite, Hans Noever, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Wim Wenders, Franciszek Pieczka, Jodi Buchman

Duration: 3 minutes, 51 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008