Julia Hummer (Nina)   Benno Fürmann, Sabine Timoteo, Julia Hummer and Director Christian Petzold   Françoise (Marianne Balser)

In times, when wishing didn’t help any more…

Very few of the Grimm brothers’ fairy tales don’t start with ‘Once upon a time ...’.
‘The Frog Prince’ has one of the loveliest opening lines: ‘In olden times, when wishing still helped ...’

Ghosts has two roots. A good year ago, I was in Ardennen, in Sedan and Charleroi, and in a post office there, I saw photos of girls who had disappeared from Belgium and France. They had been gone a long time. There was always the last photo of them, and then a series of computer-generated images. The images showed the girls as they might have looked three and two years ago, and how they might look now. The computer-generated portraits were strangely ghostlike. In them, you saw visages without any traces of social experience, strangely pale, not of this world. In reality, dead. Ghost portraits.

At the time, I was reading my daughter a Grimms’ fairy tale every evening. Many of them are brutal; they come from the time of the Thirty-Years’ War, a terrible, unprincipled world. The fairy tales are about that world, and they try to offer comfort. One tale is called The Shroud. A four or five year old girl has died, and the mother cannot bear her loss. She cries every day, every night. Suddenly, she hears noises in the house and sees her dead child, wearing a shroud, sitting at the little table where she always ate breakfast. She sees her daughter playing in the room, in her corner, which still hasn’t been touched. Several days pass. The mother speaks to her dead child. The girl is desperate.

‘Mama, you must stop crying over me or I can’t go to heaven. Your sorrow is holding me here!’ But the mother cannot let go. Only at the very end can the child go to heaven. A horrible fairy tale. Well, not for my daughter, who believes in heaven – like all her seven year old friends. They imagine heaven as a great big birthday party.

The film came from The Shroud and the ghost portraits. My thought was, that one of the computer-generated girls from the post office in Sedan lives in Berlin. And her mother is looking for her.

Christian Petzold, December 2004

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