Art and Experience: CANNES — “I like your style, Stine. Straight forward. You open your interviews like a man,” Walter Gropius (August Diehl) ironizes, when at the beginning of “Bauhaus -a New Era,” a feminist interviewer, in 1963 Massachusetts, asks him the first director of Wiemar Germany’s Bauhaus art school, a member of the avant garde, the most influential architect of his generation, how he could live with the lie that women and men were treated equally at Bauhaus.

The same could be said of German director Lars Kraume, whose most famous film to date, “The People vs. Fritz Bauer,” lists preeminent Germans and companies which opposed the attempts of Bauer, a state attorney general, to bringing the crazies of Auschwitz to trail.

“Bauhaus” recounts the launch of the legendary art school, which changed the history of modern art. But it does so from the point of view not of Gropius, its icon and first director, but Dörte Helm (Ana Maria Mühe), his student and lover. Bauhaus set out to change 20th century art. That proved easier than changing men’s essential attitudes towards women.

Variety chatted to Kraume as “Bauhaus” word premiered at Canneseries  in Official Competition.

Walter Gropius, director of Bauhaus from 1919 to 1928,  proclaims that the students are the “tools of a new revolutionary view of the design.” This is much clearer in aesthetics, than in gender issues, however, where Bauhaus himself proclaims equality but is not so far from what Alma Mahler calls “patriarchal cravings for young girls students.” Could you comment?  

The series is about the first chapter of the Bauhaus school in Weimar. It is the romantic period, when they were experimenting in many ways. Gropius’ aesthetics were expressionistic and his language was very prosaic. In this romantic phase, he thought he could provide equality to women, but later he was forced by the conservative bourgeoisie to take that back.

Calling the students “tools“ is a quote, but of course he had no gender issue in mind. Alma Mahler’s accusation is fictitious, but not so far fetched. Gropius had various relationships with younger women. Amongst these was the one problematic “Dörte Helm Affair,“ that was actually examined by a court of honor.

This is where the story for this drama comes from: Conflict between powerful men like Gropius and confident women like Dörte Helm.

One of Dörte’s Helm’s challenges is to develop her own voice. You sense from the early part of the series that this, and her fated affair with Walter Gropius, will drive this story. 

Dörte Helm tries to develop as an artist, to emancipate from many dominant men in her life and to find her own voice and her place in life throughout the series. Her relationship to Walter Gropius is the central plot. It is indeed a fated affair and it is an example for the battle between men and women. It is also a metaphor for the early, romantic phase of the Bauhaus. When the romance was over, constructivism took over and Bauhaus became famous.

It’s not that easy to get information on Dörte Helm in English. What was the process of research and how much of what we see is imagined, inspired by real facts?

Dörte Helm’s daughter consulted us on the script. The series tries to give an answer, why Dörte Helm is not very well known. She is somewhat forgotten like many interesting women in the shadows of men. The story is true to facts to a great extent, but of course it is dramatized.

How far did the fact that “Bauhaus” is about series an artist and an art school influence your style of direction of the series? 

The Bauhaus and its students were above all a bunch of wild spirits. We tried to keep that in mind while shooting the show.

ZDF itself is overhauling its scripted series output. Last year, Canneseries premiered “The Typist,” for example. Would you see “Bauhaus” as part of this renovation?

Frank Zervos, who is in charge of these productions, is already leaving his fingerprint. And I think, he has a clear vision on how to develop content that works for the traditionally older audience of the ZDF and yet attracts a young target group.

Your maybe best-known recent work have been period dramas. As an auteur, would you see the exploration of German history as one of your hallmark passions, which you’d like to continue pursuing in the future? 

German history is complex, dark and violent. It is an endless inspiration to write drama. There are some more interesting chapters to explore. One of my next projects together with Thomas Kufus  Germany’s attempted genocide of the Herero people in south-west Africa in 1905 to 1907. And of course I am working on the second season of Bauhaus, when the Nazis closed the school in Dessau.

Source: Variety