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Who was Hanna Schygulla: from au-pair to cinema legend

Who was Hanna Schygulla: from au-pair to cinema legend

It is common to associate the lives of Hollywood actors with outrageously rich backgrounds, but in fact, many of the big screen superstars have paved their way from scratch. And it happens so with Europeans cinema legends. From mainstream modern actresses such as the Briton Kate Winslet to international legends of the silver screen, some movie artists made their own way as did the German acting legend Hanna Schygulla.

Born in Poland on Christmas day, 1943, Hanna Schygulla faced drawbacks since her very early years. When she was only three years old, her father, Joseph Schygulla - a timber merchant - was summoned as an infantryman in the German Army and captured as a war prisoner during World War II by American forces in Italy. Subsequently, Joseph was released in 1948.

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But while her father was still enduring the consequences of war as a prisoner, Hanna and her mother also faced drawbacks after the war’s end. In 1945 they were forced to move to a refugee's camp in Munich following the expulsion of the majority German population of Königshütte by the communist regime that took control in Poland.

During her teenage years, Hanna Schygulla was keen on studying to become a teacher. After finishing high school, that desire led to Paris, where she worked as an au-pair and experienced first-hand the possibility of being in charge of minors. She eventually moved back to Munich where she started acting lessons in her free time. It was then that she experienced for the first time the passion that would eventually drive her destiny.

While taking acting lessons, Hanna met the prolific and highly volatile actor, director and writer Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who brought her to the stage and began casting her in his films two years later, in 1968.

Despite frequent and increasingly violent personal and professional disagreements with Fassbinder, Hanna starred in over 20 Fassbinder film productions, thus becoming one of the most important figures of German New Cinema; the Berlin Film Festival honored her with their best actress prize for her stunning work in The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979). Hanna was often described as a character star, whose versatility transcended her peasant-stock appearance. During her years with Fassbinder, Schygulla was also well-served in films directed by Schlondorff, Godard, Wajda and Scola.

The last film that Fassbinder and Schygulla made together, LiliMarleen (1980), helped spark her second career as a chanteuse, a new artistic avenue she pursued in her 50s in Paris, where she lives today. However, at the height of her fame as a chanson singer, Hanna withdrew from the spotlight to care for her parents.

Recently, Hanna Schygulla performed in a film version of Goethe's tragedy, Faust, directed by the Russian Alexander Sokurov. In 2011, the film was awarded the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale.

 Return to Hanna Schygulla, Whatever the Dream Is



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