BERLIN — One of Europe’s foremost producers of feature films and television, Regina Ziegler has become renowned over the past three decades for her work with leading directors Rainer Fassbinder, Andrzej Wajda, Nic Roeg, Ken Russell, Krzysztof Zanussi and Bob Rafelson, among many, and for her tenacity, taste and talent in putting Europe’s top-tier actors and crews onto the same team.
With her current historical epic Henri IV, based on the novel by Heinrich Mann, the indefatigable Zielger continues a tradition of bringing to the big screen quality stories supported by top-flight production values. Set against the backdrop of 16th-century France torn apart by a war between Protestants and Catholics, the boisterous drama pits the Protestant leader Henri of Navarre again Paris and the Catholics, and against his mother’s powerful rival, Catherine de Medici, Queen of France — until the Queen finally offers Henri the hand of her daughter. But the wedding ends in a spectacular bloodbath that became known as the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, with Henri taken prisoner in the Louvre. Four years later he escapes, changing his religion no less than five times before ultimately fighting his way to become king of France, and one of the country’s true humanists.
“No project of Ziegler Film over the last 35 years has prompted me to invest so much passion and energy, and to take so many risks, as this one,” Ziegler enthused from her spacious production offices here in central Berlin. “I have done this because we are dealing here with one of the greatest works of German literature which, for some inexplicable reason, has never received the recognition it deserves.”
The film’s director is first-time feature helmer Jo Baier, a veteran of over 15 movies for German and European television. “We are definitely not shooting a clichéd costume drama about a French king in Renaissance times,” Baier observed. “Henri IV deals with humanism in an inhuman time. We describe a wicked, almost passionately evil society, one defined by intrigue, betrayal and deception as well as unbounded thirst for power and contempt for human life. “ No doubt the filmmakers believe that contemporary audiences can recognize and relate to such themes, given the passions and violence playing out in a variety of geo-political hotspots today.
The movie’s four months of production began on August 2008 in the Czech Republic, moving on to France and Germany, with the finished product landing a slot in this year’s prestigious “Berlinale Special” section. After Henri IV’s world premiere at the Berlinale, Ziegler hosted one of festival’s biggest bashes at Berlin’s famed Quatsch comedy club, once the favorite nightspot of another controversial political figure, Erich Honecker, former chief of the old GDR (East German Republic).
There, Ziegler and stars Julien Boisselier, Armelle Deutsch, Joachim Drosl, Chloe Stefani, Ulrich Noethen and Hannelore Hoger held court with over 1,500 invited guests – a turnout that few other German producers could have pulled off. Among her friends and colleagues, Ziegler has surely become respected for her tough-as-nails business acumen generously mixed with an almost maternal managerial style, making her one of country’s most prolific and popular producers, well-known to Hollywood’s top distributors, and a friend to artists, politicians, business leaders and moviegoers alike.
And from her obviously pleased expressions as she greeted and chatted up the guests at the Quatsch Club, it was clear that Ziegler’s long, seven-year journey through the trenches of Renaissance history and literary adaptation, of deal making and filmmaking and shrewd showmanship – and a bit of motherly guidance — had paid off handsomely indeed.