The first time Nina Hoss had been widely recognized was when she played a very famous German escort girl of the 1950s. The film was a so-called “event movie” played on a private television station in the 90s. So it wasn’t about the female emancipation which Rosemarie – the escort girl’s self-chosen name – espoused, but more about nude scenes and other – assumedly – provocative things about the life of an escort girl. So all in all, the role wasn’t one with a lot of depth or allowing for ample possibility to showcase one’s acting skills, but it was an attention-grabbing one, certainly one that made her widely known and somewhat popular.
But her career took a really different path from her first well-known role: now being known as an arthouse actress mostly celebrated for her roles in the films of Christian Petzold – a director of the so-called “Berliner Schule” – and a frequent guest at Berlinale and other German (as well as some international) film festivals. Even though there existed roles she could have played in other films that appealed to a larger audience, the path to her kind of career was laid very early in her life: she was the child of one of the founders of the German Green Party and a theater intendant while growing up in the conservative southern Germany.
It’s this strange – but in the modern German culture business very typical – mix of higher middle class upbringing while being encouraged to be rebellious and have a free minded attitude. A very similar life path that Bernd Eichinger had: a well-known producer who worked with Nina Hoss as a director on the “event movie” project and several times afterwards as producer. As a result of this attitude – very rare at that time – they broke the barriers between high and low brow culture, which were in Germany, longer than in any other European country including France, historically and still until the 1990s very prominent.
Nina Hoss like few other actresses, has the ability to combine what is referred to in Germany as ‘entertaining culture’ (E-Unterhaltung) and the culture with a deeper purpose (A-Unterhaltung i.e. “demanding”). This is achieved by way of her nuanced skills: when she plays a role which is more popular, she doesn’t soften the edges of the character to gain a wider audience. A wonderful example for this is her work in the film “Return to Montauk” which is a very cheesy pseudo-intellectual adaptation of a book by Max Frisch. But despite the film being a very pretentious romantic movie, Nina Hoss doesn’t play into its superficial script with the overused dialogs and very strange clichés – the rich guy is a brutal megalomaniac, the German slightly racist and the intern exhibiting almost Jesus-like goodness, while Nina Hoss’ character has proletarian parents near Dresden.
Instead she plays a naturally multi-layered and not just artificial broken character. What she can’t change about the pseudo-intellectual, but actually very dull script, she does with her acting. That’s to say, the story she is telling with her face is much more interesting than the one on the wider screen. Besides her career as a film actress, Nina Hoss is an honored theater actress in Germany, having played the principal role of the land owner, Ljubow Andrejewna, in an adaptation of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard. She demonstrated an extraordinary ability to play this rural Russian, but also very cosmopolitan woman with an opulent yet fulfilling lifestyle in Paris; a character too idealistic for the materialistic world of modern capitalism. Yet, also one who profited well from the hierarchical social structure of the time, with nearly slave-like home servants.
Miss Hoss achieved the goal of playing this role set in the era when Chekhov wrote his play – the dusk of aristocracy and the dawn of a new capitalist world on the horizon – which also included a reminiscence to the beginning of the years of the 2010 decade with its stock market crisis behind and a deterioration of some democratic societies ahead of it. It is true that one should give credit for this to the script writer too, in that the city where the play was staged, Berlin, played a role. You could easily transfer this story of aesthetics vs. economy to the situation of Berlin in the last few decades during which it existed as a cultural utopia, but was also the next big European city to be gentrified.
In recent years, Nina Hoss took her career to a more international stage, playing a recurring role of a German agent in the series “Homeland” and just last month she played at the Manchester theatre festival in an adaptation of Didier Eribon’s novel “Retour à Reims”. She got several mentions since then in various international newspapers, like one in The Guardian with the title: “Nina Hoss – Is Hollywood next?”. So what has been true for about 20 years now in Germany, seems to be true internationally now as well: “Nina Hoss” a name to remember.