Nationality: Swiss. Born: Zurich, 22 March 1941. Military Service: Served in military. Family: Married in 1965; one son. Career: After military service, joined the Student Theatre in West Germany; also acted in other theaters in Germany; 1961—film debut in Chikita ; 1970—co-founder, Schaubühne, Berlin, and acted in productions there for the next six years, and later in title role of Hamlet, 1982; after 1978—lived in Zurich; 1982—co-directed the film Gedächtnis . Awards: Deutscher Filmpreis for Acting, for The Marquise of O , 1976; Official Screening Award, Barcelona Television Festival, for Richter in Angst, Ein, 1997; Adolf Grimme Award, for Gegen Ende der Nacht, 1999.
Chikita ( Wenn Männer Schlange stehen ) (Suter)
Es Dach überem Chopf (Früh)
Der sanfte Lauf (Senft) (as Bernard Kral)
Sommergäste ( Summer Guests ) (Stein) (as Yakov Schalimov); Die Marquise von O ( The Marquise of O ) (Rohmer) (as the Russian count)
Lumière (Moreau) (as Heinrich Grun); Die Wildente ( The Wild Duck ) (Geissendörfer) (as Gregor)
Der Amerikanische Freund ( The American Friend ) (Wenders) (as Jonathan Zimmermann); Die linkshändige Frau ( The Left-Handed Woman ) (Handke) (as Bruno)
Retour à la bienaimée (Adam); Schwarz und Weiss wie Tage und Nächte ( Black and White Like Day and Night ) (Petersen) (as Thomas Rosenmund); Messer im Kopf ( Knife in the Head ) (Hauff) (as Berthold Hoffmann); The Boys from Brazil (Schaffner) (as Prof. Bruckner)
Nosferatu—Phantom der Nacht ( Nosferatu—The Vampire ) (Herzog) (as Jonathan Harker); 5 de risque (Pourtale); Oggetti smarriti (G. Bertolucci)
La Provinciale ( The Girl from Lorraine ) (Goretta) (as Remy); La Dame aux camélias (Bolognini); Polenta (Simon); Der Erfinder ( The Inventor ) (Gloor) (as Jokob Nüssli)
Die Fälschung ( Circle of Deceit ) (Schlöndorff) (as Georg Laschen); Etwas wird sichtbar (Farocki); Fermata Etna (Grüber); Geschichte einer Liebe (Damek—for TV)
Logik des Gefühls (Kratisch) (as himself)
Krieg und frieden ( War and Peace ) (Schlöndorff and others—doc); Dans la Ville Blanche ( In the White City ) (Tanner) (as Paul); System ohne Schatten ( Closed Circuit ) (Thome) (as Faber); Killer aus Florida (Schaffhauser)
De Ijsallon (Frank)
El Rio del oro ( Golden River ) (Chavarri) (as Peter); Der Pendler (Giger) (as Steiner)
Der Himmel über Berlin ( Wings of Desire ) (Wenders) (as Damiel)
Strapless (Hare) (as Raymond Forbes); Vater und Sonhe ( Fathers and Sons ) (Sinkel—for TV)
Bankomatt (Mermann) (as Bruno)
Prague (Sellars) (as Josef); The Architecture of Doom ( Untergangens Arkitektur ) (Cohen) (as narrator); Erfolg (as Jacques Tuverlin); Born Natturunna (as Engeler)
Last Days of Chez Nous (Armstrong) (as J. P.); Brandnacht (as Peter Keller)
Especially on Sunday ( Specialmente la Domenica ) (Tornatore) (as Vittorio); The Absence (Handke) (as Gambler); Faraway, So Close ( In Weiter Ferne, So Nah! ) (Wenders) (as Damiel)
Bright Day (as Georg); Il Grande Fausto (as Cavanna)
Lumière et compagnie ( Lumière and Company ) (Allouache, Angelopoulos); Il Grande Fausto (Sironi—mini for TV) (as Biagio Cavanna)
Tödliches Schweigen (Böhlich for TV) (Hans Plache); Ein Richter in Angst (Rödl) (as Crusius); Tatort-Schattenwelt (Rödl) (as Bombadil)
Saint-Ex (Tucker) (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry)
Mia aiwniothta kai mia mera ( Eternity and a Day ) (Angelopoulos) (as Alexander); Gegen Ende der Nacht (Stortz for TV) (as Fehleisen); You Can't Go Home Again (van Esch) (as Narrator)
Panc e tulipani (Soldini) (as Fernando Girasoli); WerAngstWolf (Klopfenstein)
Gedächtnis: Ein Film für Curt Bois und Bernhard Minetti (doc) (+ co-ed, ro)
Interview with D. Overby, in Cinema (Paris), December 1979.
Interview with Walt R. Vian, in Filmbulletin , December 1980.
Interview with Albert Auster & Leonard Quart, in Cineaste (New York), vol. 12, no. 2, 1982.
Interview with Danièle Parra, in Revue du Cinéma (Paris), March 1996.
Dawson, Jan, "A Proper Raincoat Man," in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1979.
Premiere , January 1980.
Retro , August/September 1983.
Film a Doba (Parizska), December 1984.
Manceau, Jean-Louis, "Bruno Ganz," in Cinéma 72 (Paris), 29 January 1986.
Lundgren, H., "Bruno Ganz," in Kosmorama (Copenhagen), Winter 1987.
* * *
There is a small scene in Wim Wenders's film The American Friend , which reveals some of the particular talents of Swiss-German actor, Bruno Ganz. Ganz plays a picture framer; he is seated at a desk in his shop, and absentmindedly takes a sheet of gold leaf and carefully blows it into the palm of his hand so that it adheres completely to the surface. He then slams his palm onto a telephone receiver and makes a call. That moment—like all great moments in film acting—is a piece of behavior that reveals Ganz's character. The action embraces both the delicacy and meticulous nature of Jonathan, the artisan, as well as his latent violence—by the film's end Jonathan is responsible for the murder of several men. Ganz does not call attention to his activity—it is simple, subtle, and low-key. Ganz's performance style is distinguished by an eloquence and precision of physical expression, as well as a bruised sensitivity that haunts his best work.
Ganz is one of the few actors to come to prominence in the heyday of the New German Cinema in the mid-1960s to late 1970s to make a successful and sustained leap to the international art cinema circuit. Before beginning his film career in earnest, Ganz was a mainstay of the West German stage, and a founding member of the Schaubühne, one of Germany's most celebrated and vital theater companies. While still performing on stage in the mid-1970s, Ganz starred in Die Marquise von O , directed by Eric Rohmer, which brought him to prominence among art-house audiences. The following year he acted in the Jeanne Moreau-directed Lumière , as well as playing a leading role in Hans Geissendörfer's film of Ibsen's The Wild Duck . The American Friend featured a trilingual cast (French, German, English), and catapulted both Wim Wenders and Ganz to worldwide recognition. The actor's next crucial role was as the mild-mannered scientist, Berthold Hoffmann, shot in the head by police, who mistake him for a radical activist. The film, Messer Im Kopf , was made at the height of left-wing paranoia and police surveillance in post-Baader-Meinhoff Germany. The part required Ganz to play a man who must completely relearn his cognition, speech, and motor skills. This physically and psychologically demanding portrayal is the result of arduous research combined with the observation and execution of myriad small details of behavior; it is a true, astonishing, and moving feat. Through the constraint of severe expressive limitations, the audience must feel the character's growing anger, frustration, and finally, despair. Ganz, with his usual blend of precision and invention, beautifully delineates a life that is broken, and thrown off course forever. Even as the character's capacity for violence develops in tandem with his faculties, Ganz manages to make his rendition of Hoffmann entirely sympathetic.
Ganz's next interesting role was as Jonathan Harker in Werner Herzog's perverse and beautiful version of Nosferatu—Phantom der Nacht . Although somewhat eclipsed by the delicious eccentricities of Klaus Kinski's eponymous demon, Ganz brings depth and subtlety to Harker's transformation from steadfast paramour to lunatic incarnation of evil, as he assumes Kinski's role of über -vampire at the film's end.
Although he continued to work with such directors as Claude Goretta ( La Provinciale ), Volker Schlöndorff ( Circle of Deceit ), and Alain Tanner ( Dans la Ville Blanche ), the 1980s proved less than exciting for Ganz's career until he reteamed with Wenders for Wings of Desire in 1987, playing the angel, Damiel. As Damiel, one senses a quality of grace and peacefulness that tempers Ganz's earlier angst-filled characterizations. Playing Damiel allows Ganz to deal some of his trump cards—vulnerability, tenderness, and an underlying sadness. When Damiel begins to fall in love with the earthbound trapeze artist, played by Solveig Dommartin, he touches the objects in her room that she has touched, and places his hand on her back. She cannot see or feel him, and the sense of longing that resonates from Ganz in this scene is painful, and deeply felt. When Damiel comes to earth and experiences the pleasures of the material world, the role gives Ganz the opportunity to relish his new physical sensations—drinking hot coffee, feeling cold, hunger, pain—an actor's dream. Ganz returned as Damiel, now a secondary character, in Wenders less successful sequel to Wings of Desire , Faraway, So Close .
Ganz has remained on the international scene through the mid-1990s, continuing his policy of choosing interesting, if uncommercial projects. In Gillian Armstrong's film, Last Days of Chez Nous , Ganz—with German accent intact—plays a homesick Frenchman enmeshed in a failing marriage in Australia. The part gives Ganz a chance to cut loose and display his humor—he has several scenes where he clumsily and delightfully joins in his family's wacky free-form dances. His character is in full midlife crisis, yearning for "more life" in the company of younger women. Ganz's distinctive mix of vulnerability, gentleness, and quiet longing mark this as one of his most fully realized recent performances.