Friday, January 12, 2007

Berlin and Beyond 12: Days 1, 2 and 3

The bleakness of the Bavarians is overwhelming me. I am grouping the "Berlin and Beyond" film festival into two recaps: 'Days 1, 2 and 3' and then the final two days I will be attending ('Days 4 and 5'). (I will be out of town for Closing Night.)

Apparently, 'Berlin and Beyond' does some educational outreach, as there was a line of KIDS at 1 p.m. for "Lapislazuli - Im Auge des Baren" (dir. Wolfgang Murnberger, Austria/Germany, 2006, 106 mins.). The stunning and gorgeous scenery of the Alps, breathtakingly photographed here, is the backdrop of this sincere 'Encino Man Meets Heidi' for the adolescent set. Actually, I am being overly glib. The story involves a cosmically revived neanderthal teenager and the runaway girl who befriends him. Never once did the film condescend to its target audience, nor does it feature any cheap jokes or pratfalls. The two lead child actors avoided the trap of being 'cute' and were actually working quite hard. The majority of the film involves the two of them learning to communicate. The boy's language proves not to be improvised gibberish, but a scripted 'language'. Needless to say, his 'language' is not subtitled, which is an interesting move as we become a part of the learning process, too. By the latter sequences in the film, they are speaking his language to each other, yet we are able to understand what they're talking about. That little subplot/exercise just sort of fascinated me. It also made its REAL lesson about preparing for and surviving through the death of a loved one, not as harsh! On the 'Berlin Bleakness Scale' of 1 to 10 (10 being suicidal), this was a 6.

After the kids left the theatre is was back to what would become standard adult fare. "Winter Journey" ("Winterreise") (dir. Hans Steinbichler, Germany, 2006, 95 mins.) took me to the edge of what I call my "Gasper Noe Threshold", in that we are witnessing a hateful character, doing hateful things to less than sympathetic victims. At least no one was raped or brutally assaulted. Josef Bierbichler is incredible as a late-middle aged man suffering from extreme manic-depression. He dives into the the manic phases with the gusto of a true ham! However, during the 'calm periods', he is able to display a subtle and naturalistic film technique. Hanna Schygulla plays his wife and has taken the near brilliant choice of almost complete stillness around him. You can see the years of pain and eventual numbness in the way she just stares at him and past him during his manic episodes. The film also helped me understand what is really behind some of the lieder, as the title refers to Schubert's song cycle "Winterreise". I have never seen or heard the 'emotional back story' of lieder so compellingly expressed as the way that Bierbichler performs them. His song sequences are perhaps the most moving moments of the film. As the story spirals to its inevitable and tragic conclusion, there is actually a sense of relief. I don't want to give away a spoiler here, but the final action that Bierbichler's character takes in the film, as tragic as it is, felt nearly heroic. This is easily my favorite film of the festival, so far! On the "Berlin Bleakness Scale", this was a solid 8.5.

Next, if Larry ("Kids") Clark were working in Germany, he would have made "Tough Enough" ("Knallhart") (dir. Detlev Buck, Germany, 2006, 98 mins.). Of course, that assumes that he would adapt to the apparently nihilistic adolescent pain and violence of being a poor teenager in a crime ridden neighborhood of Berlin. The beatings that the lead character takes (played with impressive range by David Kross), after newly arriving from the suburbs, are difficult to watch. Oh, that was not a spoiler by the way, as these beatings are a main element of the plot. It is his struggle to assimilate to this new 'culture' that drives the film. However, director Detlev Buck chose hand held video and washed out all the color, except for the reds (emphasizing blood?), to deliver this journey into teenage-gangland hell. It is a cold and, yes I will use THAT word again, BLEAK looking film. It is nearly cinema-verite' in its style, which some may find completely engulfing. I found it strangely alienating, myself. There was simply TOO MUCH work at making sure we were going to be depressed by this. The "Berlin Bleakness Scale" is a solid 9 for "Tough Enough".

And THAT was enough for one day for me, as I passed on a documentary about the Hindenburg which ended that day. Going into Day 2, I had social plans for the evening and would only be able to attend one film.

The matinees at "Berlin and Beyond" would seem to be dedicated to young audiences. "Wild Chicks" ("Die Wilden Hühner") (dir. Vivian Naefe, Germany, 2006, 108 mins.) is apparently based on a popular series of children's books by Cornelia Funke. Without knowing that as I watched, it played out like a feature length Nickelodeon series to me. The performances of the ensemble of 9 pre-adolescents were pretty much of the standard 'tv series' fare. Unlike the young performers in "Lapislazuli..." who displayed an intimate knowledge of the characters and their predicament (they were very well rehearsed!), the kids in "Wild Chicks" appear to have been cast more for their personalities than their skills. The girls prove to be more successful in their performances as the gang, 'The Wild Chicks'. However, the boys (playing their rival gang, 'the Pygmies') are set up more as sidekicks, and actually mysteries to the girls, so their characters are out of the range of the skills of the actors. I may be dwelling on the performers more than usual here, however the script itself is so underwritten it relies on the charm of its characters/actors to carry the film. The two gangs are brought together in a struggle against various decisions being made by the adults they are surrounded by. The film becomes quite episodic here, as each event is tackled and resolved before moving on to the next challenge. It would play as well had it been edited into 20 minute episodes and shown on television. As far as the 'Berlin Bleakness Meter' is concerned, despite the bright colors and nearly 'CUTE' (I. Hate. Cute.) cast, the subject matter of the episodes (killing pets, environmental destruction, child abuse) earns it a '5'.

I began Day 3 by passing on the 'kids matinee' and going straight into the first of two short subject programs. There were only 6 pieces included in the program (sometimes these shorts programs have a good DOZEN!), so I felt fairly comfortable that this would be painless and (dare I say it?) not as BLEAK as the weekend was proving to be. In preferential order:

"Delivery" (dir. Till Nowak, Germany, 2006, 15 mins.) was a lovely looking animated fantasy, that turned the world into a Dali-like dream, as a man is able to physically manipulate and change the BLEAK world he lives in. That's about all I can say about it, though I REALLY thought it was clever and looked great! 'Berlin Bleakness Scale' = 6

"Exploding Buds" ("Knospen Wollen Explodieren") (dir. Petra Schröder, Germany, 2006, 20 mins.) This was sort of a musical fantasy or something that wasn't making any real sense to me, but it had a really bizarre production design, quirky musical numbers and trippy cinematography. And it was not overly bleak, even if the heroine had a habit of killing the men she would be infatuated with by falling on them from great heights and tossing their injured bodies over a cliff. 'Berlin Bleakness Scale' = 4.

"Leroy Cleans Up" ("Leroy Raumt Auf") (dir. Armin Völckers, Germany, 2006, 17 mins.) A young black man, who embraces an early 1970's style, ponders life in Germany. There was a LOT of very clever dialogue about what it means to live in present day Germany. The added hook that he is engaged to a white girl, whose brothers are skinheads and have adopted him as one of their own, was a clever bit that didn't get old over the 17 minutes. 'Berlin Bleakness Scale' = 4, just because of the threatened violence and language of the various skinhead gangs.

"Ego Sum Alpha et Omega" (dir. Jan-Peter Meier, Germany, 2006, 7 mins.) and "Promenade D'Apres Midi" (dir. Claire Walka, Germany, 2006, 4 mins.) were both short, surreal and painless, though hardly memorable. 'Berlin Bleakness Scale' = 6 and 2.

Finally, "Mozart Minute" (dirs. 26 of them, Germany/Austria and Beyond, 2006, 32 mins.) The catalog description: "26 well-known filmmakers residing in Austria have been invited by WIENER MOZARTJAHR 2006 organisation to create associative miniatures on the subject of Mozart. The task: an artistic short film of one-minute duration." The catalog then lists the 26 filmmakers, none of whom I am at all familiar with. With the exception of one, MAYBE TWO (as I can't remember a second one off the top of my head) of these, the entirety of the collection was artistic crap. The great majority of work had nothing I could connect to Mozart. On the other hand, some of it was too simplistic and obvious. And to display 26 over a half hour had the effect of watching a collection of bad commercials. 'Berlin Bleakness Scale' = 7, just because it was tiresome crap.

I thought the next program held some promise as it referred to 'fantasy versus reality.' However, the title sort of sets the mood. "The Boy Without Qualities" ("Der Junge ohne Eigenschaften") (dir. Thomas Stiller, Germany, 2005, 96 mins.) was 'spoiled' by the catalog description. However, with or without that spoiler, this exceptionally understated and underplayed story of a boy's struggle with schizophrenia (though not so mentally induced as physically - aye! That's where the spoiler lies!) continued down the bleak pathway that was laid out earlier this weekend by "Winter Journey". However, the resolution is not as tragic, though the events surrounding the boy are even more melodramatic. There was a scene (ok, HERE are spoilers!) where the boy was visiting the stroke victimized father of his mugged and sexually assaulted girlfriend (which was partially due to the fact that he just stood there staring at the attack since his schizo'ed brain thought he was actually defending her), that I began to giggle. This was the latest in a series of beyond Dickens-esque dramas and tragedies that had befallen the boy. And because of his mental and emotional problems, as each event occurs around him, he is simply paralyzed in his fantasy world. That said, the film actually does allow a small ray of hope at its conclusion, where after 94 BLEAK minutes some music is actually underscored in a scene! My friend Jimmy attended this with me and asked, "Is this what all of these have been like?!" Yes, on the 'Berlin Bleakness Scale' this ranks a solid 8.

The final film of the weekend was the "Best First Feature Award" winner. "Valerie" (dir. Birgit Möller, Germany, 2006, 80 mins.) is a glossy looking story of an unemployed model's descent into homeless destitution. Agata Buzek is simply gorgeous, if not painfully thin, as model from Poland who is finding life in Berlin to be too much to handle. If it were not for the gorgeous cinematography as well as the exceptional production design and costume and styling of Buzek, I might have found this to be more painful than it was. To only emphasize the BLEAKNESS quotient, Director Möller sets the film on the week of Christmas and takes us on (another?!) inevitable near tragic spiral and then leaves us there in an ambiguous resolution. I assume she survives. Somehow. 'Berlin Bleakness Scale' = 8.

I continue on Monday and Tuesday...

Maxxxxx says in response to the BLEAKNESS of it all, "Is it time for shower?"

Berlin and Beyond is the annual film festival sponsored by the Goethe-Institut San Francisco. The festival concentrates on German language film, though expands to neighboring Bavarian countries as well, aka 'and Beyond'.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great joy, honey! I am so sorry you are overwhelmed by the gloominess of it all, but, oh baby, do you ever write wonderfully! xoxoxo Netta