Thursday, January 11, 2007

Berlin and Beyond 12: Opening Night

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'. This is its 12th year, and this will be my first year in which I am attending.

For Opening Night, the Institute hosted a reception before the film, at the Castro Theatre's mezzanine. It's a bit crowded up there for such a throng of partiers, but I was able to snag a fabulous bowl of stew (it is COLD here!) and some Pellegrino before scampering back downstairs to warm up my seat, for what would feel to be a long night.

The evening officially commenced with the requisite review of past trailers for the festival, and then the speeches. The Goethe-Institut Executive Director, Ulrich Everding, and festival programmer, Ingrid Eggers, proved to be not so stirringly adept at addressing a crowd of 1,200, who just spent an hour eating and drinking upstairs. As well intentioned and hard working as I am sure the two of them are, they simply need to BUMP IT UP, if they are going to launch a week long program of films to an otherwise mildly interested audience. Anyway, Ms. Eggers introduced the director of tonight's film, Andreas Dresen, who proved to be quite charming and self deprecating in his introduction of:

"Summer in Berlin" ("Sommer Vorm Balkon") (dir. Andreas Dresen, Germany, 2005, 105 mins.) I almost felt that director Andreas Dresen attempted to create a critic proof film: the performances are fine, if not exceptional; the script has its moments; the cinematography is lovely; the pacing is at least competent. However, it felt like it was 3 hours long. He simply threw in so much in order to capture the audience that, I for one, was turned off.

Nadja Uhl is simply gorgeous and a technically gifted comic actress, playing a sex-bomb of a home nurse, who becomes inexplicably attracted to a total prick of a lover. Aye, there is the rub, as far as her plot line is concerned. Uhl is obviously such an intelligent actress that it was extremely difficult to believe the character would allow herself to be placed in the position she is. However, Uhl does a near masterful job in justifying the romantic (or lack there of) predicament. Her face conveys a myriad of mental contradictions as the craziness around her ultimately spins out of melodramatic control.

Inka Friedrich plays her best friend and unemployed divorced mother of a teenage son. In contrast to Uhl's near comic technique, Friedrich's style is more naturalistic, as is her plot line. Friedrich's situation is what drives the film into DRAMA (yes, all CAPS!).

Though Dresen may be hedging his entertainment bets by playing these two opposing stories, he doesn't allow the audience to fully commit to either character. I found myself having to choose which one I would follow, and thus the other became an interruption. By continually swinging moods, not only are we unable to become fully comfortable and empathetic with either character, but the ensuing episodic nature of the plot becomes tiresome. He disrupts his own momentum by wanting us to be surprised or shocked by the next turn of events. This only makes the 105 minutes feel like 200. Seriously, I was shocked to see that the film was over in LESS than two hours!

However, with the unfocused, if overly ambitious, screenplay by Wolfgang Kohlhaase aside, the production values and performances are all executed well enough that it is understandable to see why the film has distribution. Director Dresen displays a fine visual sense, however he seems to lack control over the material.

Maxxxxx says: "Is it bedtime?"

1 comment:

Netta said...

Excellent, excellent review, Jay! Always a pleasure to read what you have to say! You have such a way of hitting the nail on the head!