Saturday, January 17, 2009

Berlin and Beyond 2009 - Day 2

The Goethe-Institut San Francisco's annual festival of films from Germany, Austria and Switzerland, affectionately titled Berlin and Beyond continues its week long stay at the Castro Theatre until Wednesday, January 21, 2009.

THE WAVE DIE WELLE (dir. Dennis Gansel, Germany, 2008, 102 mins.) [Viewed via screener] Director Dennis Gansel has taken the risky move of transplanting the true story of a 1967 California high school experiment (that was also the subject of a memorable ABC After School Special), involving the establishment of an autocracy within a classroom setting and how easily fascism can take hold of a group of individuals, to a German school. The opening moments in which the students express disbelief that fascism could ever take Germany again, mixed with the the students ennui of another lesson about the Nazi regime, establish the exceptional setting. However, after that brief introduction, the story becomes a universally applicable warning of the pain of teenage alienation. The production does cross a melodramatic line, though in this post-Columbine world, may not be as implausible as it is dramatically played out. Part of Gansel's challenge here is it begs comparison to the work of Larry Clark or Gus Van Sant. The performances lack the spontaneity that American audiences have come accustomed to. On one hand, I began to feel that this was something of a "safety net" for Gansel, and that taking a cinema verite' approach would be too controversial for the German public. The production values are relatively glossy for this genre and there is something of a polished, dare I say, WB network feel to it.

THE ICEBOMB DIE EISBOMBE (dir. Oliver Jahn, Germany, 2008, 94 mins.) Well, I just sort of lost track of what was happening here. At first, I thought I must have dozed off at an extremely important moment. But as the film continued on its inconsistent path, both in setting and relationships, I realized I was watching a Donnie Darko-wannabe, at best. The piece seemed to be forcing its quirkiness and over reached into tragedy. The opening event, the plummeting of frozen airplane waste product into a family's home, exposes and magnifies the neurosis of each member of the family. The central character is the eldest son, who is trying to escape this familial madness, as it were. However, he is just as much of a mess, and the screenplay does not give the audience any relief from all this awkwardness and I only became annoyed.

A HERO’S WELCOME NACHT VOR AUGEN (dir. Brigitte Maria Bertele, Germany, 2008, 102 mins.) This fairly disturbing film ended a day of angst, but at least it was effective! The film is a portrait of a returning soldier with post traumatic stress disorder. Hanno Koffler's performance as the veteran of a Bundeswehr mission in Afghanistan, is tightly wound and heartbreakingly painful. He gives an exceptionally measured and revealing performance, and maintains an intriguing character arc that kept me captivated, even at its most hysteria fueled moments. As a counterpoint, his character is faced with relating to his eight year old step brother, played by Jona Ruggaber. The young brother is cast by a nearly unbearably cute kid. Director Bertele came awfully close on losing me with this casting, as I hate "cute", and the innocence of the young brother is nearly overplayed. He is given a character arc this is nearly as challenging as Koffler's and it isn't necessarily a fair challenge. (It is a role that would be suitable for a young Freddie Highmore, perhaps.) Though I understand the attempt at contrasting worlds, if not souls, Koffler and Ruggaber are perhaps too far apart in personality and skill. However, in the end, Koffler's performance is so outstanding that some of the glitches, which are many, especially in the screenplay's confusing change of settings (just how many places does the soldier live in?), are forgiven.

Maxxxxx says
re THE WAVE: "Sweet, sweet eye juice!"
re THE ICEBOME: "Is it bedtime?"
re A HERO'S WELCOME: "Such a mean bird!"

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