Sunday, January 18, 2009

Berlin and Beyond 2009 - Day 3

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 INVENTION OF CURRIED SAUSAGE (DIE ENTDECKUNG DER CURRYWURST) (dir. Ulla Wagner, Germany, 2008, 104min.) The film is set in Hamburg, Germany, near the end of WWII, where a middle-aged woman meets a young sailor on leave, that begins an illicit affair which takes an obsessive turn, or at least that's what is in the screenplay. Barbara Sukowa, who plays the woman, is such an appealing and attractive presence, that she just doesn't seem to plumb the depths of obsession and/or denial that her character should be experiencing. It is an incredibly complicated character on paper, as she is dealing with: 1) the absence of her husband and son; 2) the presence of a man who reminds her of her son (Oedipal?); 3) her near captivity of the sailor; 4) the revelation of the Holocaust; 5) etc.! (I found myself thinking that Meryl Streep would knock this one out of the ballpark!) And as easy as it is to watch Sukowa work, by the end, I really felt that she only scratched the surface of the script for what could have been, and probably should have been, a cathartic experience. The role dominates what is nearly a two-character play. Alexander Khuon plays the AWOL sailor with an increasing, pent-up energy. However, he is not allowed to explode, as his "moment" is actually off screen, which only emphasizes the dramatic responsibility that Sukowa carries. It is a complicated story of love, obsession, truth and lies which was actually bittersweet, if not "enjoyable", where it probably should have been "painful".

BIRD’S NEST - Herzog & De Meuron in China (dirs. Christoph Shaub and Michael Schindhelm, Switzerland, 2008, 88 mins.) Part of my disappointment in this documentary about the creation and construction of the "bird's nest" stadium for the 2008 Beijing Olympics was that I walked into it with the hope for an expose' in the style of D.A. Pennebaker. Even though we know the ending, there was a potential for some suspense as to the project meeting its deadline against the odds of the Chinese bureaucracy and the drama ensuing from the cultural differences between the Chinese "client" and the Swiss architects. However, what the film seemed to get caught up in was the architectural principles of Herzog and De Meuron and how they applied them to this project. There is some explanation of the Chinese architectural style and some comparison of the two. The end result being a fairly DRY analysis of how the two architectural cultures met for the various projects involved. (The film also touches upon the a civic redevelopment project in a Beijing suburb.) As much as I try to consider myself as a "documentary purist", in this case, a little drama would have been welcome!

CLOUD 9 (WOLKE 9) (dir. Andreas Dresen, Germany, 2008, 95 mins.) Oh my. It's not that I am shocked by the concept of "senior sexuality". I just haven't really seen it performed so explicitly as it is in this sexual triangle, performed by Ursula Werner, Horst Rehberg and Horst Westphal. Director Andreas Dresen gathered the three actors to specifically improvise upon the theme of sex, so there really isn't much focus on dialogue, or on what little dialogue there is. In fact, it is nearly Pinter-esque in the way the actors are able to perform in silence. They are obviously extremely skilled and able to portray life-long bonds within the slightest gestures. Werner is in nearly every frame and she carries the film with an unexpected, if not alarming intensity. It is a credit to the performers, as well as director Dresen, that the visual aspect of naked septuagenarians doesn't overwhelm the film. In other words, by the ending, I walked out thinking about the power of Ursula Werner's performance (I bet she's an awesome MEDEA!) and not about all that flesh on display. The film was followed by a Q&A with director Andreas Dresen and moderated by the always dry and delightful Ingrid Eggers, the festival director. This was one of the very few Q&As that I stayed for, just to get a clearer idea of how Dresen and his cast created this unusually intimate film. Plus, I wanted to know, "What's up with the trains?" Oh, that's something you have to see to understand...

Maxxxxx says
re THE INVENTION OF CURRIED SAUSAGE: "Such a pretty bird!"
re BIRD'S NEST: "Birdie boarding school"
re CLOUD 9: [squawking mating calls]

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