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    Berlinale 61 by Dorothea Holloway

    By Dorothea Holloway | May 26, 2011

    Asghar Farhadi with the Golden Bear for Nader and Simin, A Separation, courtesy Richard Hübner/Berlinale

    Asghar Farhadi with the Golden Bear for Nader and Simin, A Separation, courtesy Richard Hübner/Berlinale

    See also for German version of this post.

    An opening with political gravitas. Before he introduced the International Jury, Dieter Kosslick brought an empty chair on to the stage with a sign bearing the name of Jafar Panahi. The Iranian filmmaker, whose Offside was shown at the Berlinale in 2006 when it was awarded a Silver Bear, had been invited as a member of Jury, but was not allowed to leave his country. The chair remained empty until the end of the festival. The work of the »Filmmaker of the World« was present in the festival’s programme with his films being shown in the Berlinale’s various sections each day. Isabella Rossellini, president of the jury, read out loud an open letter from Jafar Panahi where the artist wrote, among other things: »The world of a filmmaker is marked by the interplay between reality and dreams. The filmmaker uses reality as his inspiration, paints it with the colour of his imagination, and creates a film that is a projection of his hopes and dreams.«

    The past ten years have seen Dieter Kosslick with his marvelous and so friendly team being responsible for the Berlinale and enthusiastically received by the audience. Every morning, there are long queues of patient Berliners who sometimes wait for hours to obtain cinema tickets for a programme that often handles serious and politicial subjects. The film festival enlivens what would otherwise be a rather dull February in Berlin. The heart of the Berlinale is at Potsdamer Platz where Kosslick welcomes his guests and the film fans wait for hours to see the stars from around the globe. Of course, there are also films about culture, art, cuisine, but also crime and slapstick. Moreover, the European Film Market has become well established and Beki Probst is satisfied.

    I know some guests who come from afar for the sake of the Retrospective – this year’s was dedicated to Ingmar Bergman – or to enjoy the eclectic programme offered by the Panorama.

    The Germans love Westerns! John Wayne was, of course, simply brilliant. But the same goes for what the Coen Brothers do. So, the Berlinale had »hit the bulls-eye« by choosing True Grit as the opening film When the retrospective The American Western 1903-1961 was shown at the Oberhausen film festival in 1965, the audience stormed the cinema. There has never been a retrospective as successful since in Oberhausen.

    Gliding with Dino

    Which was one of the nicest films at this year’s Berlinale? Une Vie de Chat (A Cat in Paris) by Alain Gagnol and Jean-Loup Felicioli in Generation Kplus. The tomcat Dino almost glides over the roofs of Paris. Who wouldn’t want to glide with him! My attention was drawn to this masterful animation film by my friend Rolf Giesen. Thank goodness. The film is animated with such clarity and imagination – almost with elegance. I asked a child what they thought about the film: the animation film is funny and the story is exciting was the answer. I didn’t manage to see all of the films in Kplus, but what I saw I thought was very good. For example, Las Malas Intenciones (The Bad Intentions) by Rosario Garcia-Montero and De Sterkste Man van Nederland (The Strongest Man in Holland) by Marc de Cloe. There was also a film in Generation 14plus that I will never forget: Shanza Shu Zhi Lian (Under The Hawthorn Tree) by Zhang Yimou. I have loved this director since 1987 when he was awarded the Golden Bear in Berlin for Hong Gaoliang (Red Sorghum). I then got to know him in Tokyo when he was in the jury there together with Ron. I was privileged to be able to accompany Ron to the festival in Japan.

    The Berlinale’s Competition was opened by Margin Call, JC Chandor’s debut as a feature film director. The »uninformed« among us are shown all the baffling and curious things that are said and manipulated in an investment bank at New York’s Wall Street before the global financial crisis struck. One can admire the actors’ professionalism in the way they portray the elegant brokers and streetwise traders who, above all, are good at figures. Everybody is in a real predicament after a terrible strategic mistake by the bank is discovered. A nighttime crisis meeting is held with the bank chief – Jeremy Irons – being flown in by helicopter. Everything at quite a pace.

    Coriolanus, directed by Ralph Fiennes from the play by William Shakespeare: the poet and actor – a unique double talent – wrote his works, above all, for his actors. So, it was clear then that when Fiennes – highly regarded as a Shakespearean actor – decided to bring Coriolanus to the cinema screen, he would also take on the tragic lead role. Fiennes – proud, effervescent, haughty – is magnificent as Caius Martius who was awarded the hero’s name of Coriolanus for his bravery in the battle for the city of Corrioli. The ensemble in this drama from Ancient Rome is world class. Just to mention two actors: Gerard Butler as Tulius Aufidius, Coriolanus’ opponent, and Vanessa Redgrave as Volumnia, Coriolanus’ mother. A popular uprising – the people are starving – is crushed with martial brutality. The explosive parallels to today are obvious. This is also the intention of the actor-director Fiennes. Coriolanus had German subtitles which I had initially started reading. What a fool I was! After a few minutes I concentrated on listening to Shakespeare’s language as spoken by sublime masters.

    Reflections on Africa

    Sleeping sickness – development aid? Has this aid been capable of doing really good things? What do I know about Africa? And now Schlafkrankheit (Sleeping Sickness) by Ulrich Köhler is shown in the Competition. Köhler lived in Zaire until the age of nine with his parents who were development aid workers in what is now Democratic Republic of Congo. As an adolescent, he wasn’t living in Africa anymore: he studied in France and Germany and made two excellent feature films – Bungalow from 2002 (see the review by Ron Holloway in KINO 78 from 2003) and Montag kommen die Fenster from 2006. Köhler partly shot Sleeping Sickness in the Cameroon at the bush clinic where his parents are now working. The doctor Ebbo Velten is overseeing the sleeping sickness project in the Cameroon seemingly with success since there is only one patient in the whole hospital. Köhler knows this world. Now the doctor is supposed to return to Germany, but Ebbo doesn’t want to or can’t – even though it looks like he is a ›burnt-out‹ case. Has he fallen under Africa’s spell? He is alone. His wife and daughter are living in Wetzlar. The apartment has been cleared out. Ebbo calls his wife. He is crying, but she can’t see this. Alex, a doctor from Paris, comes to the bush hospital. He is supposed to evaluate what has become of the project to combat sleeping sickness. Alex seems to be exactly the right man for the job. His parents come from the Cameroon, he is black. However, Alex is a Frenchman to the core and is totally out of his depth in the dark continent. The journey from the airfield to the hospital in the jet black night, no moon, no street lighting … even those of us sitting in the cinema start to feel queasy. How superbly this is captured by Patrick Orth’s camera. Two fates of almost enigmatic absurdity are brought together by Ulrich Köhler: the white European gets »stuck« in Africa, the black Frenchman simply cannot cope with Africa. Plenty of questions but I also learnt something new. Moreover, Köhler found two convincing actors for the two men: Pierre Bokma is Ebbo Velten and Jean-Christophe Folly was cast as Alex Nzila. The Silver Bear for Best Direction was awarded to Ulrich Köhler for Sleeping Sickness.

    Number one-million-and-one

    Something quite rare happened in the case of Almanya – Willkommen in Deutschland (Almanya) by Yasemin and Nesrin Samdereli: the story of a Turkish family in Germany is told in quite a bouyant and relaxed way, a little turbulent, but also comic and, finally, thoughtful and serious.

    In 1964, the one millionth guest worker was welcomed in Cologne: he was given a moped. Number one-million-and-one – according to the Samdereli sisters – was Hüseyin Yilmaz from Anatolia. Today, he is the proud patriarch of a large Turkish family. He has called everyone together for a meal. His six-year-old grandson Cenk asks: »Who or what am I – German or Turk?« He asks in German, because he has never learnt Turkish. His mother is German and his father a Turk. His older cousin Canan also has a problem: she is pregnant. Her boyfriend isn’t Turkish and isn’t even a German! He’s English, what a surprise! Meanwhile, grandma’s beaming because she has at last received her German passport. Grandad has bought a house in Anatolia – in addition to the one he already has in Germany. Now he gathers the family together to announce that they will all travel in a minibus to Turkey to admire the newly acquired house. Those gathered are not that enthusiastic. In particular, the younger family members want to try out new – modern – ways of living and perhaps forget those traditions which are no longer practical. A wonderfully moving scene is when the parents try to create a kind of Christmas for their children. The Christmas tree is a pitiful twig in a bottle, and the presents aren’t even wrapped.

    In 2004, Alles auf Zucker (Go for Zucker!) by Dani Levy was our Film of the Year (see KINO 83 from 2005). What this fabulous comedy managed for German-Jewish relations is something that the Samdereli sisters also succeed in doing for German-Turkish co-existence.

    Battling Cows

    As I write these lines in March, another week has passed only bringing us more tragic news about the devastating tsunami catastrophe and the nuclear disaster in Japan. I have to suppress these awful images because I want to report about more cheerful ones. For example, in Kampf der Königinnen (Battle of the Queens), the delightful documentary by Nicolas Steiner in the programme of Perspektive Deutsches Kino. The queens are the cows who fight one another, according to the traditions of our fathers and particularly in southern Switzerland. However, it’s more about jousting and shoving, there aren’t any injuries. The first »battle cow« to retreat is the loser. The victorious cow is then decorated fit for a queen and leads the herd when they go up to the mountain pastures. The fights – wonderfully captured in black-and-white by cinematographer Markus Nestroy – thus have a deeper meaning. Steiner observes a farmer as he trains his cow for battle, accompanies a young reporter who is having to prepare his first reportage amidst these exciting goings-on that have transformed into a folk festival and even attract tourists as well as young chaps on the lookout for pretty peasant girls and cowgirls. Music is part and parcel of a folk festival, and the music here is really special – composed by John Gürthler and Jan Miserre! These jodlers, the singing and the Alpenhorns are reason enough for me to want see and hear this unique documentary again! I am now curious to see the next film from Nicolas Steiner. Battle of the Queens – probably the section’s most cheerful film  – was produced by the Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg in Ludwigsburg.

    »To live your life is not as simple as to cross a field« could be regarded as the rather severe motto for the Perpektive’s well-composed programme. To be sure, entertainment is important, but I think Linda Söffker and her team are more interested in enlightenment and reflectiveness. What can a thirtysomething architect expect when he is confronted with the renovation of a high density housing area in a small Thuringian town where he spent his childhood? An answer is given by Elke Hauck in her film Der Preis (The Prize). Meanwhile, writer-director Annekatrin Hendel’s documentary Vaterlandsverräter manages to interview an inofficial informer of the former GDR’s secret police who blew his own cover after 20 years. But, once with the Stasi, always with the Stasi! The committed Communist (?), a writer in his 70s, is a perpetrator – but is he also a victim? Anna Hepp, a writer-director who is also her own camerawoman and editor, followed two families with German and Turkish backgrounds over the course of a month with her camera. Well, we’re back again with our »favourite subject«:  building bridges between different cultures. The 60-minute documentary Rotkohl und Blaukraut was made in the Ruhr region which reminds me of that unforgettable and moving line from a veteran soldier from the First World War to a young lieutenant in Carl Zuckmayer’s Des Teufels General when he says that there »has always been a cultural mix, people were attracted from all points of the compass to the Rhein, resulting in a cheerful race with a robust Ruhr humour.« Hepp studied Pedagogy and Philosophy, trained as a photographer and then graduated in 2009 in Film and Art from Cologne’s Academy for Media Arts (KHM). I am curious now to see the portrait she is working on about Hilmar Hoffmann (cf. Ronald and Dorothea Holloway’s book O is For Oberhausen: Wege zum Nachbarn from 1979).

    The feature film Die Ausbildung (The Education) by Dirk Lütter really touched me! A 20-year-old trainee is asked by his boss to keep an eye on his colleagues and report what he has seen and heard to the head of human resources! He is, in effect, being groomed as a spy. What kind of intrigues are people prepared to follow! An important film, quiet and unruffled – the thing is, I get upset about such »education.«

    It’s drummed into us almost on a permanent basis that we will all get older and decrepit– however, there won’t be enough carers. Writer-director Susan Gordanshekan’s short fiction film Eisblumen (Ice Flowers) focuses on an illegal immigrant, a young Bosnian, who is caring for a frail elderly German woman. So, that’s possible, we hope – but in vain. She is moved into an old people’s home, he is deported. The Perspektive’s powerful documentaries are completely lacking any mawkishness and encourage reflection. The same goes for another short feature Weisst Du eigentlich, dass ganz viele Blumen blühen im Park (You Know The Park Is Filled With Flowers) by Lothar Herzog and the feature film Lollipop Monster by Ziska Riemann, co-scripted with Luci van Org. The friends Ari and Oona are trying to cope with their lives. They lurch about helplessly.  Oona is melancholic and dark, and Ari, gaudy, flashy and blonde try to help one another. They are naturally looking for what is true and suffer from the embarrassment of their parents who are out of their depth. And there aren’t any role models for the young generation! That is also an important issue in other films. Julia Brandes was rightly awarded the Femina Film Prize for her costume design in Lollipop Monster.

    Thirtysomethings’ problems

    As in Cannes 2010 (see KINO 98), Korean films were also well represented at the 61st Berlinale with ten films, including one in the Competition: Saranghanda, Saranghaji Anneunda (Come Rain, Come Shine), the second film by Lee Yoon-Ki whose impressive debut This Charming Girl screened in the Forum 2005.  Recently – and particularly in Western societies – the films often present the problems of the thirtysomethings who actually have everything: good jobs and a good livelihood. But the most important thing is missing: the meaning of life. This »me-generation« is spiritually empty! What can they still get involved in? Cooking or looking after animals like cats or dogs.  Lee Yoon-Ki shows a couple who live in a nice spacious apartment, but no longer have anything to say to one another. When she eventually opens her mouth, it is to tell him quite dispassionately that she is going to leave him. Outside, it keeps on raining, and a cat appears on the roof of their storehouse. Well, now they have something together… Terrible, I also know people here in Germany who care more about cats and dogs than about their fellow man. Come Rain, Come Shine is a film I won’t forget that quickly.

    The same goes for The Future by Miranda July: again, the story is about a couple aged about 35 and this film also features a cat – who speaks to the audience with the voice of Miranda July who is responsible for screenplay and direction as well as playing the female lead of Sophie. Sophie has been muddling along for a few years together with Jason (Harmish Linklater). Everything seems fine and OK, or perhaps it isn’t? Jason is a computer expert and Sophie a ballet teacher – but there’s the fear of being left on the shelf. There must be something else before we turn 40 and then 50 – so, what will the future be like?  A profound subject told with a light touch by a woman who can do almost everything: she is an actress, writer, musician and a director.  In 2005, July received the Caméra d’Or in Cannes for Me And You And Everyone We Know.

    Alarming Topicality

    An alarming report from Japan: the worst case scenario in Fukushima with alert level 7 accident – that is the same level as registered in Chernobyl 25 years ago. We have a ticking time bomb in Japan. Fukushima will become a permanent exclusion zone. Tokyo wants to forbid former  inhabitants from entering the zone.

    The Competition presented Alexander Mindadze’s drama V Subbotu (Innocent Saturday) which tells the story set in April 1986 of a young drummer Valery Kabysh who is a loyal party official. Valery is the first one in the neighbourhood to see the nuclear reactor in Chernobyl on fire. He runs into the nearby town of Prypyat to warn the population. But it is such a lovely Saturday, it’s springtime and a friend is celebrating his wedding… That’s how it’s supposed to have been. A nuclear accident is never over. Innocent Saturday opened in German cinemas on April 21 to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl catastrophe on April 26. Special screenings of the drama were also being organized for school groups.

    Panorama Favourites

    The diversity of the Panorama’s programme means that I didn’t want to miss out any film, but here I will name my favourite films. First and foremost, Grimme Prize-winner Britta Wauer’s documentary Im Himmel unter der Erde (In Heaven Underground) about the Jewish cemetery in Weißensee. When Ron had friends visiting from the  USA, they naturally always went to the Brandenburg Gate, and then to Schloß Sanssouci in Potsdam, and also to the cemetery in Weißensee. Tanja Meding has written about the film in this issue.

    As a fan of Rosa von Praunheim, I saw his documentary Die Jungs vom Bahnhof Zoo (Rent Boys) with a mixture of interest and sadness. The boys are now men who, in some cases, are still suffering from the terrible things done to them as children in this dangerous subculture. A quote from the film: »Whoever comes into the hustler scene at an early age loses the best time of his life.« What really shocked me was that this subject isn’t history, but is still very much in existence! On April 16, 2011, the state prosecutor accused three Berliners of human trafficking and sexual exploitation of children.

    Wieland Speck also had some ambitious portraits in this year’s Panorama. Cyril Tuschi is, in fact, the first person who has managed to interview Mikhail Khodorkovsky in front of the camera for Khodorkovsky. However, the ex-oligarch sits behind the glass screen in the courtroom and remains an enigmatic person; he smiles and seems unbowed. We would like to know more – what is going on in the new Russia?!

    An absolute must is the documentary by Elfi Mikesch, Mondo Lux – Die Bilderwelt des Werner Schroeter (Mondo Lux – The Visual Worlds of Werner Schroeter). Mikesch wrote the script and is naturally also behind the camera. The two unique artists were able to relate to one another, only Mikesch could observe Schroeter with such sensitivity in his last years brimming over with energy, full of ideas and intensity. Colleagues such as Isabelle Huppert, Wim Wenders and Ingrid Caven speak about Schroeter, and extracts from his works provide ample proof of his uniqueness. Werner Schroeter died on April 12, 2010.

    Peter Dörfler’s documentary about Rolf Eden, The Big Eden, had its world premiere in the Berlinale’s Panorama where it was enthusiastically received. Everyone knows – and this is particularly the case in Berlin – that Rolf Eden is Germany’s last real playboy! Dörfler – who combines directing chores with being a cinematographer and editor on his film – succeeds in delivering not only an entertaining, but also a very congenial and impressive portrait of this 81-year-old bon vivant. Rolf Eden’s Jewish family emigrated to Haifa in 1933. In 1952, Eden was working in Paris as a waiter, taxi-driver and pianist in a bar. In 1957, he opened his first jazz club, the »Old Eden Saloon« in Berlin. He organized the first beauty contest and also dabbled in film – with 30 parts! The »world was at home« in his unique club BIG EDEN on Ku’damm from 1967. In 2002, Eden sold his club. He comes to the film’s premiere in Kino International in a black Rolls Royce with a ravishly beautiful blonde on his arm – she is younger than his granddaughter. Rolf  Eden has six sons and one daughter from seven women. His presence is impressive. I like him – and he likes himself.

    I have never been to Ireland, but I’m sure that I’d like the people there. After all, Heinrich Böll did and wrote about it in his Irish Journal: A Traveller’s Portrait of Ireland (Irisches Tagebuch) in 1957. As we see in John Michael Mc Donagh’s The Guard, which also screened in the Panorama, there are still some real original characters on the Emerald Isle. Sergant Gerry Boyle – wonderfully portrayed by Brendan Gleeson with his wrinkled-up face – has so much »on his plate« that the small-town cop can’t even worry about the dead body found in a holiday flat. But then a FBI agent appears on the scene  – played by Don Cheadle, who is just right for the part like everyone else in this Irish-UK-Argentine co-production. This agent says that a narcotics shipment worth 500 million dollars is about to be delivered. Now things start moving – and our cop perks up! In a break from writing this report, I turned on the television to see the news and came upon a German film with Heinz  Rühmann, Das schwarze Schaf, directed by Helmut Ashley from 1960. My suggestion would be to screen The Guard and Das schwarze Schaf as a special double feature since both of them are crime comedies and set in Ireland!

    Suffering mustn’t be suppressed. In Albania, there are still cases where people are victims of blood feuds. This is portrayed by Joshua  Marston in The Forgiveness of Blood. That makes the Competition entry so important. The American filmmaker worked on the well crafted script with the Albanian Andamion Murataj. Traditions like blood feuds, which are out of date and destroy lives, should be abolished as soon as possible in the 21st century!

    Ron rated the documentaries of Andres Veiel very highly: Black Box BRD was our Film of the Year 2001 (cf. KINO 76) and Die Spielwütigen (Addicted to Acting) was our Documentary  Film of the Year (cf. KINO 83). In Wer wenn nicht wir (cf. review in this issue), Bernward Vesper and Gudrun Ensslin meet at the beginning of the 60s in Tübingen. Veiel  then follows the political upheaval of these two »bourgeois children« over some 10 years. Gudrun leaves Bernward, »falls« for Andreas Baader and goes into the gun-toting underground. Bernward takes drugs, falls ill, and writes his novel Die Reise which he never finishes. In 1971, he then takes his own life in a clinic in Hamburg. Markus Imhoof covered this in his film Die Reise (The Journey) (cf. KINO 23).

    The delightful French film Tomboy by writer-director Celine Sciamma – with the enchanting Zoe Heran  as both Laure and Mikael – was shown in the Panorama and Generation Kplus. And rightly so. Tomboy, more a sensitive comedy than an  »issue film«, focuses on the question:  »Am I a boy, am I a girl?« Laure would like to be Mikael. She is surprisingly good at it – and a great football-player… but … I had to think of Rosalinde who pretends to be Ganymed in Shakespeare’s As You Like it.

    For some time now, highly acclaimed films have been coming from Iran, and Ron had always awaited them with bated breath. The Competition at this year’s Berlinale featured Asghar Farhadi’s film Nadar and Simin, A Separation. When speaking about this masterful award-winner, I can only repeat what Martin Blaney wrote in the Berlinale Bulletin in this issue: »The family drama had been a hot favourite for the top honours from the moment of its international premiere in the Competition halfway through the Berlinale. It was warmly received by both critics and audiences alike.« Nadar and Simin are appearing in front of the divorce judge. An everyday story happening everywhere in the world. But it is the way Farhadi shows why Simin, the wife, wants to leave the country with their daughter and how the husband Nadar insists that the daughter stays with him in Teheran because he doesn’t want to leave his sick father – this makes us reflect, empathise and feel moved. Simin moves out of their family flat to her parents, and Nadar employs the carer Razieh to look after his father: she is pregnant and needs the money. Her husband mustn’t get to hear about this. When Razieh has to wash the sick man, she calls a hotline for religious questions … Yes, as a female carer, she may wash the sick man. But it becomes more complicated and tragic. Nadar and Simin come from different social strata, and their world views can’t be reconciled. What’s worse, they insult one another and file suits. We become witnesses to a drama in which we are unable to intervene or help. All done without any kind of razzle-dazzle, highly explosive as well as being political. Nadar and Simin, A Separation received the Berlinale’s main prize, the Golden Bear, as well as Silver Bears for the male and female acting ensembles.

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