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    42nd Hof Film Festival 2008

    By Ron Holloway | November 3, 2008

    Nicknamed “HOF – Home Of Films” by such festival stalwarts as Werner Herzog and Wim Wenders, the 42nd Hof Film Festival (21-26 October 2008) has survived into its fifth decade due to the unwavering commitment of its founder director-programmer Heinz Badewitz to what was known back then as “New German Cinema” and today still prospers under its present ”German New Wave” label. The festival’s open secret? Soccer and cigarettes. And the hubris of its programmer. Hof faithful had regularly pilgered to this Bavarian town, conveniently situated between Berlin and München, only for the fun of watching, and participating in, the annual Saturday morning soccer match between the local “Hofer Amateur Team” and a thrown-together ”Hofer Film Club” – the latter made up of filmmakers with a bit more on their minds than just wondering how to coax money from a funding commission. Sometimes in the past, when Werner Herzog or Sönke Wortmann were captains of the Hofer Film Club, the filmmakers did manage to win a hard-fought, bloody-nose affair. That is, when Werner’s high-flying kicks might net a surprising goal.

    But no matter – later, back in the Central venue of the festival’s four-screen quad, everyone celebrated over beer and bratwurst while watching the latest NGC discovery, albeit through a hanging pale of nicotine smoke. Indeed, Hof’s dubious fame of being the only film festival that allowed smoking during screenings had remained intact until only recently, when public places were finally – and fortunately – declared off-limits for smokers. That nation-wide ban is what brought me back to Hof. That, and the feeling that German cinema is currently experiencing a renaissance of sorts.

    Whether or not Heinz Badewitz has played an important role in the surgence and re-surgence of New German Cinema over the past four decades is open to question. What is undisputed, however, is that he proudly hindered the growth of German cinema during its lean years via a loudly proclaimed and dubious policy of claiming “the right of the first night” for promising German productions. With a twinkle in his eye, plus a handful of key critics on his side, Heinz always claimed that this is what German distributors and sales agents demanded of him. Thus, festivals in other German cities – Saarbrücken, München, Mannheim-Heidelberg, Leipzig, Cottbus – had no right to intrude on his “first German screening rights” given the nature of the game. Today, every German film professional rejects the argument as hogwash.

    The deathknell came seven years ago, when, in 2001, the Filmkunstmesse Leipzig (Leipzig Film Art Market) was launched as an important forum for cooperative exchange between film distributors and exhibitors. Scheduled in late September, one month before Hof’s dates, the Leipzig Film Art Market offers a platform at which participants can sift through German productions before they are released. And, guess what, Hof still prospers today by sharing – instead of hindering – the wealth of promising German film talent.

    Wolfsburg – Jerichow

    The highlight of Hof 2008 was Christian Petzold’s Jerichow, fresh from the Venice film festival and yet another proof that this visionary craftsman is well on his way to becoming one of Europe’s outstanding directors. Jerichow, its title referring to an East German town, is a reprise of Petzold’s Wolfsburg (2003), that title referring to a West German city. Both films starred Nina Höss and Benno Fürmann in similar tales of unrequited love against a fatal background of death and betrayal. Leaning heavily on the James M. Cain hardboiled classic, Jerichow never drifts very far from the erotic thriller action in his seminal 120-page novel The Postman Always Rings Twice (published in 1934).

    From The Postman Always Rings Twice have sprung at least a half-dozen worthy screen adaptations, beginning with Pierre Chenel’s Le dernier tourant (France, 1939) and Luchino Visconti’s Ossessione (1943), both unauthorized, before Tay Garnett hit cult paydirt with his film noir classic, starring John Garfield and Lana Turner in the roles of the illicit lovers in this gut-wrenching tale of betrayal and murder at the height of the Depression. After Bob Rafelson directed a remake of The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981), it seemed like the dam had burst for further spinoffs of the original, the latest being Vasilis Douvlis’s I epistrofi (The Homecoming) (Greece, 2007) and now Christian Petzold’s Jerichow (Germany, 2008).

    What makes Petzold’s version special is its tight narrative style. We are never quite sure what each of the protagonists is thinking – particularly Benno Fürmann as Thomas, a dishonorably discharged Afghanistan veteran of few words – although we do know the direction that will be taken by all concerned. The movie puzzle, if you will, is to measure the depth of intersecting motivation. Never easy to determine in a Petzold film. But that’s what makes Jerichow a pleasure to watch as it unfolds with some unexpected twists. Christian Petzold, by all counts, is recognized at home and abroad as the leading auteur director in the current German New Wave. To some extent, too, he owes his fame to the Hof Film Festival. Nearly all of his films have been screened here.

    Hof Awards

    Heinz Badewitz has a way of honoring veterans of the past who had made their names in Hof. Whether filmmaker or actor or critic, he rewards them with a porcelain Selb memento for their longtime commitment to the festival. This year, the honorary Film Award of the City of Hof went to Berlin filmmaker Rosa von Praunheim. Well deserved, for Praunheim’s Meine Mütter (My Mothers) (2007), the story of tracing his natural parents back to wartime Riga, scores as one of the finest personal documentaries in contemporary German film history. Rosa von Praunheim was present this year at Hof with his new production, Der rosa Riese (The Pink Giant), a fictionalized account of the “Beast from Beelitz” who had murdered five women in a forest while dressed in pink underwear.

    Two other Hof veterans, cult directors Herbert Achternbusch and Christoph Schlingensief, were present in the works of admirers. Andi Niessner explores in Achternbusch why the prolific Bavarian all-around talent – novelist, essayist, filmmaker, painter, dramatist, actor – decided in 2002 to quit making films altogether. Herbert Achternbusch just turned 70 this November. Cordula Kablitz Post in her portrait of Christoph Schlingensief – Die Piloten inquires what went wrong in 2006 when the maverick director attempted to turn an improvised talkshow at the Berlin Academy of Fine Arts into a “pilot project” for an entertainment show. The interrupted experiment was concluded a year later in the summer of 2007, this time however with the previous filmed material updated as a statement on self exploitation.

    My personal vote for Best Hofer Film 2008 goes to Michael Klier’s Alter und Schönheit (Age and Beauty). A film tale as old as cinema itself, Age and Beauty brings together four 50-year-olds for a nostalgic yet painful reunion – a last bedside wish by a dying friend now in the last stages of his fight against cancer. Manni (Peter Lohmeyer) begs his friends to find Rosi (Sibylle Canonica), the “beauty queen” of their clique, whom they all loved and now have lost track of. Before he dies, Manni wants to beg Rosi’s pardon for an inexcusable affront of the past. Although all three pals feel they have better things to do than hunt down a missing person, they gradually acquiesce to his wish while immersing themselves at the same time in the pleasures of villa-life cum swimming-pool, listening to favorite old LPs, and riding around in Manni’s beloved Ferrari.

    In the course of the reunion, each of the friends is forced to confront his own peccadillos: Harry (Henry Hübchen) discovers that his wife and lover are leaving him on the same day. Justus (Burghart Klaussner) realizes, too late, that his mobile phone has chained him to a menial business existence. And Bernhard (Armin Rohde) finally faces the reality that both his job and wife are hardly worth talking about. Then, when Rosi appears on the scene, more water flows over the dam – the past was really not what they pretend it was. Michael Klier’s sharply edged dialogue, the cast’s cutting ensemble performances, and Sophie Maintigneux’s camera assures a sure hit when Age and Beauty reaches the German screens come next January.

    Hof Discoveries

    Two newcomers made their mark at Hof 2008. Ina Weisse’s Der Architekt confirmed that the actress-turned-director can handle a demanding psycho-thriller with ease. Shot mostly against a wintery landscape in Tirol, it stars Josef Bierbichler as an architect whose world is suddenly turned upside down when he journeys to his boyhood home for the burial of his mother. Striking camera work by ace cinematographer Carl-Friedrich Koschnick makes The Architect a memorable debut.

    Marie Miyayama’s Der rote Punkt (The Red Spot) also traces the journey of a young Japanese girl to the very spot in the Bavarian Allgäu where her parents and baby brother had died 18 years ago in an automobile accident, she being the only survivor as a child. Her encounter with a rural family triggers not only the girl’s own hazy memory of the accident, but it also prompts the revelation of long kept family secret. The German Cinema Grant Prize was awarded to the entire team of The Red Spot – director-editor Marie Miyayama, cinematographer Oliver Sachs, and composer Helmut Sinz – with a citation of how much was accomplished by the young graduate of the München Film & Television School on a minuscule shooting budget.

    Nana Jorjadze (sometimes spelled “Djordjadze”) premiered her delightful The Rainbowmaker in Hof. A fairy tale sent in a small town somewhere in southern Europe on the Black Sea coast, presumably Georgia, a penniless meteorologist turned smalltime smuggler suddenly realizes that he has the power to control the weather. Upon returning home from yet another jail term, he has to win back his wayward wife and assure his kids that he really is their father. Along the way, he meets such ethereal figures as Death, this time in the guise of a delightfully witty dame with an aching back, and his own Guardian Angel, a sexy fun-loving airplane pilot helping out her charges as needed.

    Dedicated to his older daughter, Douglas Wolfsperger’s Der entsorgter Vater (The Deposed Father) was more than four years in the making. In a moment of truth, Wolfsperger chronicles the painful separation from his own daughter. As decreed by the courts, he was stripped even of contact with his child. While on his way to bid his daughter farewell, Wolfsperger met other fathers who suffered a similar fate – and the idea to make a film about The Deposed Father took shape. These wounded individuals, when interviewed, are all fighting windmills, either with ex-wives or court officials. Far worse, they seem unable to come to grips with their own crippling prejudices. While telling their dejected tales – angry, disappointed, sadden, sometimes even naive – their emotions are bared to the bone. As a family theme treated with forthright honesty, The Deposed Father has it merits. And as therapy for the wounded director, it’s both revealing and provocative.


    Allison Anders often credits Wim Wenders for showing her how to make films. Nowhere is that more evident than in the compilation documentary titled Wanderlust (2006), codirected by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini. Although their codirector credit was listed as “Anonymous” in the Hof catalogue, Anders appears to be the key reason for its existence. After all, one of her earlier unfilmed scripts was titled Lost Highway. The theme of Wanderlust? The Road Movie from John Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath (1940) to Edgar G. Ulmer’s Detour (1945). From Anthony Mann’s Winchester 73 (1950) to Jean-Luc Godard’s À bout de soufflé (Breathless) (France, 1960). From Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider (1969) to Bob Rafelson’s Five Easy Pieces (1971). From Wim Wenders’s Paris, Texas (Germany, 1984) to Allison Anders’s Gas Food Lodging (1992). Juxtaposed with 70 more cult Road Movies thrown in just for fun. No mistake about it, the Road Movie was Wim’s – and Allison’s – gold-paved highway to international fame as cult directors.

    The Hof retrospective tribute to writer-director Allison Anders, a crowd pleaser, was particularly memorable for her witty exchanges with the audience. Listening to Anders, the making of her no-budget Border Radio (1987), codirected by Kurt Voss and Dean Lent, was what maverick filmmakers might call a “hoot.” Shot on the Mexican-Californian border with a couple friends from the UCLA Film School, it draws its vitality from a make-no-sense script peppered with do-it yourself punk music on and off the soundtrack.

    No American filmmaker has captured the immediacy of down-on-their-luck West Coast rock-band singers and musicians on the road better than Allison Anders did in Gas Food Lodging (1992), Grace of My Heart (1996), and Sugar Town (1999). Certainly more could be said about the Hof retrospective tribute to Allison Anders – save that my own division of time allowed for just these film gems. Still, the opportunity was welcomed to re-acquaint myself with her loose-flowing, richly improvised style of telling a story that cuts to the bone. Thanks to Heinz Badewitz, himself a one-time rock musician, who oft confesses to an undying love and respect for New Hollywood Cinema. Festival hubris can sometimes be excused.


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