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    57th Mannheim-Heidelberg International Film Festival 2008

    By Ron Holloway | December 13, 2008

    The oldest German film festival on record – launched in 1952, when Walter Thalmon-Gross decided to expand his Mannheim-Ludwigshafen Film Club into an international event – the 57th International Film Festival Mannheim-Heidelberg (IFFMH) (6-16 November 2008) straddles two cities in the populous Rhein-Neckar Triangle, both with university crowds to draw upon to assure an enthusiastic film public. Originally planned by Thalmon-Gross as a film week programming shorts and documentaries, the Internationale Filmwoche Mannheim quickly expanded to include features and experimental films as well. Under his initiative, seconded in later years by Fee Vailliant and Hanns Meier, a competition for first and second features opened the door wide for entries from Eastern Europe. Prizes were awarded to Czechoslovak New Wave directors in the 1960s, followed by recognition for New Hungarian Cinema in the 1970s. As the festival’s reputation grew in Eastern Europe as an indispensable Window to the West, Polish animation directors Jan Lenica and Walerian Borowczyk found themselves rubbing shoulders with New American Cinema filmmakers Jim McBride and Stan van der Beek. Most important of all, the historic Mannheim Declaration of 1967 supported New German Cinema directors wholeheartedly – so much so that today’s Rainer Werner Fassbinder Prize continues to honor creative works by young talent.

    Under current festival director Michael Kötz, who in 1994 linked Mannheim with neighboring Heidelberg to meet the needs of a modern-day global festival with extra funding and a larger audience, IFFMH 2008 embraced under its banner Living Dreams, Worldwide a four-column program: International Competition, International Discoveries, Festival of German Films, and a Retrospective titled “Intense Times – Heavy, Man!” (films produced during the heady 1960s and revolutionary 1970s). These, in addition to Mannheim Meetings, now in its 12th year to support new projects with pitching, conferences, and roundtables. Just as important for visiting critics is the possibility to view most of the films in the program on computer linkups in the film market, thus eliminating the necessity of video cassettes and DVD players.

    Queried about the unexpected hurdles he faced over the past year in preparation for programming premieres of first and second features, Michael Kötz lamented the explosion of festivals across Europe and particularly Germany. “When a fast-talker shows up in Asia or Latin America with big-time arguments for screening a choice first feature at his smalltown festival, filmmakers might be sold on the spot. But afterwards, when they see the small crowd that turns out for one-shot screenings, with no buyer or distributor in sight, they come knocking on our door – hoping that Mannheim-Heidelberg might bend its rules on their behalf.” Considering that the guest list of film professionals attending the Mannheim-Heidelberg festival reaches into the hundreds, Michael Kötz has a point. IFFMH, with its bigger budget, is better suited for premiere screenings.

    IFFMH opened with Helma Sanders-Brahms’s Geliebte Clara (Clara) (Germany). Screened back-to-back with its presentation in New York at the Museum of Modern Art (see MoMA report in this issue), Clara could ride the press publicity for its official German release in Düsseldorf a few weeks later. Although the story of celebrated pianist Clara Wieck and her composer husband Robert Schumann has been oft rendered in both German and American cinema, the twist here is the unresolved relationship between Clara (Martina Gedeck) and the younger (by 14 years) composer Johannes Brahms (Malik Zidi). The film covers the period when the mentally disturbed Robert Schumann (Pascal Greggory) welcomes the young romantic rival into his home as a companion for his wife and seven children, all the while struggling to hold his position as an inept conductor of the Düsseldorf Symphonic Orchestra. Viewed from this angle, Clara deserves attention as a worthy addition to the ranks of film biographies of famous musicians.

    Top prizes at Mannheim-Heidelberg were awarded to films that dealt with urbane women facing crises. In Paula Hernandez’s Lluvia (Rain) (Argentina), awarded the festival’s Main Prize, a woman journalist has just left her husband without a clue as to what she is going to do next. By chance, during a heavy downpour in a Buenos Aires traffic jam, a stranger from Madrid takes refuge in her car – he, too, cannot quite handle the death of his father, whom he has not seen in 30 years. A conversation starts, enough to break the ice and help both to face the truth in their shattered lives. On concept alone, Rain is a daring film experiment.

    Also, in Stephanie Duvivier’s Un roman policier (A Police Romance) (France), awarded the Rainer Werner Fassbinder Prize, a police woman in her forties is compromised when she falls in love with her young Algerian colleague while on their nightshift patrolling the streets of Marseilles. A Police Romance scores as an engrossing story of a dedicated enforcer of the law losing control of her emotional self.

    The same confrontation with the self animates Lyne Charlebois’s Borderline (Canada), the story of a French-Canadian writer on the verge of a nervous breakdown after a routine of alcohol, drugs, and a going-nowhere affair with a married literature professor. Now at the ripe old age of 30, she finds herself confronted by a writer’s block while working on her autobiographical novel. Whenever she reviews the memories of the past, she only feels pain: a father who abandoned father, a suicidal mother, an ailing grandmother. Further, the past keep colliding with the present. In this heart-rending psychogram, sensitively portrayed by singer-actress Isabelle Blais, it’s her memories of childhood that point a way out of the malaise. Awarded both the FIPRESCI International Critics Prize and the Ecumenical Prize, Borderline also received a Special Mention from the International Jury, citing the performance of Isabelle Blais.

    By far, the most impressive competition entry at Mannheim-Heidelberg was Ferenc Moldovanyi’s Masik bolygo (Another Planet), awarded the Special Jury Prize. The only documentary contending for top honors, Another Planet was seven years in planning and four years in making. Together with ace cinematographer Tibor Mathé, Ferenc Moldovanyi chronicles the “hidden face of our planet” – namely, the plight of children in Ecuador, Cambodia, and the Congo, whose lives are badly scarred by circumstances beyond their control. As much fiction as documentary, the film’s power is generated from recorded testimony with the children, which is then used as overtalk in depicting their deplorable fate as soldiers, laborers, and prostitutes.

    And a treat for cineastes was K.M. Madhusudhanan’s Bioscope (India), a personal view of how cinema came to the coasts of Kerala during the 1920s, thanks in part to British colonial efforts to solidify its hold on India. Memory and history are coupled in the stunning, poetic, dream-like images of tent projections of D.G. Phalke’s Krishna Janma (Birth of Krishna) (India, 1918) and Robert Wiene’s Das Kabinet des Doktor Caligari (Germany, 1920). In an interview Madhusudhanan – painter, photographer, writer, filmmaker – contends that “the arrival of the bioscope in India was akin to the coming of a new vision while the country was being suppressed by colonial rule.”


    International Jury
    Main Award of Mannheim-Heidelberg
    Lluvia (Rain) (Argentina), dir Paula Hernandez
    Rainer Werner Fassbinder Prize
    Un roman policier (A Police Romance) (France), dir Stephanie Duvivier
    Spezialpreis der Jury / Special Award of the International Jury
    Masik Bolygo (Another Planet) (Hungary), dir Ferenc Moldovanyi
    Special Mentions
    Luan Qing Chun (Beautiful Crazy) (Taiwan), dir Chi Yuan Lee
    Bioscope (India), dir K.M. Madhusudhanan
    Isabelle Blais, actress, in Borderline (Canada), dir Lyne Charlebois

    FIPRESCI Prize
    Borderline (Canada), dir Lyne Charlebois
    Ecumenical Prize
    Borderline (Canada), dir Lyne Charlebois
    Special Mention
    Lluvia (Rain) (Argentina), dir Paula Hernandez
    Cinema Owners Awards
    Borderline (Canada), dir Lyne Charlebois
    Les murs porteurs (Cycles) (France), dir Cyril Gelblat
    14 kilometros (14 Kilometers) (Spain), dir Gerardo Olivares
    Audience Award Mannheim-Heidelberg
    Amanecer de un sueño (Awaking From a Dream) (Spain), dir Freddy Mas Franqueza
    Film Cultural Awards
    Peter Rommel, film producer
    Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR Cologne( – Redaktion “Film und Serie”
    ZDF Mainz – Redaktion “Das Kleine Fernsehspiel”
    Fernsehen – Redaktion “Debüt im Dritten”


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