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American Women's Club of Hamburg

We won! Filmfest Prize Winners and Reviews

Nine films won festival prizes. Although this year the Douglas Sirk Prize was not awarded, there was a new category: the Foreign Press Award. Winners are:

The International Art Cinema Industry (CICAE, Confédération Internationale des Cinémas d’art et d’essai) Award:
Euro 5,000 for Soul Kitchen, director Fatih Akin.

Hamburg Film Critics’ Award:
Cold Souls, director Sophie Barthes.

Foreign Press Award:
Police, Adjective, director Corneliu Porumboiu.

Montblanc Screenplay Award:
Euro 10,000 for She, A Chinese, director Xiaolu Guo.

Best First Film Award (Die Elfe):
Euro 5,000 for The Children of Diyarbakir (Before my Eyes), director Miraz Bezar.

Audience Prize:
Meet the Elisabeths, director Lucien Jean-Baptiste

TV Producer Prize
Euro 30,000 for Mörder auf Amrum (Murderer on Amrum), producer Claudia Schröder.

Silver Spoon prize of four engraved silver Robbe und Berking spoons:
Lars Becker for his continuing loyalty to the Filmfest and to Hamburg where his films are shot.

Best Children’s Film
Euro 5,000 for Leuchtende Sterne (I taket lyser stjarnorna), director Lisa Siwe.


Reviews of Filmfest Hamburg Prize Winners

Soul Kitchen
Perhaps best known for his international acclaimed drama Head On (Gegen die Wand) German-Turkish director Fatih Akin is treading on new ground with Soul Kitchen. He calls it his “first Heimatfilm” which he co-scripted with Adam Bousdoukos (playing the lead role) and it is loosely based on Jasmin Ramadan’s book. It is no sweet, sentimental film about Bavaria and the Alps. Instead this is northern, multicultural Germany, with Greeks, Turks, drifters and rock bands. And yes, it is all about love, friendship and a “feeling of home". The film opens with a snappy soundtrack introducing the ramshackle eatery “Soul Kitchen” next to some railroad tracks in a neglected area of Hamburg.
Zinos Kazantsakis (Adam Bousdoukos), the young owner and chef, is stressed, overwhelmed by work and financial worries. His girlfriend Nadine (Pheline Roggan) is leaving for a job in Shanghai and to make matters worse, his brother Illias (Moritz Bleibtreu) is out of prison on parole, asking for money. Disorganized, love-sick Zinos wants to join Nadine in China. In desperation he hires Shayn (Birol Ünel), an out-of-work eccentric star-cook. The working-class clientele is disgruntled with his nouvelle cuisine but the young in-crowd of the neighbouring dance studio loves the place. Brother Illias falls in love with the sassy waitress Lucia (talented new discovery Anna Bederke). Business is picking-up, debts can be paid, and a ticket to China is bought. But life does not run smoothly for Zinos, and he never gets any further than the Hamburg airport.

The story unfolds to an eclectic soundtrack, a potpourri of Hamburg’s musical variety including old Hans Albers songs as well as Greek and Turkish folklore. Music plays an integral part and is often used in lieu of a “voice over”. The experienced eye of the cinematographer Rainer Klausmann is again part of the successful team. There are a number of cameos, i.e. Albert Wiederspiel, organizer of Filmfest Hamburg in the company of comedian Gustav Peter Wöhler, who might mainly be recognized by the Hamburg audience. As Akin said – “it’s a Heimatfilm,” but this well-paced comedy with Hamburg scenes always in the background can also be appreciated internationally as proven at the Venice and Toronto film festivals.  

This boisterous comedy is a veritable feel-good movie with a palpable sense of community and genuine affection for the people and the setting, leaving me with a warm smile at the end. Don’t be in a hurry to leave the cinema as the credits are especially inventive. (BS)

Cold Souls  
Paul Giamatti (Best Actor Karlovy Vary International Film Festival 2009) stars as a twisted persona of himself, a depressed New York stage actor, agonizing over his next performance of Uncle Vanya. An article in the New Yorker promises relief. Checking the Yellow Pages he finds Dr. Flintstein (David Straithairn) who runs a soul-storage company. They agree to unburden Paul of his soul. What a disappointment: Paul’s soul is only the size of a chickpea. When he accidentally drops the container in the doctor’s office he excitedly calls out, “Don’t step on it!” Paul only intends a temporary storage until after the performance. Having his soul extracted leads to complications, resulting in his “renting” the soul of a Russian poet. Unfortunately, this is not a solution either, and he wants his own soul back from the deep-freeze. Adding to his despair, his soul has meanwhile been “borrowed” by a mysterious soul-trafficking Russian “mule,” the elegant Nina (Dina Korzun). Paul, soulless and desperate, follows the trail to St. Petersburg hoping to retrieve his soul which is now in the body of an ambitious soap-opera actress (Katheryn Winnick).

This wildly unrealistic, darkly funny, but tragic comedy is Sophie Barthes’ first feature film and impresses with its visual style. It is filmed like a surrealistic dream. Giamatti gives a strong and steady performance, balancing between deadpan humour and pathos. Emily Watson is his distraught wife Claire, and David Straithairn superbly interprets the ridiculous Dr. Flintstein as a straight-faced soul-extractor. If you like comedy that derives its humour through absurd situations then this “soul searching” comedy may well lift up your soul. Cold Souls won the Hamburg film critics award. (BS)

Police, adjective
Cristi (Dragos Bucur), a plain-clothed policeman, walks behind a youth through the lonely streets of a small Rumanian town. Next day, he follows the same routine, behaving like a hunter stalking his prey. He hides behind a fence or a corner and waits – always patient. The viewer also has to be patient as the action is slow and shown in real time. When he is not following his subject Cristi sits in his tiny, bleak office writing the protocol.
After days of observation he has witnessed the youth smoking hashish but is convinced that the brother of the youth might be the dealer and feels uncomfortable in acting against the youngster. A handful of hash will bring him behind bars for years. His superior (Vlad Ivanov) does not agree with Cristo’s arguments and challenges him to explain the word “conscience.” And how does he interpret the word “law”? A furious – but absurd – exchange follows, with the Rumanian dictionary the centre of attention. In the end, Cristi has to make a decision between his personal conviction and professional obligations.

This film gives a new definition to the category thriller/crime story, concentrating on realistic situations and dialogue rather than building up tension with mind-boggling, fast action. It feels like an anti-Hollywood movie. The understatement and simplicity reminds me strongly of the black and white French Nouvelle Vague films of the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. It is not a film that will fill the big movie houses but will surely find its appreciative audience. This is only Corniliu Porumboiu’s second film and he received the Foreign Press Award at Hamburg Filmfest 2009. For his first long feature 12:08 East of Bucharest he won the Camera d'Or in 2007. (BS)

She, A Chinese
This could also be called A Chinese Road Movie or Phases in a Young Girl’s Life. The film is divided into chapters, each with a subtitle such as “Mei has Never Been More Than Five Miles from Home” or “Brother Quay has a Brand New Scooter” or “Can you Love a Man with Glasses?” It opens with young Mei working at an open-air pool hall/restaurant frequented by young men. One of them rapes her in a field when she innocently accompanies him on a date. She follows another man into the city, works first in a hair salon, then as a prostitute. She moves in with a gangster named Spiker. When he is murdered, she takes his money hidden under the mattress, and goes to London. There Mei marries an older British man in exchange for a residency permit, then moves in with an immigrant who then decides to return to India. The film closes with her, pregnant, walking down the street to an unknown future.

Mei seemed to sleepwalk from one catastrophe to the next with no thought of the consequences. She never took her life into her own hands to shape her future, except for the one time when she realizes her dream and moves to London, still without knowing what could be in store for her. Obviously, there must be something special here, since She, A Chinese won the top prize, Golden Leopard, at the Swiss Film Festival in Locarno. My colleague said, “Look at Mei as symbolic of the whole country of China: the rape of China by colonial powers, its interaction with the Western world, carrier of a new life, and so forth.”  Perhaps this is a good approach, because China is not my responsibility, whereas Mei frustrated me to the point where I wanted to jump into the screen and shake her. Wake up girl and show a spark of responsibility! (BT)  

Meet the Elisabeths
The Elisabeth family is made up of Jean-Gabriel (a dark-skinned man from the Caribbean), his French wife, teenaged son, small daughter and small son. Normally, a Johnny-come-lightly, expansively jolly man, who dislikes his job and would rather place bets, Jean-Gabriel must put his non-existent money where his mouth is and take the whole family skiing as promised. His wife refuses to go along; she deems this decision final proof of his recklessness. His mother – also jolly and dark skinned – agrees to go to the ski resort if she “doesn’t have to cook.” As this is a comedy, you can imagine the disturbances and problems along the way. Once there, they must deal with the landlord who expects rent money, board a ski lift, and sort out bullying French teenagers. When it gets down to it, they must also learn to ski, not an easy sport for anyone, regardless of age or background. There are several comments about the inappropriateness of “black people in white snow.”

This film is light and shows human frailty which we have all experienced. There is a positive message in the end about dependability, intercultural friendship, and maturity. Therefore, I can understand that it won this year’s Filmfest Hamburg Audience Prize out of seven contestants, all of which were exceptionally successful in their respective European countries. The competition was strong and included Made in Hungaria, an amusing musical about a young man who becomes a rock and roll star in Hungary or Max Manus about a real person who fought in the Norwegian resistance in World War II or The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo based on the first in a trilogy by Swede Stieg Larsson. (BT)

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