by Carola Amsinck
Filmfest Hamburg offered 239 public screenings - an average of 30 a day at six locations. All in all a smorgasbord of 151 films from 41 countries: feature films, TV films, documentaries, and children’s films. Seventy-two of these films - nine a day - were offered to accredited journalists only at Abaton and Cinemaxx from 10:00 to 15:00 daily (“Industry Screenings”). Plus: workshops, roundtable discussions and book readings. Completely overwhelming! I thought I would watch three films daily from the ‘Industry Screenings’ schedule; by bike I could reach Abaton and Cinemaxx in 20 minutes from home; travelling between the two locations would also be easier this way. If after that I still had mental capacities and Sitzfleisch left, I would try to get tickets for the evening screenings.
Decisions: What & Why
I picked several ‘must see’ films right away: films that had to do with politics, politicians and political power.
Because: I find French politics & politicians fascinating to watch; it promises glamour & couture and interesting gossip. This delightfully funny well-cast docu-drama – billed as a story based on true events – is about the political rise of Nicolas Sarkozy. Told in flash-backs from the fateful night he wins the 2007 French presidential election but also meets his personal ‘Waterloo’; he would control the country - but not his wife.
The President (Präsident verzweifelt gesucht)
Because: I didn’t follow EU-politics much from the U.S. and am still trying to figure out if there is more to it than ‘square tomatoes’ and ‘straight cucumbers’. I wanted to know more about the EU presidency, and how, after years of having a rotating presidency changing every six months (who came up with that idea??), in 2009 Herman van Rompuy became the first long-term, full-time, elected EU President. This documentary promised interesting characters in starring roles: Gerhard Schröder, Joschka Fischer & Nicolas Sarkozy. Unbelievable what went on behind the scenes!
Because: of the very memorable Fellini-esque movie poster, - a Louis-V. style interior with a naked woman crawling towards the wide-open mouth of a crocodile. A French minister of transport struggles with the demands of his position. What is reasonable to expect of a politician? Policies or politics? Watching the screen and following the very lengthy English subtitles (there is a lot of fast and furious French talking to translate) was exhausting, the film too drawn out and cluttered with subplots. The attention-grabbing poster shows a nightmare the minister has. Sorry to say, the symbolism escapes me.
Because: director Mohammad Rasoulof has been charged with acting against national security and propaganda against the Iranian regime and sentenced to jail. This film had to be smuggled out of Iran, and deserves to be seen. A young woman lawyer - barred from practicing law, her journalist husband in hiding from the authorities - feels increasingly suffocated by the oppressive Iranian regime and decides on a bold approach to leave her country.
An African Election
Because: director Jarreth Merz – of Ghanaian & Swiss heritage – talked interestingly about his work during the roundtable discussion ‘Politics & Media’. As a birthday gift to himself he went to Ghana to explore his roots and chronicle the 2008 presidential elections. He is proud to have witnessed that - contrary to his own expectations - democracy is possible in Africa. An unusually well organized and well structured documentary about an exiting election in a third-world country that required a run-off election and nevertheless stayed peaceful.
Because: it is inspired by actual and deeply disturbing events, starring Rachel Weisz and Vanessa Redgrave. The film describes one of the greatest cover-ups in the history of the UN. In 1999 police officer Kathy Bolkovac (Rachel Weisz ) from Nebraska entered into a contract to work for the UN in post-war Bosnia, to police international law. She uncovered a network of traffickers of underage girls. Involved in the scheme were U.S. forces and internationals, all protected by immunity. Whistleblower Bolkovac won a wrongful dismissal case in 2001 and lives now in the Netherlands.
Hot Hot Hot
Because: I needed comic relief. Ferdinand is middle-aged, shy and a little peculiar. He has a ‘slight problem with the heat’ as he describes it. That relates to temperature as well as to women. Due to renovations, he is required to temporarily swap his job at the Fish-Land aquatic center with the managerial position at the pleasure temple ‘Finnish & Turkish Delight’ that offers sauna, steam and massages. His first day on the job happens to be ‘Ladies’ Day’. The film has some quirky - almost surreal - and some touching moments, but turned boring after all. Most annoying: ‘Knut’, the over-the-top stupid manager that Ferdinand replaces at the sauna.
Holidays by the Sea
Because: I needed more comic relief. A ‘Candid Camera’ of sorts: the quirky little & the truly grotesque things that can be observed in everyday life have been assembled by French comic writer Pascal
Rabaté; they are loosely connected by a ‘summer vacation’ theme. Some of the characters interact, but mostly they are just at the same spot at the same time.
Imagine the sight of grown people squeezed in a micromobile, the micromobile with a dust-cover scalloped at the edges, a man left handcuffed to a hotel bed by his ‘dominatrix for hire’, a pregnant lesbian punk couple. There is no dialog, but Rabaté uses music, for example the otherworldly sound of a musical saw, to underscore a hilarious situation.
Because: the subject matter brought back memories of my travels with a friend after finishing high school; it was kind of a ritual for many of us before ‘real life’ was to start. Before their paths diverge, three young people from Slovenia are going on one more road-trip together; it won’t turn out as carefree as it used to be; Gregor (Jure Henigman) will return to a military mission in Afghanistan, Zisa (Nina Rakovec) will have to deal with some grave problems before she can study abroad as planned; Andrej (Luka Cimpric) still has to figure out what to do. Three mesmerizing young actors and a director/scriptwriter to watch for in the future.
Because: cows were the closest I ever came to having a pet. During my elementary school years we lived next to a meadow where cows were grazing during the summer. We would watch them chew with fascination, pet them, try to sit on them while they were dozing; we went champignons-picking around them in respectful distance and darted back over the fence when they started galloping in unison for no apparent reason at all. Emmanuel Gras gives us a 64-minute window into the life of a herd of cows out on a meadow in Normandy. A close-up and personal essay rather than a documentary, and fairly idyllic except for the – thankfully few - times that human beings intrude. Beautifully photographed, with nothing but a natural ‘soundtrack’: birds, insects, rain, thunder, cows breathing, mooing or ferociously ripping the coarse grass. Priceless are the early morning hours with fog low to the ground, thick dew on cloverleaves and delicate spider webs sparkling in the first rays of sun.
Because: I still have some catching up to do on German films. German films aren’t shown that often in New York:
is a German film & comedy about people from Hamburg: Sohnemann is a colloquial, tongue-in-cheek expression forged from the German words for son & man, comparable to ‘junior’. Here we have two Sohnemänner: Uwe ‘kidnaps’ his grandmother from an old-age home in Hamburg and brings her to the Black Forest, to live with him & his gay partner. He is convinced he can do better than the home. And Edgar, his father, who, as soon as he finds out what Uwe is up to, pops up from Hamburg with his younger girlfriend and her kids to compete for the care of his mother. She has her own ideas what’s good for her.
Dreiviertelmond is the touching story featuring a Southern German taxi driver whose life gets nudged in the right direction by a little Turkish girl.
Fenster zum Sommer
A young woman falls asleep to awake several weeks back in time, back to events and situations she has lived through already. Only now she does it with the awareness of what the future will bring – or will it?
New York - Because: they were filmed in New York City, my other hometown, I had to see the following two documentaries:
Bill Cunningham New York, also because: each week I would look for his column on ‘street style’ in the New York Times. I used to publish a yearly trend report for the international home fashion industry, looking to design, architecture, art, film & theater, and of course to ‘fashion’ for clues. In the last years I worked in an office around the corner from Cunningham’s favorite ‘hunting ground’ on 57th and 5th. This is wonderful documentary about a truly modest guy, who at 81 still mounts his bike rain or shine, to discover the trends on the streets and to photograph beautiful people in beautiful outfits.
Page One: Inside the New York Times
Because: The NY Times was (and still would be if it wasn’t so expensive over here) my favorite newspaper.
This film documents the struggles the paper faces: competition from the internet for readership and advertising revenues.
Charlotte Rampling – The Look
Because: I find the actress, the roles she chooses and what she brings to her roles, fascinating.
This is a cinematic portrait of the actress in nine chapters, told in one-on-one encounters and conversations with her - equally interesting - artist friends about ‘Exposure’, ‘Age’, ‘Death’, ‘Beauty,’ etc. with clips from her films.
Chicken with Plums (Huhn mit Pflaumen)
Because: it sounded deliciously tempting after a week of quickly gulped down sandwiches and soups. It is a visual feast. Iranian born director Majane Satrapi based her film on her own highly acclaimed graphic novel about virtuoso Nasser Kahn, who has decided to die; his life has become senseless without his irreplaceable violin. The 1001-night-style tale is narrated to an innovative mix of film, animation, miniature & puppet theater.
…and what I am sorry to have missed?
Aside from all 125 of the 151 films I didn’t see, mostly I would liked to have seen:
Gnarr – about The Best Party in Iceland,
King of Devil’s Island – because Becky said this was the best film, and
Terri – of which I only saw the last 15 Minutes to kill some time, and liked it a lot.