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American Women's Club of Hamburg

Wort! Word! Words!

 By Shelly Schoeneshoefer

What makes a film? Is it the motion or the pictures or perhaps the story that makes film an art form? The festival introduced a new category to designate the exploration of artistic elements used in film making and how play a significant role in film. Thus, over the last three years, festival films represented the categories of art, music and dance, respectively. This year the category is words. So the question is this: what role does a story, or a series of poems, or a novel play in a film where the written word conveys a specific message? Wort! Shows creative examples which go to the extreme in order for us to feel the effect of that power. The written word has the advantage of different points of view; it pushes the story along while taking on a life of its own, as can be seen in the following three films.

In Das Grosse Heft by Janos Szasz, the father hands a notebook to twin brothers, soon to be confronted with war. They are forced to live with their resentful grandmother as they watch their mother disappear before their eyes. They then watch the Nazi army come and go, watch the British bombers come in, followed by the Red Army to take over what’s left of their country. The film is so riveting that one literally feels shell-shocked upon leaving the cinema. The film repeatedly shows pages from the notebook coming alive, revealing visions of tanks, people dying and other strong images of war. We see the twins begin to harden and teach themselves to feel nothing. In the end the notebook can only find one owner and that in itself is a difficult decision for the twins. The notebook is the most important witness to their own history of survival.

In the Iranian film Manuscripts don’t Burn by Mohammad Rasoulof, we see a regime which censors everything. It begins with a group of old men who are hiding several copies of an event that took place but was never publicized. The main author knows he is ill and wants to see his daughter before he dies, so he tries to negotiate with the head of censorship to get his book printed. The film gives a penetrating feeling that this unwritten manuscript is witnessing the injustices that are occurring to this creative community.  If ever there was a feeling of being watched, this film has done that very convincingly.  From the spying to the torturing of the victims, we see the disintegration of an artistic dream and the helplessness that the people feel when confronted with a restrictive government.

The French film Opium by Arielle Dombasle seems to be the new trend in France where literature from the past is now having a revival. Opium is a dialogue, written by Jean Cocteau over his thwarted affair with Raymond Radiguet in the 1920s. The narrative describes Cocteau’s mind under the influence of opium which enveloped him after the death of his boy friend. One moment we see an innocent boy and, as the film progresses, we see several versions of Radiguet’s death from eating bad oysters to typhus. The film is beautifully made, streaming through visions of black and white Greek gods to colorful 1920’s parties. The film lavishly embraces the spirit of this time and captures the feeling of opium addiction.

All the strikingly different films in this category were not to the taste of many audiences. The films sent either a very strong message or put one in an altered state which not everyone could enjoy.

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