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American Women's Club of Hamburg

Berlinale 2008 – Film Reviews – Part I

3 Dias (Before the Fall) ***
F. Javier Gutiérrez, Spain
I pray that this one comes to Hamburg simply because I had to leave before the end and my nerves are shot, worrying about the outcome. What happened to Ale and the four children who were isolated in the country house with a sinister man camped outside? Why did the grandma die? In this doomsday film, a meteorite will collide with the world and all will end in three days. Everyone panics and flees. The black-white-grey cinematography, the plot and the bongo-drumbeat music combine to heighten the threatening atmosphere with no release in sight. The four children are wonderful actors. What a mistake to walk out on this film, which reminded me of The Night of the Living Dead or The Time of the Wolf. (bt)

Auge in Auge (Eye to Eye) ****
Hans Helmut Prinzler and Michael Althen, Germany
110 years of German film history were painstakingly compiled by Hans Helmut Prinzler und Michael Althen. It is great fun to watch snippets of old pre-war films, the pompous era of propaganda films during the 1940s, to see famous, familiar faces of the ‘50s, and scenes of the ‘60s with girls in swinging petticoats. The authors highlight typical German mannerisms, i.e. zooming-in men’s eyes with exaggerated expressions of suffering, or glamour girls with close-ups of eyes all shining and seducing. Other themes concentrate on landscape, modes of transportation, or the art of smoking in films, which nowadays is good for a hearty laugh. The sequences are well timed with frequent changing pace of clips.

Woven into the screenings are spontaneous and lively comments by Wim Wenders, Christian Petzold, Doris Dörrie, Dominik Graf, and others, placed before a running film sequence or the entrance of well-known cinema buildings. Auge in Auge was shown in German only (no subtitles) and the film seems to be aimed mainly at the German viewer who already knows and remembers most of the filmed material. It is an amusing, nostalgic look back at “the good old days” of cinema. One leaves the theatre smiling but with a touch of melancholy. (bs)

Avaze – Gonjeshk-ha (The Song of Sparrows) ****
Majid Majidi, Iran
Karim (Reza Naji), a conscientious worker on an ostrich farm, contently lives with his wife and three children in his mud and brick house on the outskirts of Tehran. One day an ostrich runs away into the surrounding hills. Karim is made responsible and loses his job and his meagre income. When driving into town on an errand, a business man hurriedly jumps onto his scooter and pays him for the ride. This is the start of Karim’s new occupation. From now on he regularly drives to the city, coming back with money as well as discarded goods from building sites or other items that the rich folks no longer have use for. Soon his backyard is overflowing with all his accumulated junk. The kind, generous and loving husband is becoming greedy and self-centred, infected by the city people’s way of life.

When his wife gives away window frames and an old door to her neighbours who will put these things to good use, he flies into a rage and carries the door back to re-join the rest of the junk. It is a striking shot of cinematography when Karim, buried under the bright-blue door on his back, slowly walks all the way across the fields. Karim’s senseless accumulation of possessions does not do him any good. One day the whole pile collapses, burying him under his treasures. Immobilized by a broken foot, he looks on helplessly as his wife manages the household, clears the yard and earns an income, surrounded by helping neighbours.

The children in the village had ideas of accumulating riches too. They dreamed of breeding fish in the well which would multiply and make them millionaires. They worked hard for their goal and nearly succeeded. When they dramatically lost all their fish, they were heartbroken. It is Karim, becoming his old self again, who tells them philosophically that “the world is a dream,” whilst watching the sparrows fly against his newly fitted window pane.

Reza Naji is an excellent actor and brings the changing moods of the worried and craggy-faced Karim realistically to life. For this role he received the Silver Bear for Best Actor. At the awards ceremony he graciously thanked God and dedicated the prize to his country. Most of the cast were drawn from non-professionals who came over very naturally. They were well suited to their roles and characters, placed in the rural setting of present-day Iran, which was perfectly highlighted by the beautiful cinematography of Tooraj Mansouri. (bs)

In brief: At the press conference
The director Majid Majidi and actor Reza Naji talked about The Song of Sparrows, telling us that the title was a parable. “Sparrows are one of the smallest birds in Iran. They are not demanding and make do with what is at hand. We too should not have ever-increasing demands. The children particularly are like little sparrows, sweet and innocent, happy and naïve. Children are ever present in the film as they are in Iranian society with about 70 % of the population under 25 years.” When asked how he prepared for playing his character Reza Naji replied, “I carefully read the script and then fully emerged into the character; I stopped being Reza and become Karim.” The rural world and simple life and faith of the village people are well known to him but the filming conditions were a real challenge. “With my 63 years it was physically hard. I often was out of breath when driving the motorcycle over hilly country or through the busy streets of Tehran.” With his film director Majid Majidi wanted to show that all our new possessions and knowledge don’t improve our lives but that we are growing distant from each other, getting lonely. “The concept of family as the base of society is victimized by modern developments. But there is hope, we can go back to the simple things, be more like the children, discover a bird’s nest and listen to the song of sparrows.” (bs)

Boy A ****
John Crowley, Ireland
Based on an award winning novel by Jonathan Trigell, this brilliant drama explores the moral questions and issues around what happens to those children that end up serving time in juvenile prisons for committing crimes so brutal that society may never be able to forgive them. Set in Manchester the film begins with Jack (Andrew Garfield) who has served 14 years in prison and now has been released under a new identify so that he will have a second chance at life. Director John Crowley shows us a nice, sweet-natured boy who, although insecure and inexperienced about life outside the prison, immediately seems to have success with work friends and even has a girlfriend. The performance from Garfield is outstanding. From the beginning the audience really likes this character and wants him to succeed until we are faced with his past. After a preview of this horrific crime, comes the inevitable question: can society really forgive this guy and has he reformed after committing an extremely brutal crime? Does he deserve to be forgiven? Can he forgive himself as well as live with what he did? There are many questions surrounding the crime in which a young girl was murdered; Jack is one of the two boys involved. At the trial they blame each other which leads us to believe that they both played a part in what happened. Jack survives his prison sentence and is lucky to have the caretaker Terry( Peter Mullan) who sincerely wishes him a second chance. But with the tabloids looming in the background and the jealous son of Terry, does he stand a chance? This made-for-television film was a gem among films at the Berlin Film Festival this year. It’s a modern-day Tolstoy where the audience is required to look at themselves and their own judgments on crime, punishment and redemption. (ss)

Caos Calmo (Quiet Chaos) ****
Antonello Grimaldi, Italy
A careless summer day brutally comes to an end when Pietro Paladini (Nanni Moretti) returns to his summer house to find his beloved wife dropped dead on the lawn and his 10-year old daughter beside herself with grief. What irony of fate! He and his brother Carlo (Alessandro Gassman) had just rescued two unknown women from the strong currents of the ocean. After the summer vacation, his daughter Claudia (Blu Yoshimi) reluctantly returns to school, feeling insecure. Her father, who is a TV company executive, is expected at his office, where an important deal is in the making. Instead, he promises his daughter not to move until she finishes classes. Business is handled from the park bench in front of the school building and his secretary informs him per mobile of the most important developments. Claudia is happy. The next day, same procedure. His whole life style changes unexpectedly. Business associates and friends come to see him, but instead of consoling him, they bring their problems, confide in him and seek his advice. This in turn gives Pietro a new look at his own life, and little by little he reconsiders his priorities. Throughout the film Moretti plays his character very low-key, therefore, it comes almost as a shock when we watch him and Isabella Ferrari in a spontaneous, very steamy sex scene. All of Pietro’s incomprehensible calm is suddenly surrendered in his raw and violent outburst, finally opening up and accepting life again.

The book Caos Calmo (by Sandro Verenesi) is very successfully adapted by Nanni Moretti and co-screenwriters Laura Paolucci and Francesco Piccolo, transporting the action from the confines of a car to the wooded Roman square. The process of mourning is handled very sensitively but not without humour, like Valeria Golino trying to seduce Moretti on his park bench. I enjoyed the contemporary music with compositions by Paolo Buonvino, often using a solo guitar only. (bs)

In brief: At the press conference
The most-discussed scene of Quiet Chaos was the hot sex scene towards the end of the film, and it was one of the subjects discussed with the director Antonello Grimaldi and his crew, who appeared in full force at the press conference. I learned, there was even open criticism coming from some Italian church. Nanni Moretti answered to the following, “Why did the sex scene have to go on for so long?” – “It is a very serious and important scene, without any distracting music in the background. All intense and cleansing emotions are to be released. When the protagonist finally starts to understand his enormous grief and his loss, suddenly all his inner chaos is set free. The woman is in a similar situation. She too has to let go of all her pain, her disappointments with men, her anger and her past before she can start a new life. It is not a love scene; it is violent, raw and realistic.” (bs)

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