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American Women's Club of Hamburg

Berlinale 2008 – Film Reviews – Part II

Darling! – The Story of Pieter-Dirk Uys ***1/2
New Zealand/South Africa/Australia
See detailed article and review in Currents Special Film Supplement or click: Search (bs)

Derek ***
Isaac Julien, Great Britain
Derek Jarman (1942-1994) wished to “take all my works and evaporate” after his death from aids. This wish was not to be granted. He was too well-known, too successful, and had too many dedicated friends, among them actress Tilda Swinton. This documentary reviews thirty years of his life works and tremendous influence on British art, theater and cinema, 1960 -1990. He was also influential in New York City and San Francisco; contemporaries were William Borroughs, David Hockney, J. Procter, Ken Russell and the Pet Shop Boys. He was one of the first to experiment with super eight cameras, making 72 films one minute to one hour in length between 1969 and 1980. Caravaggio, 1986, is just one of his better known full-length films. The Berlinale viewing coincided with a Jarman exhibit, curated by the director of this film, which showed at the Serpentine Gallery, Kensington Gardens, London, February 23-April 13. (bt)

Det som Ingen ved (What No One Knows) ***1/2
Søren Kragh-Jacobsen, Denmark
The opening is humorous when a 39-year-old puppet theater operator Thomas Deleriran (Anders W. Berthelsen) entertains small children at school and runs into his daughter. She is mortified that the kids will know that he plays with puppets, not a serious real job. Later his sister pays a visit. She needs to speak to him about something serious, but before this is possible, she drowns in a swimming accident. This political, family thriller takes off from there. Thomas finds records of old chemical poisonous compounds in his sister’s home which relate back to his father’s Secret Service days. With many twists and turns Thomas tries to unravel the mysteries with the help of his sister’s girlfriend Ursula (Maria Bonnevie) but no matter how hard they try to work secretively, the agents are on to them. Director Soren Kragh- Jocobesen said that he made this film with one purpose: to make his countrymen aware of how many surveillance cameras there are in Copenhagen. He also did extensive research on the Danish Secret Service and how much access it has to the private lives of civilians. These cameras are a big debate in Denmark since it curtails freedom. So the question is: are we safe with all these cameras? Who watches and controls them? Is the evaluation unbiased or is power being enforced to torment an innocent person? This film is an interesting critique on the opinion that cameras can be used for incorrect reasons. (ss)

Elegy ***
Isabel Coixet, USA
E
legy is based on Philip Roth’s novel The Dying Animal and the film starts with David Kapesh (Academy Award-winner Ben Kingsley) bemoaning the fact of aging and contemplating the virility of men. He can hardly wait for the university semester to finish when traditionally he gives a party for all students at his house, allowing himself to be a “private person” – shedding the “professor.” For months he has been yearning to lay his hands on the attractive but dignified, innocent-looking Consuela Castillo (Oscar-nominee Penelope Cruz). By way of talking to her about art and showing her his impressive collection, he makes her feel at ease. He takes her out to restaurants and – at long last – takes her to his bed. She has no suspicion that this was his only intention in the first place. She falls in love, believing they are true friends.

Carolyn (Oscar-nominated Patricia Clarkson), his mistress for 20 years, also thinks they are honest with each other. Whenever her business commitments give her a chance to be in town, she appears on his doorstep unannounced. This arrangement has worked well, giving them a solid continuity, a feeling that they could depend on each other. This turns out to be an illusion as one day Carolyn discovers some of Consuela’s belongings in his apartment. Pained, but gracious, she calls off their longstanding relationship. Another old friend to depend on is the poet and fellow womanizer George O’Hearn (wonderfully portrayed by Dennis Hopper). They play squash and tell each other their little secrets. George is married and enjoys short-lived affairs with younger women but does not believe in falling in love with them.

Kapesh gets more and more captivated by Consuela’s beauty, considering her body a “real work of art,” fuelling his jealous fantasies. George advises him: “Beautiful women are invisible. No one can see the actual person. We are so dazzled by the outside; we never make it to the inside.” Kapesh cannot grasp that there is more to Consuela than her outer appearance. When she invites him to her graduation party to meet her family, he feigns an accident, letting her down yet again. Disappointed and hurt, she ends the love affair. Two years later Consuela phones him unexpectedly on New Year’s Eve, wanting to see him urgently. His momentarily high-hopes are rudely shattered when he listens to her sad news. Too late he can see the true and warm-hearted person in this stunning woman.

It is a pleasure to watch Penelope Cruz, seemingly at ease with her role. Her presence brings the film to life, whereas Ben Kingsley (otherwise my hero) is not very convincing. He remains awkward, too aloof and too theatrical in his speech. There is absolutely nothing charming and seductive about him; no chemistry shines through between the two protagonists. (bs)

Heavy Metal in Bagdad ***
Eddy Moretti/Suroosh Alvi, USA
In 2003, after the invasion of Iraq, film maker Eddy Moretti and Suroosh Alvi travelled to Bagdad. The five musicians of the heavy metal band “Acrassicauda” (Black Scorpion) greeted them excitedly, making fun of Saddam Hussein and hoping that in the future they could play their music freely. In 2005 it was clear that disappointment had set in as it became more difficult to meet for jam sessions. Fundamentalists threatened them, confusing the wild head-banging with Jewish prayer movements. These ambitious young musicians were no longer joking. The change of government did not bring the desired freedom but war instead, with restrictions and losses. They became frightened and frustrated young adults. When the daily fighting became heavier, resulting in up to 300 people dead in the streets, they fled their home country seeking refuge in Syria. During 2006 the film team met four members of the band in Damascus, living in safety but totally disillusioned and having capitulated, envisioning no future in a foreign land with an increasing population of refugees. Every other country had refused them entry. To survive, they were considering selling their instruments.

This is a documentary of young people trying to survive the turmoil of war with the help of their music. When faced with death and the ugly noise of mortars, heavy metal music sounds like a very comforting alternative. (bs)

Jerusalema ***
Ralph Ziman, South Africa
Although Lucky Kunene (Rapululana Seiphemo) started out as a minimum wage employee in Soweto, South Africa, he has big dreams: BMW, a big house in the right neighborhood, and money but, unfortunately, he received no university scholarship which leaves only one option: crime that pays. He and his best friend Zakes Mbolelo (Ronnie Nyakale) learn the business of car theft and move into armed robbery but quickly find it too dangerous. So the two try to make a clean break to an honest living and become taxi drivers. The pay is bad and the competition is stiff. Finally they land on something really big. They take over all the buildings in the center of town, where drug lords and prostitutes reign, although they are owned by whites living outside the city. Lucky collects the rent, manages and repairs the buildings, and kicks out the scum. The white real estate owners and the drug dealers begin to hate Lucky Kunene and it becomes a dangerous way to earn a living. He makes himself venerable when he falls for a rich, white girl, Leah Friendland (Shelly Meskin), who has a brother with a cocaine problem. Since the film is so stylized, often, we are not really drawn into the emotional impact that the characters feel during intense times despite excellent acting. This fast-paced film shows the inside of Johannesburg with its crime and corruption which reminds me of Goodfellas. (ss)

Jesus Loves You (Jesus Liebt Dich) ****
Lilian Franck, Michaela Kirst, Robert Cibis, Matthias Luthardt, Germany
The 2006 World Cup attracted all kinds of people to Germany. Probably the strangest were evangelical Christians from New York City, Germany and Africa, e.g., Kenya. For them Germany is a religious third world country full of dissatisfied sinners in need of conversion. They came under the leadership of Scott Rourk whose Church 411 is relatively new (2001) and Youth with a Mission which sent 10,000 missionaries to “work on the tourists” during the games. Mostly, they went to the parks and soccer fields where huge screens were set up for spectators or they talked to people on the streets, outside restaurants, etc. Beforehand, they met to discuss a clear marketing strategy such as, “Say you are a tourist, because missionary has a negative connotation.” They preyed on young people who were away from home, had time to talk, and needed a friend. They started conversations with, “Where are you from? Which team will win? Have you ever had a problem in your life you couldn’t solve alone? Did you look to Jesus Christ?” Often the answer was “bugger off” or “That’s too serious, we’re here for fun.” Or “I believe in Germany.” Possibly they were at a disadvantage, because they spoke only English. In the end, the missionaries were unsuccessful. In fact they returned home shaking their heads, frustrated that their message fell on the hardest of granite.

But Germany is an exception. Worldwide, evangelicals are the largest growing group with 52,000 new converts a day. The directors researched this movement five years before making their film. According to them, the U.S. is a prime example of the evangelical movement with born-again Christian George Bush their most prominent member. In the U.S. there was a groundswell against sinful activity such as premarital sex and homosexuals. Under the Bush government no money was donated to groups which were not specifically Christian. These missionaries are not necessarily preaching for the monetary reward. Most of them had “real” jobs and they paid their own way to the World Cup. They are extremists in their thinking. The directors said, “Mix religion and politics and the result is terrorism.” Director Matthias Luthardt said, “…Ask where the borders are between faith, ideology and fraud.” This was almost the equivalent of a scary movie and certainly opened my eyes. They plan to attend the 2008 Olympics in China. (bt)

La Hija del Engaño (The Daughter of Deceit) ***
Luis Bruñel, Spain
Each year the Berlinale features a series of oldies by some famous, successful director in a special section called “Retrospective.” This year we honoured Luis Buñel of Spain (1900-1983) with all 32 of his films on view during this one festival. Always a real treat, this year was no exception. I saw La Hija del Engaño, which first showed 1951 in Mexico. Don Quintin (Fernando Soler) throws out his unfaithful wife, but not before she claims that their infant daughter is not his. He brings the baby to foster parents in the country where she grows up with a “sister” her own age, not knowing her true heritage. Don Quitin lives alone, bitter at his unjust fate. Years later the daughter is more than a match for her father. She teaches him a thing or two, which he is forced to accept and all are happily reunited, except for the wayward wife who gets her just reward. The film was as fresh and interesting as if it had been made in 2008. Someday I plan to concentrate on at least ten films by some famous director in the “Retrospective” section, which may well be more satisfying than watching many of the newest films. These directors, especially Buñel, aren’t famous for nothing. (bt)

Night and Day (Bam Gua Nat) ***
Hong Sang-soo , Korea
Lonely Seong-nam (Kim Yeong-ho) aimlessly explores suburban Paris, meets with other Korean expatriates, discusses life, flirts half-heartedly with young art students (Park Eun-hye, Seo Min-jeong), and even make love, but all in a very detached manner. Kim, a celebrated painter in his early 40s, landed in Paris to avoid the police and a heavy fine for smoking pot. The film develops at a very leisurely pace, never getting too near to any of the characters. It evolves almost entirely around Seong-nam, a rather naïve, indecisive, self-deluding male, lost in the big city with nothing to do. At night he holds long, often very intimate, telephone conversations with his wife in Korea who eventually lies in order to achieve his return.

There is nothing very profound in Hong Sang-soo’s story; fragments of human behaviour are put together, making for a certain naturalness and spontaneity. The look at a small Korean community living in a strange country, I found the most interesting. One funny incidents is Seong-nam and his landlord disrupting their serious smoking session in the back yard and deciding to formally exchange handshakes. But also the insecurities, subtle tensions and the wish to break away from the norms and customs of their home country become clear. The film could easily have been edited from a 145 to 90 minutes, particularly in the second half. (bs)

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