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Berlinale 2007 Film Reviews from the Critics
by the KinoCritics

Berlinale Special

I have Never Forgotten You: The Life and Legacy of Simon Wiesenthal****
Director: Richard Trank, USA
This is a very successful documentary film which includes an enormous amount of historical footage as well as interviews to recreate a complete lifeline of Simon Wiesenthal. In this labor of love and dedication the team must have been researching old footage, historical facts and interviews for months to compile this detailed portrait of the man known as the Nazi hunter. Wiesenthal was born in a small town in the Ukraine. He studied to become an architect which he never practised due to World War II. He lost 89 members of his family in the concentration camps and it was a miracle that he and his wife found each other after the war was over. After the war, he lived directly across from a cemetery, where Hitler’s parents were buried.

The film is full of shocking surprises which illustrate Simon Wiesenthal’s strength of character. For example, he moved to Vienna, saying, “If you want to cure malaria you must live with the mosquitoes.” In the beginning, he establishes an office which compiles information on missing people in order to reunite families. This work evolves into trying to tracing those people who were responsible for atrocities that happened in the concentration camps. In the end he brought 1100 criminals to trial. He also proved to the world that not only Jews but also gypsies and homosexuals were in the camps as well. The public did not always love him for his trouble, but he persevered nevertheless. It is because of him that we have the Crimes against Humanity Court in Holland today.

After the film Ben Kingsley spoke about his role of Simon Wiesenthal. And (like Dennis Haybert from Goodbye Bufana), he said it was a very humbling experience. Having also played Gandhi, Kingsley said in both cases it was an honor to play great men who have changed history. He also said that Simon Wiesenthal was incapable of hating people which was why he could seek out justice in the impartial manner that he did. It is no wonder that many people see him as the “Conscience of the Holocaust.” (Shelly Schoeneshoefer)

Sakuran ****
Director: Mika Ninagawa, Japan
Sakuran is a colorful first-time feature film endeavor spotting five of Japan’s most talented artists: Moyoco Anno, (manga artist), Yuki Tanada, (screenwriter), Mika Ninagawa, (professional photographer/director), Tingo Shena, (musican) and Anna Tsuchiya, (rockstar/actress). The narrative is an adaptation based on the manga Sakuran from Moyoco Anno. A manga is the Japanese word for animation or comic and it pertains to a certain style of art direction that is recognizable in many Asian cartoons. These daring women have made a pact to produce a product “their” way to avoid the trappings associated with Asian traditional filmmaking. Ironically, this is the attitude of survival of the film’s main character, Kiyoha/Higurashi (Anna Tscuchiya) after being sold into a life of prostitution.

In the 1720s, on an isolated, sixteen-acre piece of land was one brothel after another, altogether known as the Yoshiwara Edo, or the “Great Gate” of Edo. It attracted a wide range of male and female travelers due to the variety of entertainment. It was a modern red-light district because the existing Shogunate government respected the sport similar to that of a licensed gambling casino. The pleasure quarter functioned like an isolated city, therefore, making it easy for human trafficking to occur, as well as, purchasing of exotic material goods. Children were often sold into prostitution at the Edo but, ironically, given a proper upbringing and schooled in many normal tasks. At the age of eight, it they learned other trades just in case a rich man should buy them their freedom. The term Orian described the highest category of courtesans in the Yoshiwara Edo’s. To achieve this honor, the Orian could not count on her beauty alone but she needed to be accomplished in dance, music, chess, flower arranging and tea ceremonies. The Orian was both admired and envied by the inhabitants of Edo. There was a great deal of power connected with her placement. The position was also the only open door through which Kiyoha, a unique, nameless girl of the night, could visualize a change in her destiny. (Karen Pecota)

Day on Fire ***
Director: Jay Anania, USA
Through out the course of one day, director Jay Anania’s Day on Fire introduces four professional women living and working in New York City. As day breaks, journalist Najia (Carmen Chaplin), model Shira (Alyssa Sutherland), Dr. Mary Wade (Olympia Dukakis) and singer Judy (Judy Kuhn) go to work. The hours pass and, without prior expectations, these women connect with one another through circumstances that stem from various acts of terror and sorrow. The beautiful melodies of slow sung ballads by Judy Kuhn with piano accompaniment by John Medeski throughout Day on Fire set the mood for faraway stories of heroism, love and anguish.

In the aftermath of 9/11 and the war on Iraq, Jay Anania birthed the idea for Day on Fire out of his own thoughts on violence and war. He attemptsto answer questions that could explain vain acts of violence against innocent bystanders. Anania’s narrative and appalling visual imagery of violence expounds upon the senseless. Violence and war, whether premeditated or happenstance, destroy valuable life unnecessarily and all for selfish gain. The personal inner strength which these women share allows them to heroically deal with trauma and represents a hope that Anania has for the people in our world to be strong in order to deal with an ever increasing violent society. (Karen Pecota)

Competition Films

Beaufort *****
Director: Joseph Cedar, Israel
The true story of twenty-two year old, Israeli soldier, Liraz Liberti (Oshri Cohen) is the heart of Cedar’s Beaufort. Liraz, an outpost commander, narrates the events that led up to the May 24, 2000, Israeli army withdraw from one of the most strategic military fortresses since the time of the Crusaders. The stronghold had a long history of military proprietors and due to its location alone, it was a symbol of control. The most recent conquest began when the PLO controlled the mountain during the Lebanese civil war; but, in 1982, the Israeli army captured it in battle and occupied it for 18 years. Liraz and his men are the last troops to protect the icon. They boldly describe their mental, physical and emotional state involving their mission to retreat and their orders to demolish a symbol of power with six tons of explosives.

The novel Beaufort by Ron Leshem is provides the basis for Israeli director, Joseph Cedar’s film Beaufort. Leshem and Cedar corroborate on the screenplay but Lesham’s descriptive novel is practically a screenplay itself. If the film is any indication of the quality of speech in his book, he is a brilliant writer. The film’s dialogue projected a style of authenticity among the soldiers which was believable. It was imaginable! The beautiful fort (Beaufort) was set on a hill, all alone, but on the border of Israel and Lebanon. The setting was perfect for a soldier-boy-state where they had their own set of rules that allowed them to hold on to their innocence and experience happiness while living under constant fear. Leshem and Cedar have vividly captured a moment in Israeli history that is unforgettable. Their narrative honors the soldiers who fought and died protecting the fortress and a country which swallows its pride to end worthless bloodshed connected to war. (Karen Pecota)

Die Fälscher (The Counterfeiters) ****
Director: Stefan Ruzowitzky, Germany, Austria
Based on the true eyewitness account of Adolf Burger, the beginning shows Salomon Sorowitsch (Karl Markovics), known as the King of the Counterfeiters, living fast and corrupt in Berlin before World War II. Life was a game where all you needed was money and if he needed it, he would print it. That was until he was arrested by Friedrich Herzog and put into a concentration camp. Later found and transferred to Sachsenhausen by Herzog, Sororwitsch finds himself head of Operation Bernhard, a system for producing counterfeit dollars and British pounds in order to sabotage the Allies’ economic system. They collected the best printmakers, graphic artists and typographers in the camps and brought them to these barracks where they were all to work under Salomon Sorowitsch. Workers in these barracks were allowed to listen to opera music and play ping pong; they had enough to eat.

This is amazing story shows the conflict between saving your own skin by helping the Nazis or fighting for a greater cause, which meant stopping the machines. The conflict is set up by two very different personalities: Sorowitch, who is interested in survival and Adolf Burger (August Diehl), who has lost everything and begins to sabotage the operations.

Markovics gives an excellent performance of a very complicated and convincing self driven, creative survivalist, yet a conman. Burger’s past has been completely destroyed by the Nazis and he sees their actions as having a monstrous effect on the future. The privileged prisoners will be haunted when they come face to face with those who were barely surviving,

Director Ruzowitzky, who was able to interview two of the original counterfeiters, does a wonderful job in showing how much these people suffered and how even a character like Sorowitch who seems so self-confident loses himself in a situation of immense human suffering. (Shelly Schoeneshoefer)

(Addendum: Treasure in Lake Toplitz, From idea to film)
Stern Magazine in 1959 wrote an article called “Tons of Money.” Nine crates were found at the bottom of a lake along with SS archives. This grew into a legend and people believed that the Nazis dumped gold and art objects as well. Due to several diving accidents among treasure hunters, since 1963 people were prohibited from diving there. The Austrian Ministry of the Interior decided in 1980 to do a sweeping search and uncovered more crates and the printing plates that were used. They also found bombs and other weapons as well and the lake was known as the “Dump of the Third Reich.” (Provided from info about the making of this film) (Shelly Schoeneshoefer)

I’m a Cyborg But That’s OK (Sai bo guju man gwen chan a ) ****
Director: Park Chan-wook, South Korea
This is an unusual, romantic but tragic, tale of two people who fall in love in an insane asylum. Young-goon (Lim Su-jeong) believes she is a Cyborg and can talk to machines. Actually, she is in the loony bin surrounded by an array of other interesting inmates. She constantly recharges her batteries. Il-soon (Jeong Ji-hun), an antisocial patient who steals personality traits, falls in love with her. In spite of his different masks, he slowly captures her attention. Young-goon wears her grandmother’s dentures from a sense of guilt. It seems that her grandmother died of starvation, also in an insane asylum, because she left her dentures behind and could not eat. Young-goon’s health deteriorates; her batteries do not function properly. Under shock treatment, she believes she is a killing machine that can shoot bullets. Il-soon tries to save Young-goon, not in any logical way, but one appropriate to the fantasy of their world. Park Chan-wook has a unique way of letting crazy images interact, e.g., Young-goon’s iridescent toe nails light up when recharged by a machine invented by Il-soon so that Young-goon will resume eating. This sends a simple message of one’s need for love in a world which we do not control. This could easily become a cult film with its unique humour and romantic view. (Shelly Schoeneshoefer)

Irina Palm ****
Director: Sam Garbarski, Belgium, Germany, Luxemburg, Great Britain, France 
This movie alternates between two totally different worlds. One world portrays family, responsibility and good values, while the other shows the sordid, self-contained atmosphere of a sex bar where people are detached and impersonal. Maggie\'s (Marianne Faithfull) young grandson is dying of cancer and the last shimmer of hope is a treatment available only in Australia. Because of the long illness, money is scarce. Maggie no longer owns her house and the bank turns her down for a loan. She is humiliated at an employment agency where she is declared too old and unskilled to apply for a job. Naively, Maggie inquires about a "hostess wanted" sign in a London sex club. It turns out that the job description is very much different than the coffee making that Maggie had imagined. Club owner Miki (Miki Manojlovic) promises an incredible salary and out of desperation Maggie agrees. Very soon her smooth hands make her famous and men are standing in line to be Irina Palm\'s (alias Maggie) customer. Not even an attack of "penis elbow" deters her. (For more details, see the film!). Adapting to her circumstances, Maggie eventually even finds rapport with Miki.

This is very much a film women will identify with: the portrayal of an emotional mother/grandmother who is willing to make great sacrifices for the sake of her family. When the source of her income is discovered and Maggie is treated with indignity by her son and the local villagers, she is forced to question whether it is necessary to remain on the same path she has always followed or whether new, previously unacceptable, situations could open new horizons.

Marianne Faithfull is a wonderful actress. Hearing her voice in the film reminds you of the good songs this former pop singer has recorded. Also dominant is an interesting guitar score. At one point, when Maggie was walking home alone with her confused thoughts and the guitar was throbbing, I was reminded of music in an old western and a cowboy walking slowly toward a shoot out. (Thelma Louise Freedman)

I Served the King of England ****
Jiri Menzel, Czech Republic, Slovakia
Czech director Jiri Menzel has won many prizes in his long career, for example the Oscar for Closely Watched Trains in 1966, or the Golden Berlinale Bear for Skylarks on a String in 1990. He was a member of the jury in 1987. This year, he left the Berlinale as winner of the FIPRESCI prize for best film and it would be a shame if this lively I Served the King of England were not released for general audiences. Jan is a young man on his way up. He is small and blond with huge blue eyes. He has the demeanor of the village idiot, kind of like a cross between Pinocchio and Oskar in The Tin Drum, but nothing escapes his eagle eye. He begins his career as bus boy in a local pub in a small Czech town. From there he becomes a waiter in a fancier hotel and so on until finally he has his own hotel which is frequented by such guests as the Emperor of Abyssinia who gives him a medal by default. He is a huge hit with the ladies who enjoy his post coital habit of decorating them with fruit and flowers. After the Treaty of Munich and the German occupation of Czechoslovakia, he sides with the occupiers, falls in love with a Fräulein and turns his hotel into a hostel for young German soldiers and beautiful German woman who copulate for the good of the Reich as part of Hiimmler’s Lebensborn project to create more Aryans for the master race. It is his former boss and head waiter who proudly “served the king of England,” although much good it did him in the end. Menzel’s film is a spoof on people who take themselves too seriously; he has a wonderful tongue-in-cheek humor about human nature. All the characters are wonderful, but truly brilliant is the Bulgarian actor, Ivan Barney who plays as Jan as a young man. German actress, Julia Jentsch who won a silver bear in 2005 as best actress in Sophie Scholl, plays the Fräulein. Again: let’s hope that this film goes main stream for everyone to enjoy and not just privileged Berlinale movie goers. (Becky Tan)

La Vie en Rose ****
Director: Olivier Dahan, France, Great Britian, Czech Republic
La Vie en Rose is the bittersweet life story of French singer Edith Piaf. Edith (Marion Cotillard) was born into poverty in the tenements of Belleville in Paris and totally neglected by her street singer mother (Clothilde Courau). At age three she was removed to her fraternal grandmother who ran a brothel in Normandy! Here, at least, she received love from the young prostitutes, especially from Titine (Emmanuelle Seigner). This stage of her life abruptly ended though when her alcoholic father took her to accompany him as a travelling acrobat. At age 15 Edith returned to Paris on her own to follow in her mother\'s footsteps - living hand to mouth as a street singer.

Luckily for Edith in Paris she found a friend for life in Momone (Sylvie Testud). Her career with its ups and downs and accidents and coincidences begins. Louis Leplée (Géraud Dépardieu) hears Edith singing on a street corner and offers her a first chance at a nightclub début. But it is finally from Raymond Asso (Marc Barbé) that she learns how to train her voice and how to really interpret the meanings of the words in her songs. From this point on her career booms but her fragility is clearest seen in her relationship to married boxing champion Marcel Cedan (Jean-Pierre Martins) who was killed in a plane crash in 1949.

Edith\'s life becomes melodramatic. She becomes addicted to drugs, her emotions run the gamut from agony to ecstasy. She is then later diagnosed with cancer and even in this zombie state she is driven to perform and triumphs with "Non, je ne regrette rien" sung at the Olympia in Paris in 1960. The "soul of Paris" dies in total isolation (and peace) in Grasse in 1963.

Marion Cotillard does a stunning portrayal of Edith and this Edith - simply dressed in black - is unforgettable as the film opens in a New York concert and ends at the Olympia. Even the sudden switches in the story which change from Paris and New York, to Normandy and Grasse, do not disturb the smoothness of the film. They keep your mind working full speed. (Thelma Louise Freedman)

Bordertown ***
Director: Gregory Nava, USA
Many towns along the border regions between Mexico and the United States are places of financial refuge for American big business. Juarez, Mexico, is a safe haven for the corrupt. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has made it economically possible for American businesses to have factories in Mexico which assemble low-cost goods for U.S. consumption. These factories, known as maquiladoras, employ thousands of women from all over Mexico. They are promised a stable job, good pay and a safe working environment. Tragically, none of this materializes and they work under horrific slave-labor conditions for a few cents an hour. Most of these families have spent their life savings to travel to the factories but with below standard wages, these people are forced to live in shacks made of cardboard boxes. The shack communities are located outside of the city. Most women holding these factory jobs have to travel to the city (for work) and back to their neighborhood via the factory work bus, but for many women it becomes the mode of transportation that will take them out of this world.

News Reporter for the Chicago Sentinel, Lauren Adrian (Jennifer Lopez), needs a gripping human interest story to get her dream job and comes across some information relating to the maquiladoras. She becomes interested after hearing about young female factory workers who mysteriously disappear in Juarez. Lauren contacts former lover and working partner, Diaz (Antonio Banderas), who publishes the local Juarez newspaper, inquiring about the murders. Annoyed that she suddenly shows up for a story, he hopes to discourage her and agrees to meet her at the desert site where the young murder victims are dumped and scattered in pieces. Diaz is unhappy with her presence mostly because of the danger involved, but also because she just might be the one to find the people responsible for the recent chain of hideous events. While waiting for Diaz, a mother and daughter appear at the office looking strangely fearful. Lauren observes the odd encounter and, curious herself, moves closer to eavesdrop in time to hear that they have recent information on the murders. Diaz brings the three women into his office as they franticly explain that the daughter, Eva (May Zapata), is the latest factory worker victim who was left for dead but miraculously survived. Diaz is shocked at Eva’s story and fearful when the police pull up outside the office. Diaz knows his fate has just begun and Lauren’s mission for a story takes on a different passion. Together the former newspaper partners are obsessed to find Eva’s kidnapper(s) and work around the clock until justice is done.

The internationally acclaimed screenwriter, producer and director, Gregory Nava, Bordertown, is passionate about this film’s subject matter because it hits close to his roots growing up on the border of Tijuana, Mexico and San Diego, California. Though in my option the film is not well made, the story is worthy of lots of press coverage; so, I say hats off to Nava for making the film. Nava’s co-worker, Barbara Martinez Jitner, did a lot of the research and filming in Juarez (Nava’s fame would not allow him access into the country to work on the story). She found out the hard way that this true-to-life story is a hot topic. During filming on location she and her crew received personal death threats, if they did not end filming and leave the country; hours of raw film footage, cameras, film equipment and personal belongings were mysteriously stolen from their possession. They were forced to leave the country with very little to show for it….unfortunately. On the other hand, these gross mishaps were all the more reason for Amnesty International to aid in helping the real victims’ families stop violence against women in Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua, Mexico. For more information feel free to check out the Amnesty International website. (Karen Pecota)

Goodbye Bufana *** 
Director: Billie August, Germany, France, Belgium Great Britain, Italy, South Africa
In 1962 the South African government imprisoned the world‘s worst terrorist on Robben Island. He served twenty-eight years for fighting for the rights of twenty-five million blacks and trying to end the Apartheid regime of the Nationalist Party Government. That man, of course, was Nelson Mandela, the first black president of South Africa, played by Dennis Haysbert. James Gregory (Joseph Fiennes) plays a prison warden who works at the censorship office and learns to respect Mandela for who he is and what he represents: a free South Africa. The film focuses on these two characters so there is a more intimate portrayal of them than of the political situation in the townships.

Actor Dennis Haysbert discussed the difficulty of playing Nelson Mandela and how he had to struggle with his own insufficiencies to play someone with such a great reputation still alive to see it. Haysbert and Fiennes discussed filming inside the actual prison which still exists today. The sounds inside the prison were frightening. No eye contact was allowed and anyone without a prison pass would be kept inside. One of the main questions at the press conference was how accurate is this story since it is based on the journal of James Gregory? This issue was side stepped and the impression was that many people have their own views of the facts during that tumultuous time. This is a seemingly quiet film considering its time in history where so much terrible violence occurred. It would be nice to see a film on this subject done by a black production team from the black South African point of view. Nevertheless, this film won the Peace Film Award at this year’s Berlin Film Festival. (Shelly Schoeneshoefer)

In Memoria Di Me (In Memory of Myself) ***
Director: Saverio Costanzo, Italy
Rating this film is like parting the Red Sea and not coming up with the right miracle. Costanzio’s film is extremely well done for a limited audience. Unfortunately, I fear that many people will hate it, a film, which should appeal to anyone interested in theology and spiritualism or those dwelling upon the greater meaning of life or interested in psychology. The rest of us will find it too slow paced and quiet, or will be hoping for a gay priest to pop out of the woodwork to add some spice, but that is clearly not the vision that Costanzo had. He deliberately made it slow paced and silent to capture the real sense of what it must be like to follow this spiritual path, a path of many obstacles that are hardly obvious to a viewer.
Novice Andrea (Christo Jivkov) experiences the difficult, daily life inside a monastery. He goes through an intensive training. His previous life is stripped away in order to find the new person with this religious faith. It’s a struggle with the inner spirituality to become a part of the church, a gruelling but thoughtful process. The individual must come to terms with his own flaws as seen by the spiritual community around him. Not every person is capable or willing to deal with human suffering. Weaker novices give up plans for the priesthood and disappear in the night. This is a thought-provoking look at a very tedious process. I wonder whether this traditional way of training can continue successfully in the future since our exterior world has become so different. Is it time for the Church to make some changes? It seems that it might not be a bad idea since this monastic way of life seems so distant from the current modern life style. (Shelly Schoeneshoefer)

The Good German**
Director: Steven Soderbergh, USA
Corporal Tully (Tobey Maguire) is an optimistic American entrepreneur who has used the war for his financial gain. He was an army supply driver with free access to the black market trade with the Russians. he sudden death of this character at the hands of the Russians is a relief.  The film changes dramatically at this point since Tully is truly annoying and loudly spews out clichés. What’s great about all the one-liners in the old films like Casablanca is that the lines were original and later incorporated into our modern language. In The Good German the lines are unoriginal and unfortunately ruin the film. At least the hero, Jake Geismer (George Clooney) a journalist who lost his way through the war but ends up back in his old stomping grounds, plays a historical icon that we can relate to which is quite different from Cate Blanchett’s character, Geismer’s old flame Lena Brandt who pairs with Tully for a moment or two. Blanchett has the italic look of the forties female characters until she is forced to speak German.

This is Soderbergh and Clooney’s sixth film together. Soderbergh said that he has the opportunity to make different films which enables Clooney to prove his ability in a range of characters. Soderbergh always wanted to make a film in this 1940’s Noir style and said that although this was not very well received in the U.S., he hoped it would do better in Europe. A post-war conspiracy film set in Berlin, he uses the camera and lighting techniques of the time. They had to become creative on the set to keep the expenses down. For example, they used black felt for broken windows and reversed the street footage in order to make it seem like a different street. Experienced Thomas Newman’s dramatic music scored high points.

I could only feel sorry for Cate Blanchett who admitted she expected the film to be dubbed in German since her German accent lacked authenticity for this role. She did an okay job since she had two days to learn the lines but it just wasn’t good enough. Why didn’t Soderbergh chose a German actress, e.g., in The Good Shepard and Goodbye Bufana. This must have been a challenging film to make, but it certainly doesn’t have the staying power that old ones still have today. (Shelly Schoeneshoefer)

The Good Shepard ***
Director: Robert De Niro, USA
The story line captures thirty years of the CIA seen through the career of one agent named Edward (Matt Damon). It begins with an elite student getting pinpointed by a secret society at university as a man with certain talents. His wife Margaret (Angelina Jolie) traps him by getting pregnant after a one-night stand, ruining his chances of being with the only woman he loves. He then begins a rootless career that leads him all over the world but lacks the suspense of a true spy film. There are no mysteries to be unravelled since all the answers are given to the audience and then later executed.

When the war finally ends, he returns home, where his wife and son attempt to integrate him into family life but there are too many secrets and the distance is too great. Their family becomes even more dysfunctional and disjointed and no one seems to talk; only ears to the walls and misinterpreted thoughts evolve. The ex-girlfriend reappears and naturally the big question is: how could Matt Damon’s character successfully resist the charm and beauty of Angelina Jolie’s character. This emotionless and strategic thinker seems only to move forward to the next position available like a game of Chess until all his opponents are eliminated. He manages to do all of that in a quiet and calculated way while saving his son at the same time to boot.

This is Robert De Niro’s second attempt at directing a film. It took him nine years to prepare and organize it. De Niro said that he was fascinated with this Cold War era since he is a child of that time. De Niro plays a cameo role and had to ask advice since he finds it difficult to direct himself. Hopefully De Niro won’t wait so long for the next film especially since he said, “I’d love to do a sequel from 1961, when the wall went up to 1989 when it came down.” This film won the Silver Bear for an Outstanding Artistic Contribution. ( Shelly Schoeneshoefer)

The Real Life of Angel Deverell ***
Director, François Ozon, France, Great Britain, Belgium
Angel (Ramola Garal) lives behind the small shop run by her mother. She day dreams herself out of her working class background and converts these dreams of a more exciting world into words. She sends this manuscript to a publisher who invites her to London for an interview. Her overbearing attitude alienates the publisher’s wife, but he takes a chance on her talent. Obviously, thousands of women relate and her book is a huge success. She goes on to write one bodice-ripper after the other, becomes rich, buys the neighbourhood mansion where her aunt once worked as a maid, takes on Nora (Lucy Russell) as private secretary and marries Nora’s brother Esmé (Michael Fassbinder). The world is her oyster. She becomes more outrageous, bullies her mother (who soon dies), her staff, and the high society leeches who attach themselves. No one is more surprised than Angel when the outbreak of World War I causes the tide to turn. She refuses to acknowledge the new situation, even after her staff and her husband leave for combat and no one wants to read her books. In the end she stands proudly among the shards of her life and says to Esmé, “You’ve lost your leg, but it’s not like you’re dead. You are here with me in paradise. ”

We all left the cinema thinking, “Scarlett O’Hara all over again,” although Esmé is no Rhett Butler which is too bad because Angel needs someone stronger than herself. Director François Ozon wrote the script, based on a book by the same name from 1957. At the post-film press conference, the first impression was: what a good-looking man he is, so young, just barely 40 and already the director of such acclaimed films as Swimming Pool or 8 Women. He said that he becomes easily bored and therefore likes to do something different. “Different” in this case meant leaving France to film in English in Great Britain. His film excels in the photography and the costumes of 1905. Contrary to Beatrice Potter, for example, Angel is not looking for wealth and fame in order to achieve independence, but to buy her way up the social ladder. She ignores profound feelings. (Becky Tan)

When a Man Falls in the Forest **
Director:Ryan Eslinger, Germany, Canada
Bill (Dylan Baker), the night janitor of an architecture firm, desperately needs a safe, intact environment. His dysfunctional personality trait manifests whenever he is forced out of his comfort zone, e.g., through unexpected changes. Often Bill is disturbed to find Gary (Timothy Hutton) sleeping at his desk. Gary seems to be going through a midlife crisis, searching for some former loss. He recognizes Bill from their high school years and remembers how mean spiritedly he and his friend treated Bill then. Gary attempts to apologize, but it falls on deaf ears; Bill doesn’t want to reconnect. Gary’s wife Karen (Sharon Stone) is a source of concern; she is a kleptomaniac who finds stealing more thrilling and empowering than life with Gary. Even up to her arrest, Gary tries desperately to communicate with both her and their son, to no avail.

Some of the best parts of this film are Bill’s lucid dreams, which he prefers to real life. In dreams he becomes self composed, a super hero, who often is deals with his crazy next door neighbors, restraining a wife beater and establishing a new family. The story tends to lag depressingly slowly, symbolic of how turning forty must be a drag, until something major happens like suicide or family break ups. Sadly, the message: wake up and live, doesn’t come until the very end. In the best scene Gary desperately tells his wife, on the answering machine, that he loves her and cherishes their marriage. She deletes him without ever listening to his words. How can anyone survive a mid-life crisis? (Shelly Schoeneshoefer)

Yella ***
Director, Christian Petzold, Germany
Yella (Nina Hoss) is a young woman who leaves her husband Ben (Hinnerk Schönemann), in spite of his promises to change his ways. Her last encounter with Ben lands both of them and his car in a river from which both must crawl, soaking wet. She boards the train at her village of Wittenberge for a new chance in life. In her hotel she meets Philipp (Devid Stiesow) who hires her for a few days to check contracts and wrap up business deals. She is brilliant in pointing out competitors’ weaknesses and finalizing business profitably for Philipp who hires her for another gig. Ben finds and stalks her; she sleeps with Philipp.

This German, three-person drama stretches over a few days. All three spend much time driving and telephoning and gazing at the sky as crows and airplanes fly over. Yella joyfully tells her father that things are looking up and perhaps he will have a chance to meet her new friend. Throughout the film, things seem not quite right: Yella always wears the same clothes; she emerges from the river with both her high heels firmly on her feet; she finds an empty train compartment. There is a surprise ending, but my idea that Yella was a supernatural witch was wrong.

Director Petzold took the idea for the plot from a US Civil War short story by Ambrose Bierce. The actors appreciated Petzold’s special way of working, namely, long rehearsals without make-up and costumes during which the actors were encouraged to give develop their characters themselves. Yella was filmed at the EXPO campus in Hanover, which makes the film seem even more devoid of characters. There were various speculations about the name Yella, but I still believe that it is short for Daniela. Nina Hoss won best actress at the Berlinale for this film. (Becky Tan)