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Berlinale 2007 Film Reviews from the Critics - part II
by the KinoCritics

Out of Competition

300 ****
Director, Frank Snyder, USA
This is director Frank Snyder’s screenplay adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel and comic series (also titled 300) which recounts the Persian-Greek Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC. One of the most revered battles of all time; it has inspired legends, poetry, songs, novels, films and even a television series. Synder retells the battle through the eyes of Leonidas, the King of Sparta, one of history’s most legendary warriors. His zeal and courage have been examples of bravery, loyalty and honor throughout history. Other leaders have emulated his battle tactics and adapted them to their own advantage. Therefore, it is not hard to understand why the Grecian warriors followed him to perform extraordinary duty.

The Greek city of Sparta housed the finest and strongest military among the Grecian city states and their renowned navy was unbeatable. However, during this era, the Persian King Xerxes was on the war path to control the world. His fierce and mighty army of hundreds of thousands conquered one Greek territory after another with only slight resistance. If Greece was to have any chance of preventing a full take over by the Persians, the city states had to join forces against the vast army of soldiers and war animals. Time was of the essence, so under the command of Leonidas, 1600 of the strongest Grecian warriors gathered to meet the Persians on the front line. The success of their battle plan allowed Leonidas to send home all of the warriors, except for his heroic Spartan army of 300. These men were the history makers who met the Persians in the canyon of Thermopylae in 480 BC.

I was fascinated at how the film cleverly combined an ancient battle and cutting edge graphic technology. At times images were surreal due to use of dark, gothic color tones combined with slow, strobe-like digital movement. Today’s film technology is incredible and Synder has effectively tapped into these resources. For example, I was amazed how the art direction took battle scenes of horrific violence and softened the awful bloodshed by slowing the frame-rate and syncopating it with splashes of color, just as a master painter might work on a canvas. The remarkable cinematography ignited the ancient Greek spirit for conquest and connected to the modern movie audience. As the credits began to roll, 75% of the audience in the full cinema, spontaneously and in unison, shouted out the Spartan battle cry with which Leonidas had inspired his troops: “AAAAAUUUUUHHHHAAH”! We were Spartans all. (Karen Pecota)

Notes on a Scandal *****
Director, Richard Eyre, USA, Great Britain
Barbara Covett (Judi Dench), spinster and teacher, has resigned herself to a narrow and lonely life of frustration and little reason for joy. That is until the beautiful Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett) joins the school as the new arts teacher. Barbara is at first distant and prejudicial, till a fight between two students brings the two women together and a bond is formed. Gradually their friendship grows; but while in Sheba\'s mind that is all it is, for Barbara it becomes a fanciful obsession, reflected in her meticulously kept diary.

When the older woman discovers that her beautiful friend is having an affair with a 15-year-old student, she is outraged and feels betrayed. She soon realizes, however, that the secret the two women now share can be used to bind Sheba more closely to her. Her condition not to tell is that Sheba end the affair immediately, which she promises to do. The reality, however, is quite different, and when Barbara discovers that Sheba has deceived her, she begins to subtly move the pieces that will bring about her friend\'s downfall.

Notes on a Scandal is blessed with perfect casting, excellence performances, and a great script. What more can one say? It masterfully touches on social taboos, painting them in every shade of grey, rather than black and white. It has been nominated for four Academy Awards: Best Actress (Dench), Best Supporting Actress (Blanchett), Best Original Score (Philip Glass), and Best Adapted Screenplay (Patrick Marber). It also stars Bill Nighy and the young Andrew Simpson. The excellent screenplay was adapted from a novel by Zoë Heller. (Osanna Vaughn)

Letters from Iwo Jima ***
Director: Clint Eastwood, USA
For a biblical 40 days and 40 nights in the spring of 1945, Japanese soldiers defended the island of Iwo Jima against the American offensive. Twenty thousand Japanese and 7000 Americans died on this lump of black volcanic rock. Clint Eastwood directed the film from the standpoint of the Japanese as a mirror to his prior film on the same topic: Flags of our Fathers. How many films show the same topic, back to back, from opposite viewpoints? Almost all the action (which could be shortened considerably) takes place inside an enormous network of underground tunnels, 30 kilometers in all. In this dull grey and brown atmosphere, the soldiers dig, suffer hunger and thirst, sleep in full army gear, listen to rousing speeches about defending the homeland, and write letters which never arrive in the hands of their loved ones, but are discovered buried in the tunnels years later. Most soldiers knew they were doomed to die, but nevertheless kept a strong sense of honor, something which is less obvious among the Americans who, in Flags of our Fathers believe that war is hell but they will survive.

Several individuals stand out as representatives of the Japanese army. General Tadamichi spent time in the U.S. in the ‘20s and the ‘30s and knows that he is leading a lost cause. He wrote humorous, skilfully illustrated letters, as if he would soon return from a relaxing cruise. Saigo was a simple baker in civilian life and would just as soon “let the Americans have this island.” Baron Nishi is a famous Olympic-medal-winning equestrian. I would have liked to have learned more about their former lives in Japan before they were shipped to the Pacific. Paul Haggis and Iris Yamashita wrote the script in English after much research and many trips to Japan. It was then translated into Japanese with English subtitles, also possibly a first among films. Who says that movie-goers won’t read subtitles? I can’t imagine this film in any other language than Japanese, or without “real” Japanese actors. What a good opportunity to see Ken Watanabe (The Last Samurai, Batman Begins) again or to meet new actors such as Kazunari Ninomiya, who, in real life, plays in a famous Japanese pop band called Arashi, or Shidou Nakamura who is a third-generation actor in a Kabuki troupe. This film probably would appeal to a specialized audience: war buffs, cinema enthusiasts who have seen Flags of our Fathers or those who enjoy something different. It is more educational than entertaining and the moral is obvious: war is such a waste—a moral which sadly will never reach those who might make a difference. (Becky Tan)

The Walker ***
Director: Paul Schrader, USA, Great Britain
Carter Page III (Woody Harrelson) is the grandson of an illustrious Virginian tobacco plantation farmer. He is the son of an American politician who was famous for standing up to Nixon during Watergate. Page earns his living as a society escort in Washington, D.C. Due to his influential heritage, Carter’s escort service allows him access to a lifestyle he understands and enjoys. However, his lucrative job is a personal means to an end: to find himself, the real Carter Page III.

Carter is known as a “walker” or official male escort of women from Washington, D.C.’s high society. Carter accompanies these ladies to events and activities which their own husbands are prone to sidestep. One of his main rituals is their weekly gossip and story-telling hour. This is the highlight of their week. They are so happy that Carter is the dependable partner in their weekly Canasta game. Carter is the main attraction because he enjoys telling what he knows in a thick, southern accent, used for dramatic purposes. The elite group is made up of Carter, Lynn Lockner (Kristin Scott Thomas), Natalie Van Miter (Lauren Bacall), Chrisse Morgan (Mary Beth Hurt), and Abigail Delorean (Lily Tomlin). Aside from his tales, meeting with Carter tantalizes their senses because he’s attractive, funny, loyal, intelligent, culturally astute, available and homosexual. They drag him all over town as their personal companion and spend their husbands’ money. The husbands have their own agenda in using Carter: to secure their own dignity.

The story kicks in when Carter chauffeurs his childhood friend Lynn to a secret rendezvous with her lover, drops her off, and after parking the car, settles in for a long wait. Lynn returns in a matter of minutes, shocked and hysterically nervous. She found her lover murdered. Carter knows she is not the culprit and becomes Lynn’s private Sherlock Holms detective in order to find the killer and the reasons behind this atrocity. Carter recruits his grounded boyfriend Emek Yoglu (Moritz Bleibtreu) to join the hunt. Together they fight a very evil underworld for answers which fuel the fire for Carter to finally discover himself: Carter Page III.

In The Walker Paul Schrader tells the story in a high powered, political town that lives from dangerous gossip. The title was coined by W magazine’s editor, John Fairchild, to describe Jerry Zipkin, a real-life “walker” for Nancy Regan, Betsy Bloomingdale and others. Schrader cleverly unravels the illusions of a shallow world in the life and times of Carter Page III. (Karen Pecota)

Generation Plus 14

Man in the Chair *****
Director: Michael Schroeder, USA
Beverly Hills High School announces a major contest for want-to-be filmmakers during the two-week Christmas vacation. The grand prize winner will receive a scholarship to a Los Angeles film school. One of the most rebellious kids from the other side of the tracks, Cameron Kincaid (Michael Angarano), steps up to the challenge to make his filmmaking dream come true. The first obstacle is the rich kids’ connection to the film industry and their access to high-tech equipment. That alone puts a damper on Cameron’s good intensions but doesn’t squelch his passion. His main problem is finding a film-worthy story.

In order to get some ideas, Cameron heads down to the famous retro Beverly Hills Cinema, where old classics run every afternoon. It is the perfect place to brainstorm because the place is practically empty. There is an old drunken coot, Flash (Christopher Plummer), who visits the cinema regularly. He a retired gaffer and the only surviving crew member from the legendary film, Citizen Kane. Cameron does not know this guy’s story but finds amusement in his never-ending commentary about the actors on screen. Although quite a disturbance, Flash gets his point across with his unique sarcasm and obnoxious loud voice. Cameron approaches Flash for help with his film. Flash is genuinely flattered that anyone would take notice but, because he is rarely sober, he is frightened at the task and harshly declines. Cameron stalks him every day and learns that he is an walking gold mine of film industry talent. He also observes that Flash’s daily routine involves keeping tabs on many of his film cronies who have literally been forgotten and live in Hollywood’s rat-infested homes for the aged. Cameron realizes that Flash’s visitation service is really what keeps him going. He’s in awe of this icon all the more. He becomes more persistent to get Flash on board with the project. His efforts finally pay off and Flash, in turn, takes a new lease on life to help Cameron. As the project grows, it takes on a life of its own and encompasses a wider sphere of film friends and expertise, due to Flash’s influence. For example: Flash approaches his screenwriting friend, Mickey Hopkins (M. Emmet Walsh), to join the mission but Mickey is terrified that he has lost the touch until Cameron shows him that he is revered on the film website, IMDB. Wow! Mickey is pleasantly surprised! Totally energized, he kicks into his old familiar writing style to help Cameron create a valuable documentary exposing horrific living conditions in the Los Angeles county retirement centers, a topic he knows first hand. Through the course of the project, a very healthy co-dependency develops between Flash and Cameron. A generation is bridged and they each come to a personal revelation. They discover that their own fate can give them a joy and peace beyond understanding.

Director Michael Schroeder communicates a timeless message. The process used in Man in the Chair compliments every facet of its narrative. It’s a piece one remembers as a surprise discovery. I compare it to the quality of precision in a Swiss watch. Generations come to appreciate the mechanics of quality such as Man in the Chair. Schroeder’s creativity combines color, motion, music and words to magnetize his audience, no matter what the age. (Karen Pecota)

This is England ****
Director: Shane Meadows, England
How could I go wrong with a film which won the 2006 BIFA prize, the Jury Prize at 2006 Rome International Film Festival, and Special Presentation at 2006 Toronto Film Festival? Indeed this was a great film about a self portrait of the director Shane Meadows. He tries to recapture the best childhood summer he ever had. This was not an ordinary summer tale. Shaun (Thomas Turgoose) joins a band of Skinheads in 1983. Gang members tease him about his trousers until the gang leader Woody (Joe Gilgun) offers protection and they accept him as one of their own.

For the first time Shaun has friends and, even more importantly, has older male role models since his own father died in the Falkland war. The Skinheads started out as a harmless group of kids of all colours dressing outrageously and listening to Reggae music. Later the group became a racist nationalist group which wanted a pure England. Meadows cast local unknown actors and worked with his family and friends. Since this was a period piece, he had to return to the ‘80s, which he captures perfectly. Meadows also captures the growing pains of Shaun, who on the one hand falls in love with a girl and at the same time has to decide between racism and friendship as the skinhead group splits into two separate gangs. At first he sways towards the racist group since their macho image appeals to him but realizes that is with wrong direction after his Jamaican friend gets beat up.

Meadows said he picked Turgoose because he kept coming to the screening and demanding money to film him. Meadows said that was something he would have done as a child. Turgoose had a similar background to his, i.e., very little contact to his father since his parents where divorced. The film is dedicated to Turgoose’s mother since she died during the making of this film and Turgoose was forced to know his father. Turgoose said the funniest thing was that he couldn’t cash the check for his acting work because he had no bank account. Turgoose’s father said he was proud of his son who committed to a television show starting in March. (Shelly Schoeneshoefer)

Generation Kplus

The Last Mimzy ***
Director: Bob Shaye, USA
Founder of New Line Cinema, Bob Shaye, returns to the director’s chair for The Last Mimzy after a ten-year absence. This screenplay is adapted from the short story All Mimzy Were the Borogroves by Lewis Padgett (A title taken from Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky).

Noah Wilder (Chris O’Neal) and his little sister Emma (Rhiannon Leigh Wryn) are playing on the beach at their summer home. Suddenly, they see something strange fall from the sky which lands in the water close to them. Curious, they quickly run to fetch it. Noah drags a heavy black box to shore and frantically opens it. Emma, also anxious, hopes the viewing takes place before their mom calls them to dinner. The box is covered with strange symbols and with a gentle touch it unexpectedly opens. There are witty toys inside the black configuration and the children are mesmerized by their brilliant colors. The noises, especially from the little antique stuffed animal rabbit, are anything but normal. Emma retrieves the rabbit from a special casing inside the box and her whole body lights up like a light-bulb which terrifies Noah. The kids are shocked back into reality as their mom calls. After supper, the kids secretly take their findings to the bedroom and continue to investigate the toys. It seems that by just touching the playthings an exchange of strange powers has been given to them and they understand the noise coming from the little rabbit, whose name is Mimzy. The rabbit tells the children that she is a messenger from the future who needs their help to save future generations from extinction through disease and pollution. They agree to help Mimzy and their unexpected adventure spins out of control and puts the lives loved ones in danger.

This children’s film has the potential to be the modern ET, especially with the endearing characters and strength of the cast. Young children will not be able to wade through the vast range of themes from New Age spiritualism to government intervention to Global Warming. But adults will understand it. As a children’s story, the script should have gone with the “less is more” theory to make it a real classic. (Karen Pecota)

The Year My Parents Went on Vacation ***
Director: Cao Hamburger, Brazil, Argentina
The Brazilian parents of 12-year-old Mauro (Michel Joeisas) unexpectedly take him to visit grandpa who lives in the Bom Retro district of Sao Paulo, Brazil. In 1970, this community was a fun-filled, thriving, ethnic ghetto, primarily made up of Jews and Italians. Mauro did not want to be away from home because he was anxiously awaiting the televised soccer playoffs, to watch with mom, dad and his buddies. The whole country, including Mauro, was hopeful that the Brazilian national team would clinch the soccer World Cup title for the third time in history. His parents hurriedly dropped Mauro, off at his grandpa’s apartment and promised to return in time to watch the games as a family. Mauro was not too worried until his grandpa never returned home from work. Mauro waited hours on his grandpa’s door step. The elderly next-door neighbor, Shlomo (Germano Haiut), tried to talk with him but Mauro didn’t understand Yiddish nor did the neighbor understand Portuguese. Mauro suddenly felt alone in a world he knew nothing about. Frightened, angry and worried, Mauro, had no one to help him find his family. In spite of the fact that the neighbor did not want to be bothered, he allowed Mauro to sleep on his couch for the night. Grateful that he had a comfortable bed to lay his head, Mauro knew that after a good night of sleep he was sure to find out what had become of grandpa.

Director Cao Hamburger’sThe Year My Parents Went on Vacation is Brazilian historical fiction on the big screen. The year 1970 was a time of political unrest in Brazil which he creatively documents through the eyes of a child. The children were unaware of the political turbulence but many of the parents were participants in a rebellion to rid the existing government along with its corruption. If caught, imprisonment was probable and many died for speaking out against the regime and its dictator. Interestingly, during the height of the rebellion and its tragedies in 1970 the whole nation was absorbed in their national soccer team and whether it could triumph with the World Cup title for the third time. Even though the director did not play soccer, when asked to name the 1970 national team icons, he quickly rattled them off without skipping a beat. (Karen Pecota)

Love & Dance ***1/2
Director Sipur Hatzi Russi, Israel
Love and Dance, an Israeli film, has traces of Billy Elliot in that it takes place in a region with political and social boundaries and that young Chen (Vladimir Volov) is forced at first to take dancing lessons secretly. Chen\'s father Rami (Ari Kushnir) is sort of an Israeli Jean-Paul Belmondo - a macho type with a cigarette always hanging out of the side of his mouth. When not photographing weddings for his livelihood, he likes to sit in the dunes and photograph sand migration with impatient Chen at his side. Chen\'s mother Lena (Oksana Korostyshevskaya) is Russian and this is how we first realize that the film is about the culture clash between the sabras (the born-in-Israel Israelis) and the looked-down-upon Russian immigrants. Rami doesn\'t even want Lena speaking Russian to Chen, but she persists. The bicultural family has its problems and Lena sometimes stifles Chen with her love. When Rami forgets he had promised to take Lena dancing for their wedding anniversary, Chen accompanies his mother to a dance studio in the community center. It is there that he first sees Natalie and in order to get to know her, he starts to attend her dancing class. Yulia Rabinovitch (Yevgenia Dodina) is the critical but sympathetic dance instructor. Chen, in the middle of his parents\' conflict, finally realizes that he cannot help them and this is when he is free for the first time in his life - free to lead his own life in his own way.

Throughout the film the prejudice the young Russians are exposed to when in contact with Israelis their age in the projects of Ashdod is evident and their survival techniques take interesting variations. The lovely, momentarily happy ending is like a scene from a musical. All at the national dance tournament, even the spectators and jury, dance and swirl and smile - seemingly without a care in the world. (Thelma Louise Freedman)


Moscow Gay Pride Festival ****
Produced by LGBT Human Rights Project Gay Russia
In May 2006 a small group of gays organized a Christopher Street Day parade through Moscow. They preceded their event with a three-day conference and many international supporters spoke, e.g., Merlin Hollander, the grandson of Oscar Wilde, Volker Beck, representative from the German parliament in Berlin; Sophie int’veld from the European Parliament, Clementine Autain, the vice-mayor of Paris; Scott Long from Human Rights Watch New York, and Peter Tatchell from Outrage! in London, as well as others from Denmark, the U.S. and England, etc. The Moscow city mayor banned the procession in spite of protests by the young organizer Nicolai Alekseev. A few courageous gays walked through the town to lay a wreath, jeered by wrinkled grannies holding pictures of Orthodox Russian saints against their bosoms and skinheads throwing stones, all yelling, “Down with faggots.” Herr Beck proudly emerged from the fray with a bleeding wound on his cheek. After the film, we had the opportunity to speak with Volker Beck as well as Nicolai Alekseev, who is a unique and courageous young man. He said that there were many gay people in Russia, but only a few could “come out” without fear of losing their jobs. A similar struggle for the basic human right to assemble and demonstrate or even be gay occurred a year before in Warsaw. Mr. Alekseev said that he has now petitioned the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg to make a decision which would force Russia to allow a peaceful procession, something which many of us take for granted. Watch the news next year and hope for their success. (Becky Tan)

Poor Boy’s Game ****
Director: Clement Virgo, Canada
Donnie Rose (Russif Sutherland) was imprisoned at the age of 17 for the brutal beating of a young black student, Charles Carvey (K.C. Collins) in his hometown of Halifax, Nova Scotia. The community where Donnie grew up has dealt with racial segregation for over 400 years. It is really the only city in Canada with atrocities comparable to ones the American South faced in the 1950s. Historically, Halifax’s large black population is mostly descended from black Loyalists and slaves who escaped to freedom in Canada via the Underground Railroad. Formerly revered, one of the oldest black communities has been neglected over the last century, turning into the worst slum area in the country. Because it was such a disgrace to the white community, plans were made to eradicate it and its inhabitants. In the midst of this racial tension, Clement Virgo’s boxing drama is the catalyst to address the issues of a community gripped with racial conflict and a chance for true change to take place through forgiveness and redemption.

Charles Carvey suffered a brutal beating, was left for dead, but survived. Charles, once an outstanding student and athlete would never again aspire to the hopes and dreams which both he and his parents, George (Danny Glover) and Ruth Carvey (Tonya Lee Williams), once had for his future. His severe mental and physical handicap took them down a different path. Nine years later, Donnie returns to his community as a changed and gentle-spirited man continuing his own journey of restoration. Unfortunately, his family refuses to forget the past and instigates a rash of racial rumbles. The whole town is aware of Donnie’s release and the black community wants revenge. One of their most esteemed black boxers Ossie Paris (Flex Alexander) challenges Donnie to a match in the ring, as a just way to settle the score. Donnie wants no part of any violence or retribution but his family will not let him decline. Donnie seeks help from Charles’ father, George Carvey, one of the cleverest boxing coaches in history. Their initial meeting sets them off on a long journey towards discovering the true meaning of forgiveness, mentorship, and a father’s loving heart. (Karen Pecota)

Schau mir in die Augen, Kleiner (Here’s Looking at You Boy) ****
Director, André Schäfer, Germany, USA, France, the Netherlands
This year marked the 20th anniversary of the Teddy Awards which are given to the best gay and lesbian films at the Berlinale. This documentary by André Schäfer traces the rise and mainstream popularity of gay films. He begins with the 1978 assassination of Harvey Milk in San Francisco. He goes on to show examples of gayness in 32 films beginning with Hairspray and The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert clear up to, of course, Brokeback Mountain. He features directors such as Wolfgang Peterson, Rosa von Praunheim, John Waters, Stephen Frears, Patrice Chéreau, Francois Ozon and Gus van Sant. He talks to Tilda Swinton and Stephen Fry. These days, Hollywood has few hindrances when hiring straight actors to play gays (contrary to Marco Simon Puccioni who had problems in Italy). Think of Jude Law, Rupert Everett, Daniel Day-Lewis, etc. He credits John Waters with influencing independent film movement and shows one of Waters’ most famous actors: Divine. Schäfer says that AIDS changed gay movies in 1986. It’s interesting that a documentary was necessary to prove that gays and lesbians have come a long way in Hollywood, because I never realized that there was a problem. (Becky Tan)

The Home Song Stories ****
Director, Tony Ayres, Australia
Ayers bases his film on the true life of his own family, beginning in 1964 when his mother, beautiful nightclub singer Rose Hong (Joan Chen), marries sailor Bill and they, together with Rose’s own two children, move to Bill’s home in Australia. She soon decides that marriage is boring and spends the next seven years singing and working in various Chinese restaurants. This life style is torturous to the two young children who try to create some stability. School and homework seem to be the only constant elements in their lives. There are two different perspectives as told by the daughter May (Irene Chen) and the son Tom (Joel Lok).

They finally return to Bill’s house since it was the only financially sensible option. Peace is short lived. Bill is at sea and Rose uses the opportunity to spice up her life. This exotic diva finally takes Joe, an illegal immigrant cook, as her lover with plans to settle down. Joe is reluctant to be strapped down to a middle-aged woman with the full responsibility of two kids. Rose vacillates from emotional highs to rage to attempted suicide, never considering the effect it will have on her kids. Soon Joe takes an interest in May who is closer to his age. This sets off Rose once again, with such emotional damage to May that she too attempts suicide, a basic response that she has learned from her mother.

Knowing that this is based on a true story, it is hard to watch the kids being dragged from place to place, and it is a wonder that they managed to grow up healthy at all. Ayres’ gift for writing provided a lucky release through which he could heal old wounds and understand his mother. Ayres denied that making this film was therapeutic, which seems unbelievable considering that the film enabled him and his sister to talk through their history for the first time. They both had different points of view due to their age and their individual interaction with their mother. The movie is realistically set. Joan Chen’s flaunting her diva personality is a wonderful contrast to the normal Australian lifestyle. (Shelly Schoeneshoefer)

Gucha (Distant Trumpet) ***
Director: Dusan Milic, Germany, Serbia, Bulgaria, Austria
Every year thousands of people travel to the Serbian town of Gucha to listen to the World Brass Championships. Here musicians compete in combos and solo for the Golden Trumpet award. Against this authentic background is a little love story about Juliana, the daughter of a leading trumpet player and Romeo from the competition. The story is unoriginal and unimportant. Breath-taking is the fantastic music called Balkan fusion and foremost the gypsies who seem to have been born with trumpets in their tiny fists. One gypsy ensemble under the leadership of Boban Markovic has won five consecutive years. Boban’s real 19-year-old son Marco, soloist and arranger, plays Romeo. This was my last film of the festival and a good way to return to Hamburg – full of high upbeat notes, which are still hovering over me. (Becky Tan)

Riparo (Shelter) **
Director: Marco Simon Piccioni, Italy, France
Anna and Mara vacation in Morocco. Upon leaving the country, they discover a stowaway in the trunk of their car. Whereas in a similar film at the Hamburg film festival, this event led to the driver’s arrest and wasting away in a hole of a Moroccan prison for years, these girls were lucky. They take the young man named Anis home to Italy and let him sleep in their comfortable house. Comfortable, because Anna is part owner of a factory; Mara is an employee. There are the usual conflicts when a twosome becomes a threesome, when relatives add their opinions and when individuals develop differently. The kick in this film is that Anna and Mara are lesbians, but the same problems would have occurred even if this were a mainstream couple. Puccioni said that it is difficult to find actors to play gay parts in Italy, as well as difficult to find much of an audience. He wanted to stress the social and political involvement of sharing a “shelter” which to him is not only physical (a roof) but also mental (a job, family). (Becky Tan)

Scott Walker 30th Century Man ***
Director, Stephen Kijak, Great Britain, USA
A popular tune in the 1960s was “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore” by the Walker brothers. One of the three “brothers” (neither related nor named Walker) was Noel Scott Engel, from Hamilton Ohio. He became Scott Walker, singer and bass guitarist. The Walker Brothers moved their act to England, where Scott Walker still lives. For 40 years now, he has been solo professionally, experimenting with very non-mainstream music a la David Bowie and Björk. He has had a few terrible flops and some interesting half-way successful records, e.g., The Drift, in which he employs new kinds of instruments and sounds. Director Stephen Kijak was able to interview Scott Walker, who was known as a difficult and withdrawn recluse seldom seen in public. Scott Walker fans will enjoy the film. My main concern was: how does he finance his life with such low and often unsuccessful output? (Becky Tan)

Strange Culture ***
Director: Lynn Hershman Leeson, USA
Has everyone in the U.S. gone mad, post 9/11? Homeland security sees danger everywhere and the FBI has no compunction about destroying innocent lives. Steve Kurtz is still waiting for his case to be brought before a U.S. court. Because he is not allowed to discuss it, actors re-enact the events leading to his arrest. Kurtz is an Associate Professor for Art at the University of Buffalo and a founding member of an art and theater group called Critical Art Ensemble. In May 2004, he was preparing little Petri dishes of samples to mail to the exhibit when his wife died unexpectedly in the night. He called the paramedics; they shuddered at the sight of something like a laboratory in his home and called in the FBI. These stalwart men dressed in Hazmat suits totally trashed his home and took away his wife’s body, the cat, the computer, books, etc. He is now under arrest for being a bio-terrorist, when in fact the FBI acts more like real terrorists, out to make save face by trumping up charges for lack of a case. This film is a good example of government, military, science and industry coming together for the public harm. People who live in terror give up their rights. I will be watching the news for the results of the case. Anyone interested in the case, or especially, wishing to donate to the defence fund set up by his friends, can find him on the internet. (Becky Tan)

The  Red  Elvis ***
Director, Leopold Grün, Germany
Nineteen-year-old American Dean Reed left Denver, Colorado, to live in Hollywood, Chile, Russia (where he was the “Soviet John Denver”) and finally the German Democratic Republic (where he was the “Red Elvis”). He was a David Hasselhoff type – good build, nice looking, charming and friendly. He sang his own pop songs in English and accompanied himself on the guitar. He had a knack for learning Spanish and German. He produced 13 LPs, played in 20 films, and performed in 32 countries. He was popular not only through his music, but because he rejected the American way of life; he propagated Communism and world peace, but enjoyed many freedoms normal people lacked under that very same Communism. And nobody in the U.S. ever heard of him.

By the age of 44 he had acquired a wife, an ex-wife, girl friends, and children in Germany. His stardom was fading. At this low point in his career, he was found dead in an East Berlin lake in 1982. Suicide is the prevalent opinion but murder makes him more interesting. In this documentary director Leopold Grün interviews contemporaries such as Isabel Allende, Armin Mueller-Stahl, a US radio host named Peter Boyles, and various female partners. Reed’s wife Renate was not on screen, because, according to Leopold Grün, she has signed over rights to Tom Hanks who plans to make a move on the same topic. It’s worth the attention and I’ll anticipate another movie about Dean Reed. (Becky Tan)

Panorama Special

Away from Her *****
Director, Sarah Polley, Canada
Through the eye of award-winning cinematographer, Luc Montepellier, and with an intelligent screenplay, director Sarah Polley explores the topic of human memory in Away From Her. Polley’s narrative eloquently captures a wonderment of what memory looks like and why its loss is so important to understand. She puts a vivid face on the growing issues that surround victims of Alzheimer’s, their loved ones and the institutions that become primary care-givers.

The weathered but romantic 50-year-marriage of Grant (Gordon Pinsent), and Fiona (Julie Christie) is threatened with the disease called Alzheimer’s. The portrayal of their matured love, sense of humor and tenderness becomes harder to hang onto as Fiona’s memory loss increases. The uncanny wedge in their deteriorating relationship is an increased memory of Grant’s unfaithfulness many years ago. The emotional roller coaster that Grant experiences is a hardly bearable penance. However, with the help of Marion (Olympia Dukakis) and her husband Aubrey (Michael Murphy), Grant makes a surprise discovery about the meaning of love, its non-traditional structure and the will to keep living.

Already a well-known Canadian actress, Sarah earns the filmmaker’s stamp-of-approval with her first feature, Away From Her. Polley was passionately driven to put her pen to paper for a screen write after reading Alice Munro’s short story, “The Bear Came Over the Mountain.” She desired to direct the film because, in her opinion, the narrative was the most beautiful love story she had ever read. Away From Her premiered at the 2006 Toronto film festival and proved to be the darling of both critics and the general public. Her first feature debut and its fame spread throughout the world including the U.S. (Sundance Film Festival) and Europe (Berlinale International Film Festival) in 2007. (Karen Pecota)

Fay Grimm ***
Director, Hal Hartley, Germany, USA
Fay Grim (Parker Posey) puts most of her energy into raising her son, Ned (Liam Aiken). She takes every precaution to protect him from any knowledge of his father’s unscrupulous lifestyle. The father, Henry Fool, (Thomas Jay Ryan), mysteriously disappeared nine years ago after the killing of a wicked neighbor. Lonely for affection but angry that he just vanished without a word; Fay has had no contact with anyone regarding Henry. Her brother, famous poet Simon Grim (James Urbaniak), served nine years in prison because, as a friend, he helped Henry skip the country. He has never discussed Henry with Fay until government thugs come inquiring. Fay describes her strange encounters to Simon in prison. Simon knows that some highly sensitive, government documents are secretly coded in Henry’s personal journals. They document horrific events at an international level during the 1950s. Simon was privy to a different life of Henry; he needs Fay’s help to protect the journals, as well as their own lives and a possible chance of seeing Henry. Simon and Fay devise a plan to locate Henry’s journals, but first Fay must facilitate Simon’s release from prison. Together they go back and forth to Europe in search of the missing journals, Henry and the truth. This is uncanny thriller is director Hal Hartley’s 1997 sequel to his film Henry Fool. Also stars Jeff Goldblum and Saffron Burrows. (Karen Pecota)

Summer Rain (English Road) **
Director, Antonio Banderas, Spain, Great Britain
Determined to make a film in Malaga, after leaving that Spanish town 26 years ago for the U.S., Banderas stars beautiful young Spanish men, who loll around the swimming pool and adjust their bathing suits where it hurts. Now and then a youth will disappear into the nearby bushes to couple with a plump and willing girl. Or they sit in front of the Conzáles Cortés bar and watch the people. There is Miquelito who lost a kidney in an operation, reads Dante’s Divine Comedy and aspires to become a poet. He loves Luli. Babirusa goes to his mother’s second wedding in London and finds that she is a table dancer in Soho. Paco confronts his father whose idea of being a role model is to flaunt corruption, power, and women. These small things: surgery, travel, and confrontation, ebb and flow; the lethargic aura of hot summer and light rain trickles on but, in reality, nothing much happens. Banderas says this is supposed to show the passage from adolescence to adulthood. After 30 minutes I asked myself, “Where is this film going?” Everyone seemed to have too much time and no goals in life. People attacked each other with a pistol, a spear, and a cork screw and discussed ways of killing dear father. The teacher sleeps with the students, Bruce Lee hovers in the background, the music plops plinks along, (perhaps like the rain?) to drive anyone crazy. It won first prize from the jury of the Label Europa Cinemas, why I’ll never know, although the boys are very cute. (Becky Tan)

Perspectives Deutsches Kino

Osdorf ****
Director: Maja Classen, Germany
Ms. Classen studies at the Potsdam film school, but came to Hamburg to make a documentary about the Osdorfer Born high-rise apartment buildings. She features six teenagers, most of them from immigrant families, and the lack of perspective for their future. They talk about school, reasons for being in Germany, girls, lack of money, and entertainment. She follows them into Fühlsbüttel prison where a group of lifers (including the brother of one youngster) have established a Verein which welcomes teenagers tottering on the threshold of crime. These seasoned jailbirds show their cells and talk to them about life in jail, in an effort to frighten them. This is highly commendable. Definitely something needs to be done, as just recently a new-born baby was thrown to its death from a 10th floor apartment in these very same high rises. (Becky Tan)


A Walk into the Sea: Danny Williams and the Warhol Factory ***
Director Esther B. Richardson, USA
This documentary originated under extraordinary circumstances when Nadia Williams visited her granddaughter Ester B. Richardson. Richardson, who was working for the Warhol Foundation, learned that an uncle had been part of the Warhol Factory before he mysteriously disappeared in 1966. Richardson undertakes an extraordinary adventure into the unknown past of her uncle. With the help of Callie Angel, curator of the Whitney Museum, she discovers actual film footage, formerly part of MOMA archives, which her uncle had shot while living with Andy Warhol. The films are all black and white and show the velvet underground as well as the members who made up the Factory at the time.

She interviews the gang of Factory artists who knew her uncle Danny Williams. They confirmed that he Andy Warhol’s lover. They also indicated that Williams was considered very talented but lacked self confidence. The movie integrates his footage while questioning the mysterious disappearance. Was it drug related? Did he leave with someone for a new beginning since things had not worked at the Factory for him? Did he commit suicide where his car was found by the sea? It is a wonderful film that sheds light on life at the Factory, showing how a group of artists cooperated and reinforced each other’s personalities. I t shows that the Factory was a brutal struggle for identity and usefulness. It also showed the flaws in Andy Warhol’s personality as well as his egotism. This film received a Teddy Award in the documentary category. (Shelly Schoeneshoefer)