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HH Film Fest Reviews 2006 - Part I
by the KinoCritics

Architect, The ***
Matt Tauber, USA
Chances are that the well-to-do architect asked to design a low-cost housing project has never lived in one. Leo (Anthony LaPaglia) is proud of Eden Court, the tower block nightmare he designed in Chicago and is stunned when activist Tonya Viola Davis asks him to sign her petition – “Oprah’s signed it”—to have it torn down. Leo’s predicament is that he rides roughshod over people while being well intentioned but blinkered. He isn’t listening to what Tonya is saying but he makes a well-meaning attempt to redesign his project so that it looks more attractive. He is clueless about the social problems of living there just as he is clueless about his wife Julia’s (Isabella Rossellini) unhappiness. Tonya’s home life in Eden Court shares similarities with Leo’s in his leafy suburb. One of her daughters is the stereotypical single mother who sits in front of the TV all day and ignores her baby. Her other daughter is farmed out to acquaintances who live in a good school district. She is an honor student who wants her mum to stop campaigning and move away from her home. Leo’s son has dropped out of college, is resisting his dad’s offer to work for him and befriends a boy of similar age in the projects with disastrous results. Leo’s unhappy daughter accuses her mother of selfishness and searches for someone to care about her. David Greig, who sharpened his skills at the Sundance Institute Screenwriting Lab. wrote the play on which the movie is based. Its director is Matt Tauber, an award winning stage director and the founder of Chicago’s Kitchen Theater Company who has made his feature film debut about a thoughtful and thought- provoking subject. (Jenny Mather)

Aviva, My Love ***
Shemi Zarhin, Israel
Aviva is a cook at the Sheraton Hotel in Tiberias in the northern part of Israel. She takes care of her old parents and her hysterical mother who is especially difficult. She tries to please her unemployed husband and two grown children. As a result, her life is stressful and difficult, but still she uses her limited free time to pursue a writing career. Her sister Anita introduces her to the successful novelist Oded. He tries to publish her work under his own name. Her dentist makes an indecent pass at her. Aviva seems to be a natural victim. This chaotic environment fuels her writing talent because the moment the tension subsides, she dries up. Her sister says, “No one needs you any more; is that why you are not writing?” This is a story about a woman who finds herself or, as director Zarhin says, “a woman who redefines her consciousness.” I kept thinking, “Stop being everyone’s slave; stand up for yourself and tell them to get lost.” In the end she is successful, as is Asi Levi who plays Aviva, a plain woman with an inner light which shines in the end. This won six Irsraeli Oscars in 2006 for best actress, director, film, etc. (Becky Tan, NT***1/2)

Awakening from the Dead*
Milos Radivojevic, Serbia
This is a dark story about a whole generation of educated people who prematurely died in the bombings during the Balkans War. So many valuable lives slaughtered. In spite that it’s unrealistic to bring people back from the dead, this story takes takes one man’s life, Mickey (an author and university lecturer), and awakens him from the dead. He is given 48 hours to live again. Serbia’s seasoned director Radivojevic, takes us on Mickey’s journey of what he would do, where he would go, whom he would speak with and what he would say, given a resurrection. Mickey’s encounters were often strange especially with those he held dear. Life had gone on without him but the destitution lingered. The usage of nostalgic colors tones in the cinematography captures a heavy mood of sadness and the regret of a generation lost. (Karen Pecota, SS)

Bang Bang Orangutang ***1/2
Simon Staho, Denmark
High flyer Åke (Mikael Persbrandt) is a self-absorbed businessman for the first five minutes of the film. Then he runs over his own son in his own driveway and loses everything: job, wife and daughter. Suddenly he experiences what it means to be the object of scorn and insults which accompany bad fortune. He looks like a nerd, drives a taxi, grovels before his girl friend and stalks his wife. He toadies to his passengers, his girlfriend’s pals, and the wife’s new boy friend. There is a strong resemblance to the biblical Job and he says, “Everything I was afraid of has already happened.” Suicide is not an option, as there is still one small light in his life: darling daughter Emma. (The title comes from a children’s joke that the two share.) There is a surprising, and possibly not logical, ending, but here, too, there is a small ray of hope with a positive message, even though Åke says, “Love isn’t enough to give meaning to life and truth.” The two best parts of the film are the interesting color combinations throughout which make it look like a faded comic or water color and the amazing acting of Mimmi Berckert-Claesson as Emma. This is supposed to be a black comedy, and it is, although not as funny as that other Danish film Adams Apples.” (Becky Tan)

Be Fruitful and Multiply ***1/2
Shosh Shlam, Israel
Director Shlam interviewed orthodox Jewish women in Brooklyn, New York, and in Israel. She shows that their only purpose in life is to give birth as often as possible and up to 16 children are the result; their natural state of being is pregnancy. One woman wanted a year’s relief; she asked her husband, who asked the rabbi, whether she could take contraceptives. You can imagine his answer. Only Yenti in Israel is an exception. She has limited her family to four children. She talked with the film’s director outside the home, without her husband’s permission. Having grown up in a large family, she wanted to spare her children her own feelings of too little love and time from her mother. She enjoys reliving her own childhood through her children, going on trips and excursions with them. After appearing on television in this film, she was not only ostracized but threatened by her community. The other women are active within their households, teaching their daughters to be exactly like themselves (“The sons go to yeshiva and the girls help at home”), cooking constantly (especially for Jewish holidays), as well as visiting their older children with their similarly growing families. They have a respected position within the community.

There was a discussion with the director after the film. The international women in the audience thought orthodox Jewish women should have a voice (although my Jewish friend says that Jewish women rule their households absolutely). They said, according to the Judaism if you have one girl and one boy, then you have fulfilled the be-fruitful-and-multiply rule. They wanted to know who supports these large families. It turned out that many of them live off the generosity of the state. The director was most alarmed by change in Israel since orthodox Jews were multiplying greatly, while liberal Jews were not. The director began her film in Brooklyn, where woman were more willing to talk, and they directed her to families in Israel. This was quite an interesting look into another world, especially here in Hamburg, where I have never seen even one Orthodox Jewish person in the 40 years I’ve lived here. (Becky Tan)

Bonkers *** (children’s film)
Martin Koolhoven, Holland
Bonkers is a movie that dives into an unconventional household where the nine-year-old Bonnie (Jesse Tinsma) is being raised by her grandmother since her mother suffers from manic depression. Bonnie lives through the ups and downs of her mother’s illness but luckily her grandmother provides her with a stable environment. When her grandmother dies, Bonnie’s life changes dramatically. She tries to mimic the way her grandmother organized their lives since the social services people are not sure it is in her best interest. The movie uses humor in order to show how difficult it is to deal with mental illness and it was extremely well done in showing it from the child’s point of view. There are moments where Bonnie has to cope with rejection, and loneliness as well as embarrassing situations. At the end she relies on her instinct to save her family. The ending has a tacked-on feeling but the audience didn’t seem to mind it. (Shelly Schoeneshoefer)

Border Post no stars
Rajko Grlic, Great Britain, Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia, Bosnia, Herzegovina and Hungary
Billed as a comedy, this films describes the final days of Yugoslavia’s existence, when, in 1987, the military border patrol carried out “business as usual” guarding countrymen from a possible invasion from Albanian neighbors. In spite of the fact that the commander knew of no immediate threat to his men or his people, he called for an emergency lock-down of his border compound. His men had the reputation of being good-for-nothing soldiers who were lazy, male chauvinist pigs - actually a mirror image of himself. To please his own commander, he sought to correct their image so that he and his men could leave their post with dignity. Actually, he needed an opportunity to secretly treat his sexually transmitted disease of syphilis before his tour of duty ended and he would be forced to explain this disgust to his beautiful and faithful wife. During the two-week lock-down, the commander had to be daily retrieved from the city. The compound doctor was the only one to be trusted for the mission. The commander had the doctor deliver a special gift to his wife during one of the delivery runs and with this encounter yet another secret began. The film was anything but a comedy. It was the most disgusting piece of work I have seen in a very long time. If you are into extreme raw humor and bored soldiers regularly jacking-off, this one is for you. (Karen Pecota)

Cabra-Cega (Playing in the Dark) **
Toni Venturi, Brazil
Tiago hides in Pedro’s apartment, killing time and acting fearful every time the doorbell rings, even if it’s just the elderly neighbor bringing some treats. We are as bored as he is, but not as irritated and difficult to get along with. The story evolves solely in this apartment, but, bit by bit through flashbacks. we realize that he is a battle-accomplished revolutionary, sought by the police and hidden by his friends. He strives for the higher good, but has no empathy for the needs of others, e.g., the girl who tends his wounds, the owner of the apartment, another refugee, etc. His co-revolutionary Miguel says, “I got a cute militant to take care of you, so don’t be so glum.” In the end he and the “cute militant” named Rosa trash the room and move down the hall into the elderly neighbor’s apartment. This saves their lives. The plot was confusing to me, but according to the festival notes, it is based on a true story about Brazilian revolution in the 1960s and 70s. The film won best director, actor, and script and also audience’s favorite film at the last Brazilian film festival. (Becky Tan)

Camping ***
Fabien Onteniente, France
Plastic surgeon Michel and his daughter Vanessa set off for a vacation in his sports car. They break down near the Blue Tides camping grounds and the campers enthusiastically leave their trailers to help. Repairs last much longer than expected and Michel and Vanessa accept hospitality in Patrick’s tent. They involuntarily become involved with life among the campers which includes demands for the same space as last year, volley ball competitions, a birth, a beauty pageant, jealousies, and disappointments. Women almost bust their bikinis, but nobody is as outrageously sexy as Patrick (excellent Franc Dubosc) in his teeny swim suit which clings to his skinny flanks. This ran under the category of Eurovisuell, i.e., most popular film in a particular country. A comparable film in Germany would be Der Schuh des Manitu or Die 7 Zwerge by Otto Walkes. There are different interpretations of good taste as the Germans say and 4.5 million Frenchmen packed the cinemas to see Camping. I thought it could be called Dirty Dancing for the lower middle classes. This was harmless, brainless slapstick, and enjoyable for a short while. (Becky Tan, KP**)

Ragnar Bragason, Iceland
Thoughts of Iceland recall the forbidden but wondrous landscape which includes geysers, waterfalls and glaciers. Then, there are the people of Iceland like Bjork from the Sugar Cubes and now Ragnar Bragason is filed in my memory bank as well. He studied in New York and has made over 80 short film, documentaries and a TV series. He had success at the Sundance Festival in 2001 with The Whisperer which was nominated for best international film. In 2004, his film Fiasco took the special Jury prize in Cairo. This year his film Children appeared at the Filmfest Hamburg. It is a social drama that contains imagery and black humour that begs for a sequel.

The dark forbidden ambiance of Reykjavik lends itself perfectly as a backdrop to this social drama of a dysfunctional set of people who are trying to survive. The story is broken into three parts which then become intertwined. The first section is about a thug Gardar (Gisli Örn Gardarsson) who is paid to put pressure on people but is a bit psychotic and does not know his limits. Not only does he mess up his own life but also his twin brother’s to the point his family wants nothing to do with him. The second section is about Marino (Olafur Darri Olasson), a schizophrenic man who lives with his mother and works at a grocery store. His only friend is a boy named Gudmund (Andri Snaer Helgsin) who also lacks friends in his age group as well. Gudmund’s family is the third storyline where his mother Karitas (Andri Snaer Helgasn) is struggling to keep her four children and herself afloat. It is also a difficult constellation, since her three younger daughters have one father and Gudmund, the son, another. The father of the girls appears on the scene with his new wife and wants to take them away from her. This leads her down a dark and desperate road in order to keep her kids. Life only seems to get more complicated and messed up when Gudmund’s father, who is none other than the thug Gardar, also appears on the scene.

This film is definitely worth seeing. The relationships are complicated and show the hard side of life but with a dark sense of humor. The film is done in black and white which adds more to this remote and isolated feeling that the characters themselves are struggling to shake off. For me this story explores and captures the strange and small world of people living on an island such as Iceland. The director keeps the suspense up, even to the end which is brilliantly surprising. In fact I cannot wait to see the sequel Parents to find out more about the lives of these people. (Shelly Schoeneshoefer, MW**, NT)

China Blue ***
Micha X. Peled, USA
The film focuses on Jasmin who travels approximately 48 hours on the train from her remote village to a textile factory in Shax, China. She lives in a dormitory full of bunk beds on factory grounds and eats lunch sitting on her bed. She works eight to nine hours daily, seven days a week, for six cents an hour. She befriends a 14-year-old colleague, who helps her adjust to this new life. When the factory can’t meet the deadline, the workers stick to the job for 20 hours straight with no payment for overtime. The girls cut threads; the men iron. No labor unions are anywhere on the premises. In the end one girl goes home for a short vacation after working two years; one marries and puts her child into the care of the mother-in-law and continues to work. Jasmin sadly has no vacation; the company has kept back her salary, which was to have paid her train ticket, as security that she will not run away. Micha X. Peled seems to specialize in documentaries having made Store Wars: When Wal-Mart Comes to Town in 2001. Naturally, this is an impressive film, but it says nothing that we don’t already know and nothing about our unwillingness to pay triple prices for a pair of jeans (the blue of the jeans is the blue in the title). The manager says, “Strangers don’t understand China,” and we hope that it is true, because then we won’t have to react. Members of the Campaign for Clean Clothes (Kampagne für Saubere Kleidung), led by Gisela Pick attended this documentary in Metropolis Cinema. They led a discussion after the film to discuss the low pay and inhumane living conditions of Chinese teenage workers. One such company on their list was the Hamburg textile company which provided the official film festival bags given to all journalists. (Becky Tan)

Conclave, The, ***
Christoph Schrewe , Canada/Germany
Set in Rome in 1458, this period piece brings to life the dramatic events that make up the inner workings of a conclave. The Pope had died, leaving Rome in unrest as those resentful of Spain claim their revenge and interested parties move from the shadows to show their interest and race for the throne. This film brings to the audience the feeling of just how much politics rather than spirituality and religion played a large role in the choosing of the next pope. The nephew, Cardinal Rodigro Borgia (Manu Fullola) has to decide which is more important, his soul or his life, as he has to play campaign manager to the candidate most likely to succeed. With amazing cinematography, costumes, and scenery, this captivating drama will hold you in its grips until the very last minutes. (Kara Wahn, KP****, JM ****, MW***, NT****)

Conversations with Other Women ***
Hans Canosa, USA
This is Hans Canosa’s directorial debut and his first feature film, but he has directed plays, dozens of short films and some experimental videos. His interest in experimentation shows clearly in this movie because he has filmed it in dual frame with a split screen. This technique can feel unnecessary and irritating, but it works well here because it visually compensates for the poor story line. The witnesses at a stylish wedding in New York seem to have met before; they start talking to each other and soon end up in the woman’s hotel bedroom. The nameless woman is played by Helena Bonham Carter and the man by Aaron Eckhart. They have to work very hard as there’s hardly anybody else in the movie. They talk a lot and their conversation ought to be and is meant to be witty and sophisticated but instead is brittle and shallow. As they are both committed to other people, whatever their past may have been, you wonder why they have put themselves in the position they are in. There were a few laughs from the people watching this movie. These all came from women. Men must hate the kind of woman shown here, the sort of woman who regards men as creatures to use and abuse. (Jenny Mather, MW***, NT****, Karen **)