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HH Film Fest Reviews 2006 - Part II
by the KinoCritics

Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari ****
Roert Wiener, Germany
(Review see Something New and Something Old)
Day Break ***
Hamid Rahmanian, Iran
Imagine being stuck in limbo between life and death, knowing your future lies in the hands of a family’s forgiveness whose son’s life you took. This raw film focuses on the execution trial of one man, Mansour (Hossein Yari). According to Iranian law, if you murder someone you are at the mercy of the victim’s family. They decide to forgive you and let you remain in prison or, as the hand that pulls the table out from underneath you, decide to execute you. For an execution trial to take place the family of the victim must also be present and so far that hasn’t been the case. Mansour goes through the rhythms not once but twice so far without a decision. He is left to fade away into the shadows with his thoughts of both past and present, not daring to even consider the future. He awakes every morning dreading the day before him and goes to sleep dreaming of the family that awaits him. Focused solely on forgiveness, both self forgiveness and that of others, this film is a must see. (Kara Wahn, KP***, NT**)

Day Night Day Night *
Julia Loktev, USA
Some movies aren’t worth watching and this is one of them. Adjectives which spring to mind to describe it include slow, tedious and boring. These same adjectives also apply perhaps to the life of a terrorist in the days leading up to the atrocious act he, or in this case she, is prepared to carry out. Considering the subject matter of this movie it should be nerve wracking and full of tension instead of a drag. The director, Julia Loktev, comes from St. Petersburg and received an award at this year’s film festival in Cannes for fresh young talent in the Quinzaine des Realisateurs section. This would suggest that she is someone with a future in the cinema.

Making a movie about a terrorist and potential murderer unfortunately provides an element of importance, almost of glamour, which no terrorist deserves. In this one a nameless nineteen-year-old girl is preparing to carry out an act of unspeakable horror, but there are no clues as to why or to the organisation guiding her. All that we know is that she is American and that the three hooded men who put her through her paces are also American. The four of them meet two more terrorists when final adjustments to the plan are made. One of them is an Irishwoman and the other is a man who communicates with her through sign language while muttering in English under his breath. Were they FBI agents investigating a plot? Were they testing a volunteer to see if she was dedicated to the Cause? Once everything is settled and to the master planners’ liking, we have to watch the nameless girl prepare to carry out her plan. This involves much washing of clothes and person, a close-up of teeth cleaning and a lot of fast food consumption. As she begins to carry out her plan, instead of a feeling of dread and a suffocating tension, you find yourself thinking, “Get on with it, blunder, get caught by the cops, let the movie end so we can all go home.” The only positive point I can make about this movie is that you can have a discussion afterwards with other bewildered viewers who perhaps can shed some light on it for you- if you want. (Jenny Mather, BT***, KP*, KW**1/2, MW***, NT***)

Ein Freund von mir (A Friend of Mine) *** +Oct 26
Sebastian Schipper, Germany
Ein Freund von Mir was the opening film of the 2006 Filmfest Hamburg, that special night also being its world premier. This is a buddy film with the unlikely pair of Karl (Daniel Brühl), a young insurance company research agent, and Hans (Jürgen Vogel) a daredevil car hike. Karl is assigned by his boss to spend a day incognito to see how the car rental service is working at the local airport. Karl reluctantly “applies for a job” and prankster Hans immediately attaches himself to him. Hans’ “art of living” resembles fraternity hazing, and it is a bit unbelievable that after one day of cruelty, Karl wants more. Maybe he wants to “save the attractive stewardess, Stelle (Sabine Timoteo) although that is unclear until the end. Some attention is better than none, and being sensually deprived, he makes a youthful choice. (Nancy Tilitz)

Fade to Black**
Oliver Parker, Gret Britain, Italy, Serbia
Set in 1948, Orson Welles (Danny Huston) flees to Rome to star in “Black Magic” having just split from his wife, Rita Hayworth, and having fallen out with Hollywood. Welles dodges questions about his marriage and directs the director of the Italian film. During filming, a murder occurs. Welles, with the help of his ex-policeman driver Tommaso (Diego Luna), starts his own investigation into the murder and a hit list turns up with Welles’ name on it. Great costumes and some lavish sets but the dialogue is weak, the acting stilted and the pace much too slow leaving this film in dire need of the real Orson Welles. (Mary Wienke, KP***, NT)

Fast Food Nation *** + Jan 25, 2007
Richard Linklater, USA
Have you ever wondered why your Big Mac is so cheap? Would you consider paying a little more for it if you thought the extra money went to help the lives of the people who prepared it and to provide more humane slaughtering procedures for the animals which provided the meat for it? Director Richard Linklater has based his movie on Eric Schlosser’s best selling novel of the same name. He doesn’t answer these questions but instead shows us what is involved in getting that patty onto your polystyrene plate.
Greg Kinnear plays Don Henderson, an energetic young executive with a promising future. When tests confirm the presence of e coli in the burgers, he is sent from company headquarters to its factory in Colorado to discover why this should be.
Much of the work in such factories and slaughterhouses is done by illegal immigrants from Mexico, who risk everything for a better life in the U.S.A. Their wages are higher than anything on offer in Mexico but they do a ghastly job in apparently the most dangerous working conditions in America. As hideous injuries are relatively commonplace and healthcare is prohibitively expensive, immigrants discover that they haven’t found their promised land. Farmers aren’t happy either, they watch helplessly as good grazing land is sold off to real estate developers. Animal rights activists from the nearby college meanwhile have the mistaken idea that setting the animals free will solve the whole problem. Mr. Kinnear is wonderful in this movie and there are great cameo performances from Bruce Willis and Kris Kristofferson with fine supporting performances from Patricia Arquette: Avril Lavigne and Ethan Hawke. (Jenny Mather) (KW***, MW****, NT****1/2)

Fireworks Wednesday**
Asghar Farhadi, Iran
It was Wednesday and the noises of sporadic firecrackers were just starting to hit the streets. The noise of quick crackling-pop explosions would continue until the wee hours of the next morning as the people gathered to celebrate the Iranian New Year.

Rouhi, a cleaning girl, is dispatched to a job in the morning to help a very wealthy family. She is happy for the job, even though it is across town, because she is soon to be married and needs money for her wedding dress. The family promises to let her go at a reasonable hour so that she can safely travel home to be with her fiancé at the midnight hour. Throughout the course of the day she encounters domestic fireworks in the family who has hired her. Her service as a cleaning girl seems to be irrelevant to the needs of this affluent family. The strange requests which they ask of her have nothing to do with cleaning skills.

Her eyes are opened to a very complex world of lies and deception. Her experience gave her a lot to think about before embarking on a life-long journey beginning with marital bliss. It was just before midnight when she returned home. She rejoices to be in the company of her fiancé so they could share the New Year’s fireworks. She reflects on her day and is relieved that she will not have to return to domestic fireworks on Thursday. (Karen Pecota)

Freundinnen fürs Leben (Friends for Life)***
Buket Alakus, Germany
This German film director takes the art form of comedy and tunes into a real life predicament in modern Germany: the lack of making babies. Alakus’ made-for-TV film explores some of the reasons why Germans choose not to have children. The tie that initially binds these friends for life is the commitment to their local choir directed by comedian Gustav Peter Wöhler. The older they get, the more their lives intertwine because they are committed to each other as lifetime comrades. Choir practice brings them together weekly. The story is delightful and the message has food for thought. The German made-for-TV films are one of my favorite categories in the Filmfest Hamburg along with the chance to see so many German celebrities. (Karen Pecota)

Halim **
Sherif Arafa, Egypt
The Egyptian consul in Hamburg welcomed the audience to this film. Perhaps it wasn’t to everyone’s taste in the end, because several people left before the star died on screen at age 48. Abdel Halim Hafez (1929-1977) was one of Egypt’s most popular and well-loved pop singers. He grew up in an orphanage after the death of his mother and his uncle could not provide for him. There he learned to stand up for himself (and swim in the canals where he probably got the bilharziasis or liver parasite which killed him in the end). As a young adult, he lived with his brother and began to sing in public. Although he was advised to copy the then favorite singer of the day, he persevered to create a new sound and quickly rose to stardom and wealth. I suspect that he was actually gay and fictitious love stories were added to the film, but I have no proof. For example, there is a young girl who mistakes his financial support at school for love. There is his own “real love,” doomed because the beloved is betrothed to her cousin and anyway, Halim comes from lowly ancestry. During the Egyptian revolution and the rise of Nasser, he sang politically correct songs of praise for the new leader. The film is kind of an Egyptian Bollywood fairy tale with songs about women’s eyes and love in your heart and loneliness. It’s easy to be captivated by this charismatic singer, who was perhaps the Robbie Williams or Dean Martin of his country at that time. (Becky Tan)

Hell in Tangier ***1/2
Frank van Mechelen, Belgium
August 1996 Marcel van Loock (Filip Peeters) and Wim Moreels drive a bus full of Moroccan tourists, as well as the owner of the bus company and his girlfriend, to Morocco. The Moroccans disembark and Marcel and Wim intend to drive back alone to Belgium. On the border customs officials search the bus as if they had received a hot tip to look there; 700 pounds of marijuana are hidden behind the panelling. Luckily, Marcel and Wim convince the officials to question the real culprit, the owner of the bus, who was trying to leave the country by plane with his girlfriend. All four are arrested, although three are probably innocent. The rest of the film describes Marcel’s life in an overfull Moroccan prison, where cigarettes are the only currency, and relatives are responsible for delivering clothing and food to their loved ones in prison – rather difficult if the family lives far away in Europe. This didn’t, however, stop Marcel’s relatives from petitioning, even badgering, the Belgian authorities until he is released several years later, much earlier than his friend Wim who had nobody going to bat for him. The film is based on a true story which first appeared in book form. Today Marcel Van Look is a broken man, ill and unable to work. At the post-screening discussion, we were warned not to drive to Morocco. If you are involved in a slight accident and the other party offers to “fix” your car in a garage, it might be returned full of illegal substances, which, if found, would extend your vacation in Morocco by many years under uncomfortable circumstances. This film about “ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances” was realistic and very scary and topped the Belgian charts for four weeks. (Becky Tan)

The House is Burning **1/2  + Nov 16
Holger Ernst, Germany
We experience 24 hours in the pitiful lives of poor white American teenagers. Joe has volunteered for the armed forces, although his father died in Viet Nam. His girlfriend Valerie has reserved Phil to keep her warm in Joe’s absence. Phil needs $2000 for a drug deal. Terry sleeps her way to a real job. Steve buys a gun to shoot his abusive father. No one benefits from parental guidance. All come together at Joe’s going-away party. In the end, five are dead or hospitalized. No one has learned from mistakes or shows any promise of a bright future. Probably the most interesting fact is that the director is a young German from Kassel. Holger Ernst filmed in the U.S. in English with relatively unknown American actors (Joe Petrilla, Nicole, Vicius, Robin Taylor, Julianne Michelle). I found the film to be an exceedingly arrogant foreign take on Americans. The director lived there 1992-94, but only delivers clichés, such as putting the trappings of Christianity into the homes (church, pictures of Christ) and having everyone smoke and say fuck. He would be more believable if he made a film about Kassel. (Becky Tan, KP*)

Junebug ****
Phil Morrison, USA
Peg and Eugene live together with their younger son Johnny and his pregnant wife Ashley in a small town in North Carolina, USA. Johnny is already 20 and still trying to get a high school certificate. Eugene makes wood carvings and Peg cooks, while Ashley (excellent Amy Adams) babbles on about babies. This southern idyll is interrupted by the older son George and his British wife Madeleine. She runs an art gallery in Chicago and business brings her south so that they also visit George’s parents. This is George’s first trip home in three years and the family’s first introduction to his European wife of six months. The harder Madeleine tries to fit in, the stronger the animosity is against her. Johnny’s old jealousies against his more successful older brother also surface. In the climax, all rush to the hospital with Ashley, except Madeleine who is busy convincing the artist David Wark to sign on with her.

With this simple story, director Phil Morrison shows us typical small-town America at church, during a baby shower, and sharing a home with visitors who are no longer “family.” It is cosmopolitan self-importance against narrow-minded, good country folk. It’s doomed to fail and it’s nobody’s fault. I enjoyed this film so much that I checked out the DVD to watch it again. I related to my own visits to my hometown of Kirksville, Missouri, where everyone tries to be polite but really wishes I would just go away. I think many of us can relate to this sense of no longer belonging, no matter which life changes we have made. (Becky Tan, KP****, MW*)

Kid’s Stories – Documentaries for Children *****
Below is a collection of Israeli documentary short films.

Between Love and Career
 by Linora Asa
This film contains two self portraits of two children. The first wants to be a ballroom dancer and tells her story of training and how important it is that she does well since her family has invested a lot of money in her and her costumes. In the end she fails because she has a heart and breathing condition that she needs to address. The other story is about a young boy who seems to be more mature than he is. He is a highly intelligent boy who enjoys cooking and is politically ambitious. He explains that it is better to hide all these talents because his school colleagues consider him to be a know it all. He said it is better to have friends than to be alone and achieve many things. Both stories had a bittersweet feeling to them, i.e., seemed sad that the children could not go for their dreams and somehow the community wanted to hold them back.

Yedidyah’s Collection
by Noam Demsky and Mordi Kershner
This documentary was extremely impressive and at the same time terrifying. The story was about Yedidyah, a ten year old living on the Gaza strip. It shows how he and his family lived before they were forced to leave this area due to the political situation. Yedidyah at this time did not have to attend school but daily life offered enough lessons for him to learn from. He has a very unusual collection of military debris that he collected along the border, showing how dangerous the environment was for him and the kids in his community, who were extremely close to each other, to play in. When they are escorted out of the Gaza strip, Yedidyah brings his priceless collection with him. This collection will help him to remember always and probably never to forgive. It seems that the cycle of warfare he knows is endless.

Roi Wants to Dance
by Noa Aharoni
Roi’s story is similar to Billy Elliot but is a true story. It is about Roi Rotze Lirkod who wants to dance ballet since his mother was a famous dancer and teacher. He has to overcome his fears of his classmates since boys don’t do ballet and he lives in a macho society. In the end he follows his dream and he is quite good at what he does. When Roi finally decides to divulge his secret to his classmates, they attend his performance and are impressed. The director said that Roi had to give up some months later because the kids started to tease him and that was really a shame since he was quite talented. This story also is reminiscent of the first documentary between love and career in that there seems to be a lack of support to achieve one’s dreams.

by Daniel Sivan and Dorit Tadir
This story had to be included in this collection because it gives the view from a Palestinian child’s eye. Ishaq’s (Nivdal) house is in the wrong side of town, meaning that the wall between the two sides engulfs his house. It is completely surrounded by walls and Ishaq lives as though he is in prison. During the summer holidays he dreams the entire time about how nice it would be to play soccer with the other boys. He thinks that his parents should be able to have more influence over the Israeli police when in actuality his parents are just as powerless as he is. The one redeeming point is that after the police finally go away his friends sneak in and they play soccer at his house. This story was as sad as Yedidyah’s collection because one realizes that all these children are damaged and will grow up with hatred. For children 10 years or older. (Shelly Schoeneshoefer)

The  Last Kiss *** + Nov 16
by Tony Goldwyn, USA
The Last Kiss from director Tony Goldwyn and Paul Haggis, (who wrote the screenplay for Oscar best pictures L.A. Crash and Million Dollar Baby) is an adaptation from the Italian film, L’Ultimo bacio, which portrays life’s experiences when reality bites. Michael (Zach Braff) and Jenna (Jacinda Barrett) appear to be the ideal young professional couple and the envy of their friends. They represent an image of stability and happiness until the shock of Jenna’s pregnancy gives Michael a personal identity crisis. He freaks out and turns into a run-away-bridegroom! To avoid his anxiety relating to the commitment of marriage, parenting, and sacrificing oneself for the good of the other, Michael chooses to join his very immature friends on the wild side of life, seeking to satisfy fantasies which Jenna never knew existed. One passionate kiss turns Michael’s innocence into a nightmare. Consumed with guilt, Michael turns to Jenna’s father, Stephen (Tom Wilkinson), a man who is weathered by storms of his own. Stephen lovingly helps Michael deal with the consequences caused by selfish choices – the treatment that brings Michael one step closer to maturity. This is not a happy end narrative but it seeks to portray the reality and the tragedy of many modern day romances. (Karen Pecota, MW no stars)

The Last Kiss **1/2 + Nov 16
Tony Goldwyn, USA
This is a remake of the Italian Film L’último Baccio which is converted into the American lifestyle. The 30-year-old Michael (Zach Braff) can practically read the palm of his hand to see how perfectly planned his future is: He has a beautiful girlfriend, Jenna (Jacinda Barrett), a great job, a super group of friends whom he has known his whole life, but is he satisfied? The answer is no. He wants more; more adventure, more excitement, and more uncertainty, but is that the right move? Michael’s character appears to be a safe, controlled, dependable kind of guy who would not go off the path and only begins to ask these philosophical questions about the future since Jenna accidently becomes pregnant. There were completely annoying scenes when Michel couldn’t open up to his fear of the future but has no problem saying he loves her boobies. He then, by chance, meets Kim at a friend’s wedding and on the sly goes out with her. The last kiss of course is not just a kiss and the story leads to the question, “Will Jenna forgive him or not?” This movie could be good for couple therapy groups where couples open up and ask questions about their relationships and future, but I wouldn’t spend money to see it. The director tries to liven up the movie by showing acts of Karma sutra positions and shows revealing body parts at the same time but the script lacks something and is too moralistically safe to answer all the questions about marital problems. (Shelly Schoeneshoefer)

Liebeswunsch, der **1/2
Torsten C. Fischer, Germany
We all have masks that we wear to cover our true selves as we go about every day life. Each role has a different mask, mother differing from wife, differing from mistress. No one is better at wearing a mask than Anja (Jessica Schwarz). Perpetually unhappy with all things, she floats through her existence rather than lives it. Confused with life and direction, she marries young and soon has a son. Anja finds herself already in the midst of a mystery as she realizes that her husband was once in love with Marlene, who is now married to his best friend Jan. This dark melodrama pinpoints the grittiness of life and love, as well as the consequences of adultery. As Anja falls in love with Jan, she realizes she no longer has control over the other aspects of her life. Her masks are slipping away, revealing in their place a confused and vulnerable woman. The superb acting of all the characters draws the viewer in, leaving them with nowhere to turn but the truth that the film accurately portrays. Though not intended as a source of light entertainment, this is a good film to see to view reality through fiction. (Kara Wahn)

Lili et Le Baobab (Lili and the Baobab)***
Chantal Richard, France
The French director, Chantal Richard, tells a compelling story of friendship between two women from two extreme cultures. Lili (Romane Bohringer), a professional photographer from France is on assignment in Senegal. Her mission is to visit an African village and to document its people and their livelihood. During Lili’s stay in the village, she is cared for by a kind woman named Aminata (Aminata Zaarial). Lili is overwhelmed with Aminata’s kindness. Lili returns to France to report on her task and finds out that the village wants to excommunicate Aminata because she is pregnant out of wedlock, a disgrace to the village. Lili attempts to intervene and in spite of her good intensions, she makes life worse for Aminata. The women in the village are jealous of Lili’s favoritism and purposely treat Aminata as an outcast. Lili must come to terms with her limited influence to protect Aminata because she herself is an outsider to this community. What appears unjust to Lili, isn’t necessarily unreasonable to Aminata in her world. However, the common thread of being outsiders creates a bond which solidifies their friendship, in spite of their different worlds.

The narrative is slow moving, but the manner in which the cinematography is edited provides the right pace to make this film worthy of the Otto Sprenger award of EUR 10,000; a thrilling reward for Richard’s first feature endeavor. (Karen Pecota)

Little Miss Sunshine ****1/2 +Nov 30
Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, USA
This is an hilarious comedy about a family of extreme individuals, each member rejecting the other members’ values—making life together tough. Grandpa (Alan Arkin) a bitter, secret heroin addict, lives with his son’s family and teaches nine-year-old Olive (Abigail Breslin) a dance routine so she can participate in her dream, the Little Miss Sunshine Beauty Pageant. Super-squeaky clean dad Richard (Greg Kinear) is a workaholic entrepreneur whose “Refuse to Lose—a nine-step program” is dead, but as he truly believes in his product, he refuses to lose. Worn-out working mom (Toni Collette) trying to hold it together with KFC, now adds suicide watch to her duties, as her depressed brother Frank (Steve Carell) a gay Proust scholar, moves in to share her teenage son Dwayne’s bedroom. Dwayne refuses to speak until he is old enough to join the Air Force in two years. All pile into an old VW bus to rush cross state to the beauty competition, where what really matters is revealed. Little Miss Sunshine was the closing film of the FFHH, where the audience loved it and it was one of my favourites, too. It is the first feature film for the directorial team of Faris and Dayton, makers of music videos and commercials. Be ready for some strong language. (Nancy Tilitz, BT ****, KP****, SS, MW***)

Luxury Car **
Chao Wang, China/France
Li leaves the village where he teaches and travels to Wuhan, where he once studied, in order to search for his missing son. He meets with his daughter Yan-Hong who lives in Wuhan. An old friend and policeman shows him pictures of unidentified corpses. The policeman asks his friend, “Why didn’t you stay in Wuhan after your studies?” The daughter answers, “If he had stayed here, he wouldn’t have met my mother and then my brother and I wouldn’t be here.” She introduces her boy friend, the owner of the brothel where she works. The policeman recognizes him as a former convict. In the end, it is obvious that the son has died while stealing a luxury car for the sister’s boyfriend. Yan-Hong returns to the village to be with her father. Although this film won prizes in the En Certain Regard category in Cannes, 2006, and is therefore officially excellent, but I thought it was a typical, new-wave, very slow Chinese film, with no surprises, complete with plink plink Chinese music to drive you crazy, and actors saying, “Hao, hao” (good, good) which sounds like laughter in inappropriate places. Perhaps the best part is the excellent acting by Tian Yuan as the daughter. (Becky Tan)