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HH Film Fest Reviews 2006 - Part III
by the KinoCritics

Melon Route, The ****
Branko Schmidt, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina
Illegal Chinese immigrants crowd into a boat in Bosnia and drown in the Sava River on the border to Croatia. The director takes this true story about people-trafficking in a war-torn, lawless country a bit further. He invents a Chinese girl who survives and mourns her drowned grandfather. A young soldier rescues her and gives her shelter in his broken-down house near the river. He has his own problems: a history of drug use and post-traumatic-stress-disorder after serving in the Bosnian conflict. Their only friend is the son of gypsies who are camped in town. The bad guys discover the new woman on the block and kidnap her. The soldier goes into their bar and rescues her in a violent massacre.

Many things make this one of the best films at the festival. The photography is beautiful and often shows dark scenes punctuated by candle light in the house, or the soldier blasting fish out of the water at night with a red moon above, or a continuous soft rain. There is a gentle love story between two people with no common language and nothing to laugh about. It is a universal story which could just as well be a Western about a solitary settler who protects an orphaned Indian girl with blazing Colts – a loser with a heart of gold. The tempo is steady but never boring; each character is complete in its own way and important to the story. If it comes to Hamburg, I suggest you go, if you are interested in small, perfect movies from a country not often represented in main-stream Hamburg cinema. (Becky Tan, KP****)

NAF- Street Kid***
Moshe Alafi, Israel
This documentary is about the life of a street in Jerusalem, named Naf. The report focuses on a kid raised on the right side of the tracks (rich orthodox Jewish family) who chooses the exposed street life for his haven. Naf’s gripping story is not one to envy, but his message is one to contemplate. The press conference concluding the documentary was interesting because the director, Alafi, explained that his film was made out of a reaction and response to his own children’s rebellion during his divorce. He did not realize the impact of their emotional suffering, until it was almost too late. One day he happened to be in the downtown area where street kids regularly gathered and he saw his oldest daughter. He was shocked to see her responding to people in the group that day as if she knew them for a very long time. These were hard core street kids and he had never seen any of them with his daughter previous to this moment. He actually second guessed his own eyes, not believing it was his daughter. The shock of this encounter compelled him to intensely research the life of street kids in his home town of Jerusalem. He recognized his responsibility in pushing his own kids to seek acceptance and protection in a very dark and complicated world. Thus began Alafi’s journey as a father and a filmmaker to understand why this lifestyle is so attractive and why kids rarely escape it. (Karen Pecota)

New York Waiting ***
Joachim Hedén, USA/Schweden
Waiting for it to end could be added to the title of this movie. There is nothing you haven’t seen a hundred times before in this boy-meets-girl film, directed by Joachim Hedin. Sidney (Chris Stewart) is nursing a broken heart and trying to rekindle his romance with his old flame, played by Katrina Nelson. Sidney has certainly been blinded by love because his ex is a horrible creature, very clearly no longer interested in him and itching to be off with her new man. Nevertheless, poor, deluded Sidney sends her an airline ticket to New York City and arranges a rendezvous at the top of the Empire State Building, to see if their romance can be revived. Meanwhile, Amy (Annie Woods) has decided to walk out on her philandering boyfriend and has some time to kill before catching a plane home and leaving New York forever. Well, wouldn’t you just know it, Amy meets Sidney in a coffee shop and they strike up a conversation. Then they decide to pass the time before Amy’s flight and Sidney’s rendezvous by walking around Central Park, for what seems like a very long time. The movie could have been saved if the dialogue had had some sparkle and the characters had had a sense of humour instead of being a couple of bores. The director comes from Sweden and is clearly fascinated by New York and made some wonderful shots of the city which provide a diversion and relief from the story. You already know the ending to this movie, but the twist in the final moments of it provides some suspense and a much-needed dramatic finish. (Jenny Mather)

Nina’s Journey***
Lena Einhorn, Poland/Sweden
Swedish author and filmmaker, Lena Einhorn, opens up her family history album to the world as she depicts the true life story of her mother, Nina Einhorn. Lena creatively uses a documentary dramatization (similar to Tom Hanks’ Band of Brothers series) to describe her mother’s life including interview segments from Nina, herself. Nina recounts what she experienced in her youth 1937-1944. As a young Polish Jewish girl during the rise of the Nazi regime she reminisces about many escapades she survived and the effects it had on her and her family. Nina’s openness to detailed description of her frightening but heroic experiences was out of the ordinary. And, even more chilling was her journey of escape from the Nazi stronghold to a life of freedom. I was impressed with the way the director combined excellent acting with Nina’s first person story-telling. Lena effectively takes the outsider and draws him/her into the family. I found myself hanging on Nina’s every word and being captivated by her journey portrayed through the eye of the camera. My hat goes off to Lena for the effort to archive her family roots and to focus on something of real value. The descendants of Nina Einhorn will never forget her descriptive words, “I had an unusually happy and lucky life!” (Karen Pecota)

Christoffer Boe, Denmark
Nick is a Danish actor who decides to film his own life. This becomes therapy or a form of escape or the ultimate in egotism, as he slowly disintegrates and his self-pity becomes intolerable. He breaks up with his girl friend, literally driving her out of the apartment with his selfish ways. Her parents visit to collect a few things such as her passport. He loses his theater acting job. His friends initially make an effort to shape him up with some straight talk, but soon they, as well as potential new girl friends, avoid him. He is a slob at home. One day he discovers the whereabouts of his ex and follows – yes, stalks—her. This escalates to tragedy. This excellent film is no fun. Initially, I didn’t realize that it was fiction, although I wondered why one person should have so much bad luck – a real Danish biblical Job. By the end of the film, I appreciated the terrific acting by Nicolas Bro. He touched all of my aggression and hate buttons, so much so that I became agitated enough to execute Nick without a trial if only to shut him up, him, and that fat face. (Becky Tan, NT)

One Fine Day (Du Jour au Lendemain) ***
Philippe Le Guay, France
François is a nerdy type who lives alone after his wife has left him. He can’t sleep because the neighbors are banging away; the coffee machine backfires; his way to work is fraught with hindrances, and his office desk is in an ugly corner below a light which flickers. Life is no fun; a drag; a burden to bear. Suddenly, one morning, all has changed. The neighbors are friendly, the threatening dog has died, the coffee machine works perfectly. In his job he advises the customers so expertly that he is promoted to a real office; his wife decides that he’s the best and makes plans to return. Everyone loves François, praises him, and asks his advice. Success and recognition come with unrealistic expectations, and even worse: responsibility with a capital R. He yearns for his old, bumbling life full of small irritations which he can face one day at a time. Losers have more fun in the end. Benoît Poelvoorde is fine in the leading role. This is a light French film with a few laughs, which requires no real concentration on your part. (Becky Tan)

Palais Royal ***
Valerie Lamercier, France
Valerie Lemercier both directs and acts in this delightful comedy about becoming royalty. Armelle (Lemercier) has a life she can enjoy until her father-in-law, the king, dies in a tragic helicopter accident. Suddenly, she has to play perfect princess while her very French, very strict mother-in-law (Catherine Deneuve) watches her every move. This film provides many parallels to that of Princess Diana, adding witty twists throughout the entire plot. Armelle can seem to never do the right thing. Whether it’s dropping her tiara into the pea soup, getting hit in the face with a pie and being videotaped, or managing to make her very prissy husband look like an ever bigger idiot, this poor woman has no clue for what she signed onto when she agreed to until death do us part. Determined to have the last laugh, she does a complete about face and goes from being a graceless klutz with no high society upbringing to becoming a beautiful heroine beloved by the masses. This French film will have you laughing until there are tears in your eyes. It is a fantastic way to spend an afternoon whether it is with a large group of people or simply alone. (Kara Wahn)

Pamir- Untergang eines Grossseglers, Die (The Pamir – the Sinking of a Big Sailing Vessel) (documentary)****
Karsten Wohlrab, Germany
Wohlrab’s documentary about the sinking of the German training vessel in 1957 is just as intriguing as Kaspar Heidelbach’s 2006 made-for-TV film on the subject. Wohlrat’s creative style of filming is fresh and attractive. He effectively brings the facts of a tragic 49-year-old memory of German history to light. He presents a fabulous historical collage on the big screen using modern media graphics, nostalgic black and white photos from the 30s and 50s, along with creative computer animation. He takes the necessary amount of time to develop a precise, methodical account. Each scene builds on the other unfolding numerous details to expose the horrific story.

The sailing vessel Pamir was built to withstand storms at sea. In 1957 the vessel made two training voyages. The second expedition would shock the world. The vessel sailed to Buenos Aires and it was there that miscalculations about the cargo they would carry would eventually lead to the vessel’s doom. The captain made audacious decisions which had the potential to put every man on board the ship in harm’s way if confronted with a storm. The unthinkable happened! The vessel was half way home when the crew received a message about a hurricane directly in their path. Unfortunately, they had no choice but to face it head on and while doing so, the cargo shifted, causing the vessel to list dramatically. It capsized and the sea swallowed the vessel along with its seventy-four crew members, leaving only six survivors who managed to get to a life boat. The whole nation was captivated by the tragedy and paralyzed by the death toll.

Wohlrab was highly fortunate to have special guest appearances from two of the survivors: Karl-Otto Dummer and Gunther Haselbach. Dummer was twenty-four and Haselbach was twenty at the time the ship sank. The testimony indicated just how daunting their struggle to survive really was. If living through the hurricane wasn’t enough, they had to endure seventy-two hours in the open waters of the Atlantic before being rescued by the US Coast guard.

Wohlrab also was able to use original film footage from one of Germany’s radio archives, allowing the audience to relive the first interview with the survivors which took place on their flight to Germany after they received medical care from the US maritime authorities. The journalist asked, “You have this horrific hurricane crisis behind you, will you keep sailing?” The answer was clear, “Of course, we are sailors!” The next question was, “What do you want to do when you get home?” Their response, “All we can think about is getting home to celebrate Christmas and the New Year!” They were thankful to be alive but in years to come each of them struggled with the question of why they were the ones who were saved. They never took their life for granted and would never forget the memory of their lost comrades. Even today there arestill differences of opinion whether the actual sinking had to do with captain error or the ship’s construction. (Karen Pecota)

Paulas Geheimnis (Paula’s Secret) **** (children’s film)
Gernot Krää, German
(Review  in Festival Coverage)

Portraitist, The ***
Ireneusz Dobrowolski, Poland
Polish photographer Wilhelm Brasse lands in Auschwitz and there photographs 40,000 to 50,000 prisoners from 1940-1945. After the war he rescued thousands of the photos for posterity. This documentary focuses on Brasse, a solitary man who looks into the camera and reminisces about having to work under these circumstances. Director Dobrowolski interviewed this portraitist for four years for a 52-minute film, but that is enough to leave you feeling terribly sad about the fates of these people, whose photographs are shown and commented upon by Brasse himself. He says, “It was my work and my duty. I was a professional, but the horror didn’t stop.” He remembers the sadists and the brutal foreman and claims to have tried to ease the suffering of his subjects. He survived the ordeal and attended the evening showing of this film about himself, the portraitist of Auschwitz. He never took another photo after the war. (Becky Tan, MW***, NT****)

Red Road ***1/2
Andrea Arnold, Great Britain
If you’ve ever heard the phrase “sleeping with the enemy“, be prepared to have some light shed onto a whole new meaning of it. Director Andrea Arnold presents this suspenseful film as her first feature film. Jackie (Kate Dickie) lives a dull life filled with routine. She has no passion in her character as she seems to just go through the motions. While at work one day for a security station, CCTV, an unexpected face from her past fills the screen, haunting her with past emotions that would rather stay buried. Jackie follows the mystery man around and it is apparent that she knows him but he has no clue as to who she is. By making contact with a monster that ruined her life, Jackie comes to life once again, showing not only to the audience but also to herself that she is human and that life goes on. The moral to the film is that you can forgive anyone. Though the storyline moved a bit too slow to be considered completely suspenseful, I would recommend it for no other reason than to make you appreciate your own life for what it is. (Kara Wahn, BT***)

Relations **
Avdotgya Smirnova, Russia
Nina (Anna Mikhalkoval) and Ilya (Mikhail Porechenkov) are in love. They live in St. Petersburg and Moscow respectively, but still find time to meet in quiet hotels. They are so happy together. However, both are married to other people, so this is a story of adultery. They also love their spouses and their children and are quite content to be at home in the bosom of the family as well. This is an argument for polygamy; they should combine their two households into one big commune, perhaps invite some more people for the betrayed spouses, share the money (since everyone seems to be earning well) as well as baby-sitting responsibilities and sail arm-in-arm into the sunset. This film was well made and it was interesting to see modern Russia, but the subject matter is unoriginal and uninteresting. Perhaps I missed something by trying to decipher the very light subtitles written on a very light background. (Becky Tan)

Romance and Cigarettes***1/2
John Tuturro, USA
Nick is a married, working-class man who is having an affair with Tula, a hot redhead. This simple, familiar story about adultery takes on extraordinary life when you add the adolescent children and their friends, the wife, the neighbors and fantasy figures, such as Elvis, who pop up and break into song at unexpected times. When speech fails, a song will do, much like 8 Femmes or Everyone Says I Love You. This is lip-synching to Elvis, Tom Jones, Engelbert Humperdinck, Dusty Springfield, Cinda Lauper, Ute Lemper, etc. Fantasies come to life, as a cure against “just living until you die, which is hard work.” Romance is the theme, but cigarettes are a close second, with enough nicotine to send you straight from the cinema to a New York cancer ward. Tuturro has assembled an impressive cast with Susan Sarandon, Christopher Walken, James Gandolfini, Steve Buscemi, Barbara Sukova (who used to live in Hamburg) and Amy Sedaris, etc.. Kate Winslet as Tula is magnificent. Produced by the Coen brothers who recognized a good film, even if they weren’t directing it. (Becky Tan, NT)