Manuel Huerga, Spain
When the opening credits are written in dripping blood, you know that you are in store for a violent film. This portrays young revolutionaries in Spain in 1973 at the fall of Franco. A small group of Spanish and French students steal money to support the workers’ struggle. All of these students are bearded except the lead, Daniel Brühl who plays the real-life anarchist Salvador Puig Antich. Salvador is arrested and sentenced to death by strangulation, but not before his lawyer fights for his freedom and his sisters console him by thumbing through old photo albums during prison visitations. Thousands attend his funeral. The sympathy for this anarchist is almost as great as that for Sophie Scholl and her brother in the film Sophie Scholl—The Last Days. The most interesting part of the film is that Daniel Brühl is German, but speaks excellent Spanish – all because of having a Spanish mother and spending vacations in Spain. Three cheers for bilingualism; you never know what advantages it will bring. (Becky Tan)
Shore, The ***
Dionysius Zervos, Canada/Cyprus
The seashore resort towns have a steady community of hard working people who cater to the tourists ten months out of the year. Mr. Bob Harris (Ben Gazzaral) and his wife, Becky (Lesley Ann Warren), have owned a famous seafood restaurant in the area for many years. The business has provided them a good life but Bob is not sure how much longer they will be able to hold on to an older establishment in an ailing seaside resort. Becky’s overabundance of optimism keeps her head in the clouds enjoying security in her perfect tidy life. However, everybody knows the family and the trouble they’ve had with their daughter, Kaliope (Izabella Miko), who chooses to live an irresponsible life, much to the chagrin of her parents. The summer tourist season opens and Kaliope spends the weekend with a new boyfriend. She drops off, her five-year-old daughter, Anna, at her parents. Anna loves to stay with grandma and grandpa but is often used as a pawn by her mother when she needs money or favors to get what she wants. Grandma Becky and Grandpa Bob love Anna so much and would do anything to spend time with her. Grandma Becky takes Anna to the beach one afternoon to build sand castles. While Grandma Becky was reading her magazine Anna goes missing. The family never sees Anna again! The shock of her disappearance is smothered in the denial that she is really gone. The emotional trauma and the pain that lingers in each family member, controls their world. A world of denial! This very strange film asks more questions than it has answers and would be a good film to dissect in a group discussion. (Karen Pecota)
Shortbus *** + Oct 19
John Cameron Mitchell, USA
From John Cameron Mitchell, whose debut film Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001) won the audience prize and best director at the Sundance Film Festival, this is another unique and humorous peek at sexuality and intimate relationships. Sophia (Sook-Yin Lee) is a couples’ counselor although everyone seems to only want sex therapy. She thinks her husband Rob (Raphael Barker) doesn’t know she fakes orgasms. At work Sophia tries to help a couple with the same problem and then tries out her own advice on her husband. Another couple, Jamie (PJ DeBoy) and James (Paul Dawson) are a monogamous gay couple but James wants to bring in other men. James videotapes himself all the time and seems very depressed. They decide to include Ceth (Jay Brannon) in their relationship which makes a voyeur across the street upset. Then Sophia, on the advice of the two Jameses, visits a dominatrix. They all find themselves together at the NYC club Shortbus, where sexual issues are shared along with sex partners. Although there are some explicit sex scenes, they are an integral part of the story. So just loosen up, keep an open mind and enjoy the ride on Shortbus! (Mary Wienke, BT***, NT**)
Since You’ve Been Gone **
Mohammad Bakri, Israel
Mohammed Bakri was born in Israel and is a well known actor and director there. He is also of Arab descent and appears to move easily between that country’s two cultures. Mr. Bakri wrote and directed this documentary, which is essentially a spoken letter to a dead friend. He is a cultured and complex man and while “talking” to his friend he tries to make sense of the chaos in his country and those which surround it.
Mr. Bakri was deeply disturbed by events which took place in a town called Jenin. He couldn’t bring himself to believe the reports he heard of Israeli savagery on Palestinian civilians and decided to make a film of his own to investigate what happened there. After the film was made and was ready to receive its premiere viewing in a Tel Aviv cinema a horrific event took place within his family. His nephew and another close relative became suicide bombers. These two young men climbed onto a bus filled with Israeli civilians and killed innocent people as well as themselves.
The timing of this event could not have been worse and an outraged population, naturally enough, wanted the documentary, named Jenin Jenin, never to be shown. Bakri turned to an Israeli lawyer friend for help and an appeal was made to the Israeli High Court, which ruled that the video should be shown. Public opinion was so strong that this brave ruling was soon overturned. Mr. Bakri and his eldest son took to the streets to sell the video, in the hopes of ensuring that the people of his homeland were aware of the despicable act committed by Israeli soldiers.
The problem with Mr. Bakri’s documentary is that his true feelings are ambiguous. He is certainly a citizen of the world and a man trying to make sense of his world, but he never actually condemned the suicide bombers. He showed us his brother-in-law, father of his nephew, expressing extreme remorse for what his son had done, but he too stopped short of condemning him. Mr. Bakri seemed to be struggling with his conscience and gave the impression that he hoped that making this film would help him evaluate his feelings about the actions of the people living in the land of his birth. (Jenny Mather)
Sommer 04 *** +Oct 19
Stefan Krohmer, Germany
In this German film which also showed at Cannes, a patch-work family of four vacations in a picturesque old house near the Schlei River. Miriam (Martina Gedeck), and André, her partner/husband (I never was sure which) settle cozily into a routine together with Miriam’s 15-year-old son Nils and his 12-year-old-going-on-22 girl friend, Livia. Livia’s parents have flown to Mexico, entrusting their daughter to Miriam and André. This responsibility weighs especially heavily on Miriam and becomes almost unbearable when Livia spends long hours with – not Nils – but Bill, a German-American neighbor, old enough to be her father. Nils is typically teenaged non-committal; Livia is more of a sister than a girl friend to him. André thinks that Livia is mature enough to make her own house rules. Miriam appeals to Bill’s sense of responsibility more than once and during these multiple visits, she falls in love with him. Now she is torn between responsibility for a young girl and rejection of a rival. This can only end badly and it does. A surprising postscript at the end puts a new light on the interaction between these five people. Sommer 04 is worth your time if you are interested in new German cinema and actors, such as Gedeck, Svea Lohde, and Robert Seeliger to name a few. (Becky Tan)
Son of Man****
Mark Dornford-May, South Africa/Great Britain
The stimulating performance from the South African theatre ensemble Dimpho di Kopane under the direction of Mark Dornford-May (U-Carmen e-Khayelitsha, Golden Bear 2005 Award) brings to life the Gospel according to Matthew, set in a black South African township. Dornford-May and the theatre ensemble creatively use children who speak the Xhosa language to tell the story of Jesus’ life. Dornford-May takes an artist’s creative liberty by placing Jesus’ story, into a country devastated by civil war amongst a people who are hoping for a better world. The South African terrain gave the camera crew awesome moments of beautiful cinematography to often bring a message without words. The narrative uses powerful imagery, taking the audience on a roller coaster ride of emotional energy. At times the contrast of good and evil are eloquently portrayed in a matter of minutes. Dornford-May dramatizes the evil tenor of Satan by using disturbing variations of sound as he tempts Jesus. Shortly thereafter, the audience is uplifted by the scene where the angels proclaim the announcement of the baby Jesus. It was delightfully entertaining! A group of little black children in all shapes and sizes, who play the angels, run down the mountain laughing and singing to their hearts content. The visual imagery was amazingly joyful! The dramatization is superb – by no means a stereotypical bible study. This was the first film I attended where with audience gave a rousing round of applause at the closing credits. (Karen Pecota)
Sounds of Silence ***
Amir Hamz & Mark Lazarz, Iran/Great Britain/Germany
This low-budget documentary has an amateurish feel about it but it has an interesting and unusual subject. It’s about rock, rap and hiphop, the sort of music which doesn’t spring to mind when you think about Iran. The country has a very young population because over sixty-five per cent of its people have been born since the revolution which plunged it into the middle ages and the Iran-Iraq war which followed soon after. This generation has only known life under the present strict regime but the documentary provides an insight into how young musicians work around its restrictions.
How have these young people learned about modern western music? Via the Internet, of course, and today they use it to make and sell their videos. The rules which these musicians must abide by are ludicrous, for example if a woman is allowed to sing at all then she must be accompanied by a man; there must be no close-ups of musical instruments on TV and love must refer to God, rather than earthly love. In order to satisfy the censors, young musicians use words from poems written six hundred years ago, so songs will mention deserts flowing with blood and little boys learning to fight with child-sized sabres.
Despite such nonsense, the groups highlighted here play lively, attractive music rather than copy the sounds they listen to illegally from the west. One group often asks a classically trained musician to accompany it using ancient Persian instruments and the music is marvellous. Despite having a sad expression in their eyes, all the group members put on brave and optimistic faces when discussing the future and insist that they want to make music with a unique Iranian sound.
An interesting footnote is that one of the rock bands, called O.Hum (their email address is O-Hum.com) was given permission to leave Iran and they played in Hamburg in the Fabrik in Altona in 2004. If they make a return visit and you wish to see them then you’ll be assured of an evening of fascinating music. (Jenny Mather)
Sportmann des Jahrhunderts (Sportsman of the Century) ***
Mischa Alexander, Germany/the Netherlands/Sweden
The committee, who would choose the Sportsman of the Century award, gathered to discuss the various nominations. They recalled a story of an unusual man of discipline, named Taefka (Jochum ten Haaf), in the 1930s. He was known to hold the most records for pole-sitting. The committee members take turns verbally recounting Taefka’s story.
The filmmaker, Mischa Alexander, takes the audience on a visual journey of Taefka’s life and his love for such a weird activity. The film is a melodrama describing a type of people who are naive and the goofy things they to do for love. The narrative looses a little spunk about half way through the film but redeems itself with the thread of light humor from beginning to end. The characters were perfectly cast, including a special appearance from one of Hamburg’s renowned film directors, Hark Böhm. My hat goes off to the executive in charge of this task: a job well done! The enjoyment of this film was accented with awesome cinematography set to exquisite oboe music. Even though these two elements alone could have told Taefka’s story, his special personality is what really made this film amusing. (Karen Pecota, BT***1/2)
To Get to Heaven First You Have to Die ***
Djamshed Usmonov, France/Germany/Switzerland
This Russian film opens with 20-year-old Kamal taking off his pants in the doctor’s office. It turns out that his wife is still a virgin months after the wedding. Kamal meets another woman on a bus and sleeps with her. Kamal suffers a bloody nose (is that a symbol for the loss of his own virginity?). Her husband, finding them in flagrante delicto, takes advantage of Kamal’s guilty conscience to make him an accomplice to a crime. There are loose ends, such as why did the girl in the bus take him, a stranger, home or why didn’t his family send out a search party for him? This film also showed in Cannes 2006, under Un Certain Regard and the audience was full of enthusiastic Russians who enjoyed themselves without asking questions about plausibility. I’ll admit that there were interesting shots of Russian trains and cemeteries. In the end Kamal returns to his wife, older and wiser, and I really hope that she had her own fun while he was away. (Becky Tan)
Un Franco 14 Pesetas (Crossing Borders) ***
Director Carlos Iglesias takes a look at Spanish men who went to Switzerland in the 1960s to find work. At that time, one Swiss Franc was worth fourteen pesetas, so in a few years one could earn enough to buy an apartment. Two friends make the long train trip from Madrid to a small village in the Alps, where they find an extraordinarily warm welcome and good jobs. While living in an idyllic inn, waited on by two gorgeous ladies, the two find romance as well even though one is married with children and the other is engaged. With such a wonderful life crossing a few borders, why stay in Spain? The actors are all endearing. Light humor, lovely landscapes but the story is just too good to be true. (Mary Wienke)
Untergang der Pamir, Der (The Sinking of the Pamir)***
Kaspar Heidelbach, Germany +Nov 15
The German made-for-TV film, Der Untergang der Pamir from director Kaspar Heidelbach, brings to life one of the most tragic naval accidents recorded in the German history books. In 1957 the German sailing vessel, used to train sailors, sunk to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean after capsizing in a hurricane. Heidelbach puts a real face on this historical catastrophe by describing the lives of certain officers, crew members and cadets. He uses their story as a focal point in the drama of why some were lost and some survived on this expedition.
There were a few highlights regarding the-making-of that kept my attention. Heidelbach had the privilege of casting many of Germany’s finest actors such as Klaus J. Behrendt, Jan Josef Liefers, Dietmar Bär and Herbert Knaup. In spite of the fact that most of the filming was performed in a water studio near Malta, the director was also able to film on the sailing vessel the Passat (twin sister vessel to the Pamir), which normally sits in the harbor of Lübeck. The breath-taking cinematography, mostly taken off the coast of Tenerife, captured the vessel at sea. Nothing compared to some of the shots in the water studio that were pretty funny.
P.S. My favorite young German actor, Max Riemelt as Carl-Friedrich von Krempin , survived the whole storm and into the life boat scenes but unfortunately no further. Boo Hoo! I was not a happy sailor! (Karen Pecota)
Wirt, die Kneipe und das Fest, Der **1/2
Gisela Tuchtenhagen and Margot Neubert-Maric, Germany
This documentary about a men’s club or Verein in Heide near Hamburg seems straight out of the last century and it almost is. Every end of February is Hahnbeerzeit and members of the club celebrate their Hahnbeerfest, which consists mostly of drinking and eating. All the members have inflamed red noses to prove it. The celebration originated in 1841 and they have faithfully kept to the original customs, except that of shooting at a rooster in a barrel, although a rooster is still part of their insignia. Like members of the Freemasons or the Rotary, they meet during the year, visit old folks’ homes to dance with the elderly ladies, wear identical grey ties, and compose poems for their party. They have been old friends since grade school. Their wives contribute food to the celebrations. The prize-winning photographer Gisela Tuchtenhagen has caught all of it on film. The German subtitles are necessary for anyone who is lost with Plattdeutsch. (Becky Tan)
Zaina-Königin der Pferde **** (children’s film) + Nov 9
Bourlem Guerdjou, France
This is an exciting but rough tale of a girl and a famous Moroccan horse race which delves into an exotic and culturally interesting Moroccan world. Zaina’s (Aziza Nadir) story is as difficult and often as treacherous as the surroundings in which she travels in order to find the
answers that she seeks. Crossing the forbidden desert mountains of the Moroccan Atlas Ridge, Zaina, who’s dealing with the death of her mother, is faced with a difficult dilemma. Should she go with her real father who had early on abandoned her and her mother, or should she go with her step father, who is responsible for her mother’s death? It appears that these are her only choices in this culture. Zaina begins this adventursome journey accompanying her father to the famous horse race in Morocco and is confronted with horse thieves, greed and murder. She is not the perfect heroine since she sets fire to the horse stable of her stepfather and leaves him to die in it. In her loneliness she bonds with her father’s horse Zingal and is given the opportunity to run the race completely forbidden to women. There is a wonderful surprise and unexpected ending to this story. Although this movie is recommended for eight-year olds, it has its dark and realistic moments that make it difficult for younger children to see or really understand it. This was the first film at the Hamburg Children’s film festival which was completely sold out and it also had the rare privilege to be picked up by a distributor and make it to the main circuit. It also won the Audience Award at Locarno International Film Festival 2005. Interesting info: The actress Aziza Nadir who comes from Paris had never ridden a horse and had to spend months in Morocco to learn to ride in this race. For age 10 and above is my recommendation. (Shelly Schoeneshoefer, BT****)
Zuneigung, Filmemacherin Gisela Tuchtenhagen ***1/2
Quinka F. Stoehr, Germany
This documentary about photographer Gisela Tuchtenhagen is even more interesting than her festival film Der Wirt, die Kneipe und das Fest. Tuchtenhagen was a pioneer in the field of camera “woman,” one of the first female photographers in Germany and winner of many prizes. Her beginnings were not so auspicious. Her father returned from fighting in World War II when she was six years old. This disrupted the family and her mother could not cope. She put young Gisela into a strict boarding school for difficult children near Hamburg. Gisela escaped several times and finally ran off to Paris at the age of 16. Here she banded with other young people who did odd jobs, shared their money and enjoyed the sun in the south of France. She experienced her first great love, a Frenchman named Phillipe. It’s not clear how she returned to Germany or even how she financed her studies in a film academy. The second man in her life was documentary filmmaker Klaus Wildenhahn. They lived at Hein-Hoyer-Str. in Hamburg and made films together. This relationship ended and she adopted two boys from an orphanage in Peru and raised them to become interesting, self-confident, young adults. In this documentary reference is made to her film Heimkinder (children in an orphanage) and Emden geht nach USA (about Volkswagen outsourcing to the U.S. and the loss of jobs in Germany) and Donnerstag Nachmittag (Thursday afternoon, about handicapped adults in Hamburg). This is just a very small part of her oeuvre. She seems to have found an inner peace in her own life, but since that sounds so kitschig, I’ll just say she is very poised and quiet and a chain smoker. (Becky Tan)