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Children at Berlinale - Kids' Film Reviews
by Becky Tan

If your film world is too gory, boring, self-satisfied, whiney, long or dark, switch to children’s films. That experience is like a drop of cold water on a parched tongue. I saw five animated short films on a Thursday morning. The cinema was full of 250 children over four years old – whole kindergarten classes had signed up. The teachers admonished, “Take care of your own garbage. Who wants to go to the toilette?” A young woman at the back of the cinema sat before a microphone and read German subtitles aloud for films in Russian and English, etc. One film starred a funny bear and his friends during the four seasons. Another featured a sloth which tried to be helpful but always made things worse; none of the other animals were grateful. One was about a girl who got the upper hand of her evil family. Afterwards, the children asked, “Why did the ants have wings?” “Why is the caterpillar a train?” Why did the blue bird take two pine cones?” Those were hard questions I was happy not to have to answer. It was delightful to have had a detour into a film world which made sense and was artistically perfect.

From the four-year-olds, I went to a film for older children at 9:30 on a Friday morning. Again, 250 seats were filled, this time with whole school classes of probably sixth graders, all whooping it up. It’s party time. Too bad for the projectionist, who couldn’t get his film to work! In order to gain time, everyone was treated to free drinks in the lobby. This caused a mass stampede. Eventually, everyone settled down to Hey Hey it’s Esther Blueburger, an Australian film by Cathy Randall in English with German subtitles. Esther is a sort of female, Jewish, Ferris Bueller, who breaks out of her normal routine. She checks herself into a different school, makes friends with Sunni, a punk girl, and creates problems with her parents and twin brother. This film pinpointed the problems in “a skewed world” in a comical manner and most of the kids could identify.

How lucky are Berlin’s children who are exposed to the best in children’s films on a regular basis. Hamburg school classes should follow this lead and participate in the Hamburg children’s film festival just as enthusiastically. (bt)

More children’s films.
Kung Fu Kid (Kung Fu Kun) ****
Issei Oda, Japan
This thoroughly enjoyable Japanese “kid’s“ movie features the pint-sized Kung Fu expert Zhang Zhuang, who won the title role over 2,000 competitors in an audition and truly knows his kicks. The story begins at the Shaolin Temple where Kung Fu (Zhang Zhuang), as a junior monk/martial-arts student, fights the adult monks, beating them with a dazzling display of fighting prowess. Before he can win his expert licence, he has to go to the land of the Samurai to face his last opponent. The white-bearded Master hurls him across to Tokyo on his fire-ball. Kung Fu does not know who his opponent will be, only a magic bell tied to his wrist will give him a warning. He nearly lands on the lap of old Izumi (Pinko Izumi) exercising tai chi in the park. She owns the noodle kitchen and feeds the brave little fighter. Next day her granddaughter Reiko (Nanami Fujimoto) takes Kung to school, where he impresses her friends. But soon the bad guys from the Black Ministry of Education appear at school and take over the nation’s education system, brainwashing the students with evil computer games. Most of the children don’t mind the new system of all-play and no-study, but Reiko and her friends resist and get involved in a nasty fight with the black-suited men and women. Kung Fu comes to the rescue, and finally finds his opponent. After heavy fighting and a few set-backs he finally wins. Director Issei Oda is a visual-effects whiz and keeps the gags and action sequences coming at a brisk speed, incorporating a few parodies of Jackie Chan’s typical on-screen antics. This is an action movie with a moral which should be fun to watch for the whole family.

Question & anwer time at the theatre with director Issei Oda:
At the end, the young audience clapped enthusiastically. The Japanese director Issei Oda, who made his feature debut in 2006 with the comic action film Warau Michael (Arch Angels), came onto the stage bowing politely, clothed in a traditional garment. The children eagerly fired questions at him. How did you film the fire? Was the monster real? How old is Kung Fu? Where does he go to school? Can you show us Karate kicks? This went on for a good 20 minutes. When I asked a 12-year old girl if she liked the film, she was a bit helpless, “I don’t know, the teacher wants us to write about it.” Her curly-haired friend quickly added, “The monster was really very frightening.” “Kung Fu was cool,” came from another corner. (bs)  

Dunya & Desie ****
Dana Nechushtan, The Netherlands, Belgium

It started out as a television series and the crew members had so much fun that they decided to continue with a movie. Two best friends grow up in Amsterdam with very different backgrounds. Desie (Eva van de Wildeven) is a typical girl from Holland who likes to party and have fun. She is a bit on the wild side and a complete contrast to Dunya (Maryam Hassouni) whose Muslim family comes from Morocco. As they are about to turn eighteen their lives take a direction which tests both girls’ characters and determination. Dunya’s parents are planning to return to Morocco and she has been promised in marriage to some cousin. Meanwhile Desie has been knocked up by her last boyfriend and has to decide whether to keep the baby. This is also a test of their friendship since their paths go in opposite directions. When they both end up in Morocco (where Desie’s estranged father lives), they realize that perhaps they are seeking something that sends them on the same path which will help them understand themselves. Sometimes life leads you instead of you leading your life. When confronted with this conclusion, they continue their search and find answers. It was interesting that at the end of the press conference, the crew was still happy and enthusiastic where some of the German audiences said they loved the film but did not like the unrealistic ending and wanted it not to end on a happy note. This of course made me laugh because there would still be many hardships for the characters to overcome, so that in reality it was not a happy ending.

Both Eva van de Wildeven and Maryam Hassouni played their parts perfectly. The contrast of the two cultures was done respectfully and showed the differences with a touch of humor so that everyone had to laugh. It was also interesting to see how the location influenced the freedom of the characters especially in the case of Desie. Actions which are normal for her, cause Dunya, within the constricts of her Islamic world, to cringe and feel shame. It was clear that the entire crew had a good time making this movie and 40 of them showed up at the Berlinale. That was amazing!! It was exciting to meet Eva van de Wildeven and shooting-star-award-winner Maryam Hassouni up close. They are so young and at the same time seem to know what they want to do which is to act. They were really sweet and natural and most certainly we will be seeing them again. (ss)