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HHFF 2008 Film Reviews: Part 2
by the KinoCritics

Fear Me Not
Kristian Levrig, Denmark
(Mary Wienke*** (see page, NT**)

Four Women***
Adoor Gopalakrishnan, India
The year is 1946 and we are in the back of beyond in rural India. Director Gopalakrishnan tells the story of four poor women living there when the country gained its independence from Britain. His first story tells of a young prostitute who tries to find happiness with a young man whom she calls her husband. Poverty means that they must sleep on the street and this has devastating results for then.  The second tells of a young woman who is the victim of a badly arranged marriage which ends in shame. She is forced to return home when her marriage to the nightmare bridegroom is unconsummated. A married though childless woman is offered a solution to her problem by a man who boasts that he has given his wife eight children and is prepared to father one for her. She has to weight hits offer against the shame of not having a child. In the final story an older sister watches as the younger ones are married off before her because no suitor can be found for her. She is thrown upon the mercy of her married siblings when her mother dies but soon realises that she is an embarrassment and a burden to them and decides to manage her life without them. More than sixty years later, one wonders whether life is any more promising for the poor women of India (Jenny Mather,  BS***, KB***, NT**1/2, BT***)
Four Women  ***
Has life for the modern Indian women changed? In contrast to Bollywood which portrays a lively dancing India, this film with its simplicity shows a more realistic picture of women and their place in society among a male dominated society. This film shows the modern Indian women that she can make choices around relationships. (Shelly Schoeneshoefer,)

Frozen River *****
Courtney Hunt, USA
On an icy winter morning, while tears slide down her cheeks, Ray Eddy (Melissa Leo) sits in her car in her robe, overwhelmed. Christmas is days away: T.J. (Charlie McDermott) 15, and Ricky (James Reilly) 5, barely have enough to eat much less presents, yet her husband has taken off with the balloon down-payment for their dream home Christmas present, a double-wide trailer.

Later as Ray drives to work she sees her husband’s car parked outside an Indian bingo parlor. When the car drives off with a woman at the wheel, she follows to a small trailer in the woods where Lila (Misty Upham), a semi-outcast Mohawk lives. Ray uses her gun to force Lila out of her trailer. And Lila uses her wits to force Ray into assisting her in a “business venture.” They live in New York and cross an obscure border between the Mohawk reservation and Quebec, Canada; in the winter the river turns into an ice-highway, perfect for secretly transporting all types of goods and Lila, a smuggler, knows precisely where to cross and whom to contact.

Lila recognizes she has a reputation, so with “white” Ray driving, State Highway Patrol scrutiny is minimized. Both need money, for equally creditable reasons and they enter into an uneasy partnership. When Trooper Finnerty (Michael O\'Keefe) does stop them, lies easily come to Ray’s lips. Events escalate for both women: Christmas Eve is hazardous, especially for Ray. Her desire for the modernly insulated, clean, double-wide trailer overrides Ray’s rational and she convinces Lila that “one last run” is necessary.

This first feature for writer / director Courtney Hunt is a sensitive, astute exploration of how desperate times bring together strange bedfellows. Both the plot and the characters are very well developed, enhanced with exceptional acting. Reed Morano, director of photography intimately records the cornucopia of emotions and events. Kate Williams’s edits are precise. We are up-close, absorbed, and enriched by the surprising conclusion. When we again see that double-wide again being hauled down the road, it brings us an upbeat feeling.  (Marinell Haegelin, BS****, KB****1/2, BT****)

Good Morning Heartache (Ripendimi)**1/2
Anna Negri. Italy
Two young men are making a documentary on how the insecurity of temporary work affects the freelancer. (Financing the film with their own money, they have rented out their apartment and live out of their car.) The young couple, actor Giovanni (Foschi) and freelance editor Lucia (Rohrwacher), is the focus of their docu – but unexpectedly as soon as filming begins, they begin a messy break up. The filmmakers decide to continue filming, becoming so involved in the drama of the situation that their original theme for the film becomes confused.
Although nominated for a Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in 2008, it seems too many pretentious, cliché close-ups of beautifully styled, spoiled people spoil director/writer Negri’s comment on endemic fickleness and how it affects those around them. The 1946 Billie Holiday song (written by Irene Higgenbotham) of the same name unfortunately seemed totally unrelated. (Nancy Tilitz)

Happy Together *** ½
Geoffrey Enthoven, Belgium
Just returning from a family holiday in France Eline (Bien De Moor) and Martin (Ben Van Ostade) with their two children are indeed very happy together. But how fragile is happiness and how quickly can circumstances change! Martin’s bank manager has disappeared and with him the money that was earmarked to buy the cottage in the south of France. Is their comfortable lifestyle threatened? Luck seems still to be with Martin when his boss offers him a chance to climb up the ladder in the company. Blinded by his ambitions he ignores the price he has to pay by clinging to his present social status. One desperate action follows the next. He is caught in a net of lies, greed and deceit. This is a modern film looking at a Belgium well-to-do middle class family but the story could be applied to any other European country. We are looking at a frightening realistic situation filmed in an almost minimalist style.

The script was inspired by real facts, co-written (with Jacques Boon) and edited by Geoffrey Enthoven. In 1999 he joined forces with Mariano Vanhoof (producer) establishing their company Fobic Films, and concentrating on social-theme based films. Their debut film (2001) Children of Love (Les Enfants de L’Amour) was immediately a big success and won the Audience Award at the International Film Festival of Ghent, followed by Vidange perdue which received an award for Best Film at the Mannheim-Heidelberg International Film festival in 2006. (Birgit Schrumpf)

Happy Together – Interview by Birgit Schrumpf

Excerpt of questions I asked Geoffrey Enthoven and Mariano Vanhoof:

Q: Happy Together sounds very optimistic and positive. But the film is in actual fact a family drama. What made you chose this title? – Is it meant to be cynical or wishful- thinking?
A: A bit of both; but yes, more on the wishful side. It is meant to show that all the requirements for happiness are there, that there is a good chance to stay happy and together. One needs to be true to oneself and to withstand all the various temptations we are constantly confronted with.

Q: The film is inspired from real facts. What facts were real and how did you know about them?
A: Mariano mentioned the theme to me and we then researched for about a year. When various facts came together the script developed. It does not present a on-on-one reflection but all facts play together and became part of the story. We try to explain why and under what circumstances people can push themselves into a seemingly hopeless situation, what is behind their extreme reactions.

Q: About guns and ammunition: Is it easy to get a gun in Belgium and is it considered “normal” for people to have one in their cupboards?
A: No, not at all. In fact we had to apply for various permits in order to have a gun on the set. The rules were very strict and the gun had to be carefully guarded at all times. (Birgit Schrumpf)


Idiots and Angels***1/2
Bill Plympton, USA
Raunchy, idiosyncratic, metamorphosing characters are trademarks of the twice Oscar nominee Bill Plympton’s animated films since the 1980s. “All the films I’ve done until this time were flat-out comedies. For this one, I wanted to do a little more psychology-based storytelling.”

A selfish, morally bankrupt man, Angel, sprouts a pair of wings, which he cannot remove. At first he is ridiculed by other regulars at Bart’s bar, until they contrive the wings could be their ticket to fame and fortune and try to steal them.  But the wings have minds of their own, and withstand a variety of attacks. The innate goodness in a person can surface to rescue him.

Told purely visually with no dialogue, the soundtrack is a variety of music including Tom Waits. With a very small team, 14 people, Plympton produced this 71-minute animated film – quite a wonder! (Nancy Tilitz)

It’s Hard to be Nice ****
Srdjan Vuletic, Bosnia and Herzegovina/ Germany/ Great Britain/ Slovenia/ Serbia
Taxi driver Fudo (Sasa Petrovic) uses street tips he hears to implement his income, much to the chagrin of his anxious wife Azra (Daria Lorenci). The consequence of one tip seriously backfires and Fudo takes stock; he finally figures out that Azra’s concern is not only for their baby son, but also for their future together. He borrows money from Sejo (Emir Hadzihafizbegovic), taxi driver entrepreneur (in anything shady) extraordinaire, to upgrade his act. Fudo is finicky choosing who shall be the first fare in his new taxi, only to be side-swiped by fate with an unimagined outcome (but by the time we get to that point in the story, we have set our sights on the moon [with fingers crossed] not to disappoint.) Hired by Japanese to tour the local Sarajevo ex-Olympic site, Fudo gets a taste for honest work, likes it but ironically discovers it is not easy to be nice. Sejo has more shenanigans up his sleeve and he is needs Fudo’s help. Nice light moments and humor are sprinkled throughout this cleverly written, splendidly acted and skillfully executed refreshing film.(Marinell Haegelin)
It’s Hard to be Nice **1/2
Searching for a new beginning sends taxi driver Fudo (Sasa Petrovic) down paths he never thought he would travel leading him to decide between good and evil. Stepping out of the gangster scene is no easy job and although the film tackles this light heartily it seems unrealistic. (Shelly Schoeneshoefer)

Johnny Mad Dog **
Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire, France/Belgium/Liberia
A brutal raw film set in contemporary Africa about children recruited into a freedom fighter’s army. Johnny Mad Dog, 15, leads combatants armed to the hilt yet too young to have developed any moral code of societal ethics. Rampaging their way toward the capital city, hyped on drugs and alcohol given by the adults using them, they slaughter and plunder at random. Laokolé, 13, with her little brother Fofo, 8, and legless father tries to flee the city as the partisans advance. Although technically sound, where is the story? A documentary would have been a more honest approach to the social issue. (Marinell Haegelin)

Karoy ***
Zhanna Issabayeva, Kazakhstan
Director Issabayeva film takes us to the endless vast landscape of central Asia where life seems bleak, uneventful and perhaps boring. But when Azat (Yerzhan Tusupov), an unscrupulous character tries to get money out of his cousin, He is clearly up to no good. Within moments we see him drinking and gambling, losing the money and fighting a losing battle trying to get it back. The fact that he has ruined his cousin’s families’ lives by taking the money doesn’t disturb him one bit.  In fact his escapades include lying, stealing, cheating with a grand finale of raping a pregnant woman, stealing her money and horse. It appears that this despicable character clearly wants to self destruct and truly hated by most in the region. A near death beating brings him back to his mother’s house and we see a changed Azat. Will this change give him a new chance on life?  This film is uncomfortably raw with its violence and atmosphere.  Although it appears to be a simple story line as Azat goes from one village to the next, his character is an accumulation of unforgivable experiences.  Is there redemption for such a person? And if so what will it be? This first film by Zhanna Issabayeva  won a prize at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards this year and is the first Kazakhstan film I have ever seen. (Shelly Schoeneshoefer)

Kino Lika ***1/2
Dalibor Matanić, Croatia
This film dissects the complexities of human relationships, fusing three individuals’ elemental attributes — guilt, desire and thirst — to their poignant consequences. Home is a parched godforsaken Croatian village, metaphorically illustrating what is lacking in their lives, on the eve of an EU referendum. Mike, a simple-minded potential football star accidentally kills, then tumbles under the burden of guilt. Desire for a lover, even a friend, result in corpulent Olga wallowing in a pig sty. Penny-pinching Joso risks losing his family because of his thirst for more.  Comprised of humor, terrific acting, and production proficiency this strange, provocative film entertains as well. (Marinell Hegelin)

Henry Kissinger - Geheimnisse einer Supermacht****
Stephan Lamby, Germany
In-depth interview with German-born Nobel Peace Prize winner and former National Security Advisor and Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger. Interviewed by Stephan Lamby, Kissinger talks about his childhood in Germany, his immigration to the USA and, of course, the high points of his political career. He doesn\'t answer every question, so don\'t get your hopes up, some secrets will remain secrets. Additional interviews with Norman Mailer and president George W. Bush, among others,  complement the interview with Kissinger. Henry Kissinger - Geheimnisse einer Supermacht aired on ARTE shortly after the FilmFest. (Christa Greiff, BT**)

Küste des Raunens, Die  (A Costa dos Murmúrios, The Murmurng Coast) ***
Margarida Cardoso, Portugal/France
Award-winning documentary filmmaker Margarida Cardoso initially released Die Küste des Raunens, her first feature film, in 2004.  Based on acclaimed Portuguese writer Lidia Jorge’s 1989 novel of the same name, the brutishness of the colonial power is slowly revealed in 1970’s Mozambique where the natives are fighting for their independence. The lonely wives of the soldiers also “fight” for independence from their hollow existences – hiding for safety while their men are off fighting. Newly married Evita (Beatriz Batarda)  and Luis’s (Filipe Duarte) relationship deteriorates and they come to see the war from opposite sides. (Nancy Tilitz)

Left (Links) **1/2
Froukje Tan, The Netherlands
Dexter’s (Jeroen van Koningsbrugge) work colleague looks exactly like his sweetheart Stella (Lotte Verbeek). He keeps crashing his car. Finally arrested and taken to hospital he learns a stroke has damaged the right side of his brain distorting his perception. He can no longer see left and must adapt to this new reality. This black comedy is Dutch writer/director Tan’s first feature film. (Nancy Tilitz)

Liverpool *
Lisandro Alonso, Argentina/France/the Netherlands/Germany/Spain
Bring your blanket, a pillow and some fluffy slippers. You will want to feel comfortable on this journey of sadness and barren scenery. Farrel has spent the last 20 years as a menial worker on a ship. As the freighter draws closer to the Patagonian islands of Argentina, he requests shore leave in Ushuaia in order to see if his mother is still alive and well. When Farrel arrives at his home, we learn he has a slightly addled sister that he never knew about, and very strange family /community dynamics. That’s about it on the story line, but Liverpool isn’t about story, anyway. It is about loneliness, plain and simple. From the cramped quarters on the ship, Farrel packs his duffel (life) in about three minutes: some clothes, a lot of cigarettes, a bottle of booze, a set of keys on a Liverpool souvenir key ring. The docks in Ushuaia are bleak with sleet. Farrel arranges a series of rides with logging trucks and utters about three sentences in the process. Either completely shy or socially inept (think both); any chance of connection to others is silently avoided. Once he arrives at his home at the end of a snowed-in logging track, he finds the local canteen and silently eats some stew. He spies on his family home from the outhouse, drinking himself into a stupor. His father finds him, brings him indoors, and has a conversation with him while Farrel is passed out. Later, Farrel visits his sick mother and says two sentences to her while she is incoherent in her sick bed.  That’s the extent of the main dialogue. He puts some money by her bedside, and watches his newly found sister feed the chickens from the edge of the bushes. This guy is really a mess in social interaction, but it seems the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree (not that there could be an apple in this frigid wasteland). We watch the sister and father go out and gather a fox carcass from the laid traps in the woods. Finally, Farrel departs, leaving his Liverpool key chain in his sister’s hand. 

Liverpool was supposedly acclaimed by the Cannes film fest for its “brilliant images and minimal, poetic narrative.” I was expecting a lovely vastness of snow and mountains, a bit National Geographic in presentation, and was sorely disappointed on all fronts from this depressing film. Bleak, biting and severely uncomfortable, Liverpool is about as melancholy as you can get. (Kirstan Böttger)

The Linguists****1/2
Seth Kramer, Daniel A. Miller, Jeremy Newberger, USA
The bad news: Not only are there endangered species, there are endangered languages, too.
The good news: in some cases, help is on the way. Linguists fly around the world to locate the last speakers of endangered languages, even if those speakers live in a place that\'s not on the map.

This documentary is about two such linguists and their challenging work.  David Harrison and Greg Anderson overcome all obstacles to find the last speakers of half-forgotten languages and win their trust. The speakers may be ashamed or afraid to speak their native language, still the linguists manage to document the endangered language concerned. They use modern recording technology, and the fact that they are really good at learning new languages also helps a bit. Sometimes the few remaining speakers are old, so that documenting their language is all that can be done. Whenever possible, however, the linguists also encourage young people to speak their endangered native language. Every language is a unique expression of cultural experiences and as such a part of our global cultural wealth and heritage.

The Linguists premiered at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. Both directors are Emmy Award nominees, Seth Kramer was nominated for Resistance: Untold Stories of Jewish Partisans, Daniel A. Miller for The Trial of Adolf Eichmann.

I had to watch this movie from a seat in row two, and although my neck was at a weird angle for a while afterwards, I enjoyed every minute of this informative, entertaining, and well-made documentary. (Christa Greiff, KB**)

Little Heart, The ***
Thanh van Nguyen, Vietnam
Mai (Do Nguyen Lan Ha) turns 17 and is eager to leave her picturesque village, family and potential boy friend and go to the city to become a seamstress. Her financial contribution to the family would be helpful as there are younger children; the mother is overwhelmed and sometimes turns to drink; the father is a roaming Romeo who spends the family money on himself and his conquests and eventually leaves home. The key to fulfillment of the dream is a neighbor who recommends the girls to “sewing school.” Once in the big city, Mai finds herself stuck in a house of prostitution and eventually ill with AIDS. She makes a huge effort to return home before her year-younger sister Minh makes the same leap to follow her. Director Thanh said that he based the plot on a similar story in the newspapers. It is heart-wrenching, well acted, and believable and it is a privilege to see a good film from Vietnam, as they are rare in Hamburg. (Becky Tan, NT***1/2)

Director Thanh van Nguyen and his wife visited Hamburg with his film A Little Heart. Filmfest Hamburg found a beautiful young Vietnamese girl (who could have very well been in a film herself) to accompany them all day, to and from the hotel, to the festival, to dinner, etc.) This young girl had grown up in Hamburg and spoke Vietnamese with her parents. She was a capable translator until it came to filmspeak and suddenly she was tongue tied (something which can happen to all of us). His wife helped with some English until, suddenly, a young man – also good looking and certainly appropriate for a film—jumped up from his seat and ran to the front of the cinema, saying, “I’ll translate.” He could and was excellent. I hope the festival has his address for future reference. During discussion with the audience we learned that Mr. Thanh van Nguyen was subsidized by his country’s government; he was not censored; AIDS counseling is available to the public and he is considered an arthaus-type director. (Becky Tan)

Lost, Indulgences ****
Zhang Yibai, China
In the early morning hours, a taxi crashes into the river leaving a nightclub dancer Su-dan (Karen Mok) as the sole survivor. Due to bizarre circumstances, the taxi’s wife Li (Jian Wenli) and son have to look after her as she is seriously injured.  The housing situation in a communal apartment complex is extremely small.  Li Has to pay for the care of Su-dan since her husband caused the accident. Su-dan attempts to help Li’s son Xiao-chuan (Eric Tsang) deal with his father’s death and while doing so finds that he has fallen in love with her.  Through the eyes of the son we review the different possibilities of his father’s death.  How and why did he die?  Did he die at all since they never found the body? The boy even starts wearing a scuba diving mask to see it from a new perspective and still all these questions run through his mind.  Zhang Yibai’s film is a labyrinth of emotions which creates tension between these characters as they are set in a strange but new industrial China. The story line even swims towards an unexpected ending which completes this great film. (Shelly Schoeneshoefer, NT***, BS***1/2, KB***1/2, BT***)