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HHFF 2008 Film Reviews: Part 3
by the KinoCritics

Machan ****
Uberto Pasolini, Italy/ Germany/ Sri Lanka
Four years ago when BBC news reported the disappearance of the entire Sri Lanka national handball team from a competition in Germany, film producer Uberto Pasolini saw a story. "They even left their dirty laundry," said Mr. Doering of the German Sports Exchange Program. To understand what happened, Pasolini traveled to the slum areas of Colombo and spent weeks talking to people about their lives. From his research, he created 23 lives that became the 23 characters of this film.

This humorous film centers around Manoj, a barman, and Stanley, a fruit seller, who both believe they can rise out of poverty if they can make it to the West. After trying unsuccessfully to obtain visas from the German government, they find a flyer seeking handball teams to play in a tournament sponsored by the German Sports Exchange in Bavaria. They put together a team complete with trainer and manager, forge documents and start their journey west with visas granted for the competition in Germany. Humor is tempered with realities faced by illegal immigrants. As the games begin, you cannot help but cheer what has become a real team on to their success - and not necessarily for handball! (Mary Wienke, BT****)

Machen Wir’s auf Finnisch***
Marco Petry, Germany
Intern Annika (Jasmin Schwiers) is competing with Cora (Sylta Fee Wegmann) for a position at a record company. The task: produce the winning group at a band contest attended by young teenies. Annika, who says she speaks fluent Finnish, mistakenly books the tired old death metal band Rypili, who seem no competition for Cora’s sexy boyband Love-U…at first.

This made-for-TV comedy, with the working title Pimp Your Vita (Germany) won the EUR 30,000 FilmFest Hamburg 2008 TV Producers Award. Lots of fun! (Nancy Tilitz)

Magazine Gap Road**
Nicolas Chin, Hong Kong, China
Hong Kong is rich. Luxurious restaurants, designer clothes, German cars and gorgeous call girls abound. But Kate has had enough of the high life, which means in this case, being high. She calls her old best friend and colleague Samantha for rescue. Samantha managed to save herself and works as a respectable museum curator. She is being courted by a very rich man. But she walks out on her comfortable life to help Kate. The film is based on a phone call overheard by the director, Nicolas Chin, Chin was intrigued by the intimacy he heard between the two women. He wanted to explore how to reconcile darkness in the past with hope for the future. Although there are some sparks scattered throughout this film, the script fails to ignite leaving a made-for-television story of bad girl gone good. Great eye candy though! (Mary Wienke) 

Nowhere Man **
Patrice Toye, Belgium/The Netherlands/Norway/Luxembourg
Tomas plans his midlife crisis carefully up to a point. He leaves his working wife (no children) in their nice home in a Belgian city. Unbelievably, he walks into a burning house and emerges unscathed on the other side. Everyone thinks that he has died in the flames. Free to disappear, he takes off for a south sea island paradise. Sadly, it’s no paradise. Nobody is interested in the little Happy Hour bar he sets up. He is forced into hard labor, cutting trees along with an elderly man who stands by him, when he is depressed. Five years later he returns to his wife, who has sold the house and remarried. They more or less continue as a couple, only this time it’s in secret. It was a surprise to me to learn that Patrice Toye is a woman because her main protagonist is a man with a man’s stupid ideas. Much was unrealistic, e.g., where were his parents and siblings all this time?  Why would a smart woman like his wife take him back? ((Becky Tan, NT**1/2)

Nowhere Promised Land ***1/2
Emmanuel Finkiel, France
This contemporary film draws us into the lives of  people caught-up in three separate yet interconnected situations. A young manager supervises closing a factory in France and its relocation to Hungary. A group of Kurdish men risk their lives to (illegally) enter England. Waiting for a call from her lover, a young woman films poor people because, “it’s the stronger image.” They are continuously on the move, whether by truck, train, private sedan or on foot, with and without legal papers. Exceptional direction and camera work allows us to see into the inner regions of their souls. All seek out their promised land — regrettably not all find it. (Marinell Haegelin, MW**)

Of Time & the City *****
Terence Davies, Great Britain
Personal documentaries, notoriously problematical, seldom rise to the echelon of this one. A poetic combination of intriguing visuals, complimented by perspicacious music, writer/director Terry Davies’s deep resonating voice take us on a sagacious trip of identity, with both himself and his birth city, Liverpool, and Merseyside, England. “The golden moments pass and leave no trace…”

“Between love and hate the real journey starts.” He juxtaposes vital, separate elements from his growing up that intrinsically make up the sum of who he is, “Where have you gone without me?” with decisive points between 1945 and 1969 that transformed and scarred the city. Davies’s narration accentuates: society (wrestling matches awaken his homosexuality as well as his prayers for salvation), religion (of Davies Catholic upbringing “… born again atheist, thank God”), economics (the monarchy and the many residents barely subsisting in the slums of Liverpool), and culture (high-rise housing, a blight on the cityscape that eliminates neighborhood common areas). Those were themes that affected him and the city so profoundly.

Poetry (from James Joyce, T.S. Eliot and others) is interwoven in Davies’ poignant account, together with wit, humor and a fine rhythmical pacing, to keep at bay the underlying current of pain and anger we hear and the bleak imagery we see. The wealth of archival footage transports us through the best and the worst of times long gone. As glorious music soars in the background, Davies acknowledges life is worth living, saying, “our end is our beginning… and all manner of thing shall be well.” An awe-inspiring slice of history, which many may not know while others have not forgotten, is preserved. (Marinell Haegelin, KB**)

Pazar der Markt (The Market – A Tale of Trade), ****
Ben Hopkins, Germany, Great Britain, Kazakhstan, Turkey
Mihram (Tayanc Ayaydin) is a small-time merchant who struggles to support his family. He is willing to ignore the laws in 1994 Eastern Turkey, but won’t go so far as to ally himself with the Mafia and black market. A physician gives him money to purchase much-needed vaccine for her hospital. He imagines that he can fill the order as well as earn a tidy sum on the side to establish his dream business: trading in cell phones. He crosses the border to Azerbaijan and picks up his uncle Fazil (Genco Erkal), who contributes comic relief to a serious job. He is full of witty sayings, such as “Where does the moon get its light?” his stock answer to every unexplainable situation. Together they travel, road-movie style, from one pharmacy to the next on an elusive search for the medicine. In the end Mihram “realizes his dream but loses his independence and his self-respect,” according to British director Ben Hopkins.  Or, simply said in the film: “The world revolves and we are all dogs in the end.” This is a universal theme, a classical story of any century, although here the traditional music expertly identifies the location. Hopkins said that he tried to show “both the creativity and innovation of capitalism, as well as the cynicism about expectations without having to pay the price of inequality and exploitation.” Ayaydin won best actor in this year’s Locarno film festival. The film was one of my festival highlights.  (Becky Tan)

Pazar – Der Markt (The Market – a Tale of Trade) ****
At the Abaton Cinema the lead actor Tayanc Ayaydin and the producer Roshanak Behesht Nedjad, an Iranian lady living in Germany, were present for the German premiere of their film, speaking of the difficulties that had to be overcome due to last minute financial changes and the time-consuming bureaucracy of obtaining permits for filming in lonely parts of Turkey. Tayanc (an intelligent, handsome young man speaking fluent English) told the story of how one of the patrols in Eastern Turkey recognized him from his popular TV series, asking for an autograph and not even looking at their papers. At the next control stop he stepped out of the car self-assuredly lighting up a cigarette, when he was rudely shouted at and ordered back to his seat to be treated as roughly as anybody else. With a twinkle in his eye he said that the guard on duty obviously had never watched him on Aliye TV or his popular Night Walk TV show.

A critic asked, “How can an English director, Ben Hopkins, possibly make a Turkish film with a realistic feel about it?” He can, and very well indeed, I would say – and so say the Turkish actors and staff. Ben Hopkins speaks Turkish and loves the country but the film is also a cosmopolitan effort, involving Germany, Turkey, Great Britain, Kazakhstan, and above all headed by an Iranian-German lady producer. Pazar - Der Markt gives an unsentimental – and often comical – view of our modern world where globalization plays the big role and old individual ideals become useless. This is a wonderful film affording us a look at our neighbouring country, Turkey, which is not so foreign after all. (Birgit Schrumpf)

Pinhas ****
Pini Tavger, Israel
Eight-year-old Pinhas is a Russian immigrant in Tel Aviv. He is poor and lonely although there is a piano in the home. He lives alone with his depressed mother who works the nightshift at a supermarket and is having an affair with a married man. Pinhas is drawn to the warmth of the religious family living upstairs. The trouble begins when the two worlds collide. Could there be a clue in his noble name, as Pinhas Rutenberg was a famous Ukranian socialist, then Zionist? This Israeli film is 32, well-spent, minutes long. (Nancy Tilitz)

Portrait of Diego, A: The Revolutionary Gaze ***
Gabriel Figueroa Flores/Diego Lòpez Rivera, Mexico
Unfortunately the title of this film is based on a fragmented film found by the two sons of the Mexican photographer Manuel Alvarez Bravo and cameraman Gabriel Figueroa.  It is actually a semi-documentary on the three giants of the Mexican Nationalistic political art period and gives a theoretical perspective of these three artist’s style, influences and works as well as reflecting on their personalities but it doesn’t dive into their personal lives and relationships which usually catches the interests of the modern audience of today. (Shelly Schoeneshoefer)

A Portrait of Diego (Un Retrato de Diego) **
This documentary incorporates film made over 50 years ago when the Mexican artists, cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa, still photographer Manuel Älvarez Bravo, and the celebrated painter, muralist Diego Rivera initially collaborated on this film, which their descendants have now finished, A Portrait of Diego. The title does not describe the film. Rivera’s name is but a theme trying to unify this reportage on the trio and art in Mexico at that time.

Director/producer Diego López Rivera (whose grandmother Guadalupe Marin, was the first of Diego’s three marriages, and whom he divorced for the 20-year-younger Frida Kahlo) states, “In the 50 years since his death, my father's image has been obscured by the recent presentation of Frida as a heroine, and now I think its time to put him back in perspective."

The film only succeeds in putting him down. There is very little about this prolific artist, his extensive international travels and commissions or personal life. The only footage of Diego was almost comical, taken while making on-site sketches, this huge round man holding a tiny pad. And only one of his many huge intricate murals is shown, the one where he paints himself in a very naïve style as a little boy with a tall Frida overshadowing him – as if he were trading places with her, as she often stated that was how she felt. Interesting, but a portrait of Diego still needs to be made! (Nancy Tilitz)

Rabbi Firer – A Reason to Question ****
Amit Goren, Israel
This documentary from Israel shows the incredible volunteer workload carried by 54 year old orthodox Rabbi Firer who personally attends to 100 of the 1000 patients who seek his help each day. He feels there is an atmosphere of paternalism in medicine – you make decisions based on your faith in your doctor. Many people faced with difficult choices call for his advice. Rabbi Firer, being well connected (Shimon Peres sat next to him at his daughter’s wedding), can bring patients together with the best doctors from all over the world. “Without collectiveness each individual will die from what he lacks,” states Firer. He would prefer to study The Word 18 hours a day but, “Saving a life is the holiest of all, as sanctity of life is placed high in Judaism.” Some rare footage of him without a telephone in his hand shows him at his humble home setting the dinner table and leading men in prayer. Shouting when he prays because “You shout when you are hurt,“ the Rabbi has been volunteering this service to patients for over thirty years. (Nancy Tilitz)

Scare City **
Peggy Anne Berton with Marc St. Aubin
, Canada
“We have forgotten what we remember…” and so begins this live performance that focuses on where Peggy Anne Berton grew up outside Ontario, Canada, deliberating over parallels and contrasts between the underdeveloped rural landscape and the cityscape rape. Ms Breton weaves personal, political and societal themes into a sectionalized monologue, “no one wants to hear the details of a rape… we’re raping the land…”. Peggy Anne sounds very Tom Waite-ish in content and tone; complementary Super 8 images (appropriately scratchy, in color and B/W) are projected and Marc St. Aubin plays music. Intermittently St. Aubin sings solo with associated imagery overhead. (Marinell Haegelin)

Scare City **
Peggy Ann Berton is billed as an experimental film maker. So I expected an avant-garde movie set in a smoky basement with spectators hanging onto their glasses of wine, deep in some psychedelic contemplation. Hadley’s Café is beautiful and not in a basement; nothing is smoky in a Hamburg of smoke-free public venues. Still, there was a sense of lower Manhattan as Berton took to the microphone accompanied by guitarist Marc St. Aubin. This was a monologue about Berton’s childhood in Canada, spoken in front of a movie screen of amateur home movies from her life beginning around age 12. St. Aubin sang (very well) and played key board and guitar. I told Katrin Kohlstedde of the Filmfest management, “Hey, anyone could have done that. Even I have old super 8 movies in the attic.” She replied, “Yes, but you didn’t. That’s the difference.” She’s right there. I keep thinking about Berton’s life. She freely mentioned various boy friends and one-night stands, waking up disoriented in a motel, drinking, “tom catting around” as she put it. Often between jobs, she was the one child (of the eight children) to move back in with the parents when her father suffered a heart attack. Her mother’s famous soups and cooking were the backbone of family life; now, in an empty house the kitchen is cold. The two old people make do with TV dinners. Berton said she films everywhere she goes; one never knows what could be useful, for example, shots of Hamburg harbor in September. (Becky Tan)

Schimmelreiter, Die ***
(Marinell Haegelin)

Seamstresses ***1/2
Lyudmil Todorov, Bulgaria
Three young seamstresses (Alexandra Surchadzhieva, Elen Koleva, and Violeta Markovskad) move to the capital city to seek better opportunities. This migration is not an easy challenge for the girls who are confronted with prostitution and drug dealing as possible job options. From the beginning there is a strongly woven bond between the three who. with their optimism. believe they will make it. They take a room in a flat shared with other couples that have found work. The social pressures and new influences affect them in different ways. Soon their friendship is cut into small. unforgiving pieces showing their individual weaknesses. Despite the hardship, each girl learns life experiences which give them a chance to evolve into young adults. Todorov packs humor into this story to keep the seriousness of the situation manageable since their living conditions actually are anything but funny. This wonderful film won several Bulgarian film prizes. (Shelly Schoeneshoefer, BS***, NT****1/2, BT***)

Shaft, The **
Zhang Chi
, China
The story is divided into three parts, each featuring a member of one Chinese family. The sister works in the office of a mine until the manager harasses her. She leaves for the big city to marry. The son seeks to escape a life of mining, perhaps as a pop singer or boxer. Finally, the father retires from the mines and sets off to seek his wife who left him long ago when her family came to fetch her after she had been kidnapped as a girl. Most interesting is the way the shaft, i.e., the mine, is a constant part of their lives; everything revolves around it, which reminded me of There Will Be Blood. Most impressive was the photography held in neutral grey tones, with just a hint of color in a suitcase, candles, shoes, a table cloth, a jacket, balloons, etc. Rarely was a scene, e.g., the pool hall, shot in colors. I learned that a gift of shoes means that someone will run away and the sister does just that. (Becky Tan)

Stray Dog bomb
Beto Brant/Renato Ciasca, Brazil
When a film begins with a grimy sex scene, it is usually not an introduction to a masterpiece. This film is no exception. Yes, there is a little scruffy stray dog that wanders in and out of the little love nest. Allegory? Who cares? Ciro, an ex-university student, and Marcela, a supposed model, have absolutely nothing to say and the sex is, well, gross. Skip this film, pet a stray dog instead. You’ll experience better sex. (Mary Wienke)

Sunshine Cleaning ***
Christine Jeffs, USA
Christine Jeff’s new movie starts, literally, with a bang and the consequences of that bang help Rose (Amy Adams) re-think and re-organise her life. She is heading nowhere as a poorly paid hotel cleaner; an unmarried mother with a problem son and a lover who is married to someone else. As a result of the bang and at the suggestion of her lover, Rose starts an unusual but highly profitable cleaning company. Wouldn’t you know it? Just when things are looking up for Rose, her misfit sister causes everything to fall apart. Don’t worry, however, that optimistic attitude to life which Americans have in abundance means that Rose’s future starts to look promising again. This movie takes place in Albuquerque where the squalid happenings in Rose’s life are at odds with the backdrop of wonderful mountain scenery. (Jenny Mather)

Sunshine Cleaning ***
Initially the black humor zings, pulling the audience in with lively dialogue and tight pacing. Roughly halfway through, the film loses its velocity and the switch is disconcerting. Even though thwarted, the upshot is a neatly tied-up film. (Marinell Haegelin, CG****, KB****)