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Fiction Stranger than Fantasy
by Marinell Haegelin

Interestingly, audiences never tire of, nor grapple with, profound questions after watching a Frankenstein, James Bond, Harry Potter, or Spider-Man movie. Fiction, through and through, all one has to do is look at the clothes, cars, and anatomical figures that can do some pretty fantastic things like walk up the sides of buildings or knock down walls with their bare hands or fly on brooms.

Still, if the storyline is well grounded in reality and then we are confronted with a point where elements stray into a twilight zone, the change forces us to push the limits of our speculative understanding. Two such films at Filmfest Hamburg were Germany’s Die Tür (The Door) and a film from the Netherlands, The Last Days of Emma Blank.

In Die Tür that point arrives when David, the protagonist, stumbles on a snowy street five years after his daughter Leonie’s tragic accidental death. A seemingly frozen moth transforms into a blue butterfly that, with flight, necessitates his following. He finds a door to a passageway that transcends reality; it opens on to that summer day before his daughter died. And to complicate matters, he is not the only one to have discovered the door. We are invited to explore the concept of living parallel lives, future, past and present, and the consequences

Perhaps we should take a break here and look at fantasy fiction vs. science fiction. "Fantasy is the impossible made probable. Science fiction is the improbable made possible," is Rod Sterling’s definition. Hmm, does that mean any films within this area should promote themselves as Sci-fi so we know what to expect? Would you still go if you were not a Sci-fi aficionado? The dean of science fiction writers Robert A. Heinlein wrote, "A handy short definition of almost all science fiction might read: realistic speculation about possible future events, based solidly on adequate knowledge of the real world, past and present, and on a thorough understanding of the nature and significance of the scientific method." Now that demands some thought!

Instead, let’s switch to another type of film that pushes our speculative perspicacity, such as The Last Days of Emma Blank. Writer/director Alex van Warmerdam’s black black comedy centers on one Emma Blank. Gravely ill, imperiously shrewish despite craving tender care, she is dependent on her household staff: the head housekeeper, the cook, the maid, and the gardener. Even when Emma orders dog/man Theo be left out in the rain overnight, they accommodate her: solicitous, patient, and attentive. That is until the absurdities of Emma’s demands drive them to retaliation. The mother is the dog’s sister, who by the way is the wife, whose daughter is the girlfriend of her father’s lover’s son. Bottom line, no one wants to be the dog.

To read an exceptional novel that awakens all ones senses is phenomenal, yet no matter how you slice it, each sated reader will “see” the story differently. Filmmaking is but an extension of that wonderfulness, whereby ensembles of talented technicians creatively mold life into words. Somewhere in the process, the form overtakes the means. At its best the result ignites our imaginations and transforms our take on world. It is celluloid magic at its best.