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And the Winner Is ...
by Mary Nyiri

When I saw a list of films that won prizes this year, I was surprised to see Pulsar had won, so I had to find out which award and why. Published by Filmfest Hamburg on their website:

Award of the Hamburg Film Critics
The winner: Pulsar (Director and script writer: Alex Stockmann, Belgium)
“Out of the jury's statement: Pulsar is a film which captivates from the first minute because it makes you feel deeply uncertain – and lets then follow some touching funny moments. Moods are here so ephemeral like autumn leaves in the wind. The story is told very discreet and forces us to take a very close look in order not to miss the best.” The jury included Karolin Jacquemain (Hamburger Abendblatt), Dr. Jens Büchsenmann (NDR 90,3), Matthias Schmidt (Stern) and Martin Wolf (Der Spiegel).

…..Then I looked up the other films in competition and the only other one I had seen was Curling, so at least I understood why that didn’t win. So I looked at the film information again.

I admit I enjoyed watching the Matthew McConaughey look alike Matthias Schoenaerts even if his obsession with WiFi waves entering his private apartment is a bit too creepily close to reality. I started wondering if I should buy that paint that screens out microwaves or radio waves from my home. Although entertaining, the ending completely ruined the entire movie for me and much of the audience if the audible groaning is any indication. Yes, I was captivated by the handsome Schoenaerts and amused by his growing paranoia. But the only award I would give this film would be: Worst Ending in a Film. (MW)

The Reverse
This film noir black comedy is set in the early 1950s; shy modest Sabina, a thirty-year old poetry editor, cringes inwardly every time her mom Irene and eccentric grandma mention that now that WW II is ended it is time she find a good man. Which is often. Sabina invites a poet home only to discover he is married; Irene arranges tea with an accountant and gloats until he scares her into tossing the tray she is carrying – “idiot” is mom’s final verdict. The women are apprehensive about a new dictate that all gold coins are turned in to the authorities; they have an 1881 Liberty (gasp) coin and Sabina’s savvy older brother, who has the top floor apartment in the tenement, is away on a business trip.

One misty evening on Sabina’s way home, a mysterious handsome man who happens to be standing in the shadows, smoking (think Mickey Spillane), comes to her rescue. Next they meet for coffee, then he brings her flowers at work; Bronislaw guilefully woos her. When finally he is invited for tea, it is shrewd eagle-eyed granny who is skeptical. And she guides the trio as Irene reactivates her pharmaceutical skills.

With delicious and delightfully macabre twists and revelations, the story’s counterbalance lies in interspersing scenes of present-day Warsaw and Sabina when her grown son arrives from New York, U.S.A. for a visit. Handsome Marek’s character reflects his mother’s: sensitive, caring yet bold with innate class. He hopes to learn something more about his dad, a member of the underground résistance who died before his birth, from his elderly mom.  

Under Borys Lankosz’s direction, with a screenplay from Andrzej Bart and masterly performances The Reverse is precise in all elements: a strong plot that supports the intertwined sub-plots, Marcin Koszałek’s excellently framed camera work, Wojciech Anuszczyk’s fine editing, Wlodek Pawlik’s complementary music, the sound, set decoration, film coloring et al. Even the ending tune, “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” thoughtfully whets our overall memorable experience. (MH)

The Reverse
The Reverse set in typical black and white 1940’s style was a film that from beginning to end was technically and artistically perfectly made.  The plot was mysterious and strange which kept me at my seat wondering where this film was going. My favorite part of the film is when these three women (grandmother, mother and sister) are trying to get rid of the evidence which could get them in trouble with the communist government, the man in the family faints to the floor and is unable to deal with the problem. At the end you realize that these women are the heroines not the male statues that the people left behind. (SRS)

The Tiger Factory 1*
Malaysia, Japan
Marinell Haegelin
Mei and a pregnant Ping Ping save money to buy passage to Japan; when Ping has the baby Madame Tien, her aunt and guardian, says it is still-born but gives her some money. Nevertheless, Ping is short of passage fare. Mei disappears from the screen although subsequently Ping speaks to her on a pay phone. Tien takes Ping to a stud farm for impregnation with migrant workers for a black-market baby scheme, and studs come and go with the willing Ping. The story is elusive and disjointed, enhanced by overexposed film, drab shots, confusing editing and wooden acting. Writer / director Woo Ming Jin was invited to the Quinzaine Directors\' Fortnight that the Société des Réalisateurs de Films (French Directors’ Society) organized in 1969 to take place during the Cannes Film Festival. To include this film for any award, other than an I-Can\'t-Believe-It-Made-It-on-the-List award, is simply to perpetrate a previous festivals bad decision!

The Lips
This low-key film was made using a mixture of actors and real-life families. Ivan Fund and Santiago Loza have co-directed a low budget film which spotlights the helplessness of poverty. Three welfare workers step out of a taxi in the middle of nowhere and set about clearing a space in an abandoned hospital. They will live here for a number of weeks and will spend their days visiting forgotten people in wretchedly poor villages in a desolate part of Argentina. They are undaunted as they calmly set about immunizing the children, listen to the woes of their parents and encourage pregnant women to visit hospital. As they type up their reports on the life and health of the villages the three women empathise with them and are drawn towards their fatalistic attitude to life. They also draw closer to each other, arrange nights out and celebrate a birthday with cupcakes and a drink in a local restaurant.
Some questions aren’t answered in this slow paced movie. What does one of the welfare workers do when she slips out during the night, for example? Who arranged the survey in the first place? Will help find its way to the families? Whatever the outcome the courage and concern of the welfare workers and their determination to help the villagers shines through.
This is Ivan Fund’s first feature film and he has directed it with the more experienced Santiago Loza. While filming the monotonous lives of the villagers they show how compassion and kindness can bring hope to those who need it.

Although it was interesting and enjoyable, I certainly wouldn’t give it a Great film Award. It was slow and obviously made on a low budget. On the other hand, I can’t get those three brave welrfare workers and the way they attempted to help the impoverished villagers out of mind. So what is the criteria for a good movoe? Perhaps I it and its actors keep returning to your thoughts and you keep on wondering what happened to them. Then that is enough to qualify.  (JM)

Denis Côté: Revisited
By Mary Wienke

In Filmfest Hamburg 2009 I met Canadian writer/producer/director Denis Côté for the screening of his film Carcasses, a forgettable junk yard chronicle. At that time, he had already been awarded $1 million from the Canadian government for his next film which he had determined would center on the sport of curling. He already knew who the father and daughter actors would be and he had written the script a few years earlier. Within the year his film entitled Curling was completed and at the 2010 Locarno Film Festival he was named the Best Director for this drama.

 Set in a village in Quebec, the story follows Jean-François (E. Bilodeau), a single father, and Julyvonne (P. Bilodeau) his isolated 12-year-old (real life) daughter. Jean-François works a few cleaning jobs and at the local bowling alley. His daughter stays at home all day and has never attended school. He brings her a few school books one day but she doesn’t seem too thrilled about anything. She doesn’t say much. Her mother is in prison. On occasion Jean- François takes Julyvonne to the bowling alley. On other days, she amuses herself by watching the traffic on their country road or hanging out with frozen dead bodies which she discovered in the forest. Then her father abandons her for a while to work out some personal issues which includes having sex with a prostitute. Julyvonne continues her solitary days until her father returns and professes how much he loves her. When Côté was asked, “Why curling?” he explained in an interview with Jason Anderson: “Well, first of all, curling is a collective sport, so he (Jean-François) could get closer to his community if he would curl. The moment he hears about curling, there’s a spark in his eyes—the only positive thing in his life during the whole film is curling. So it was an obvious decision for me to call the film Curling, even if maybe it’s a little obscure to explain.” It surprises me that the award winning director who wrote the screenplay did not think that Julyvonne was a positive thing in her father’s life. (MW)

12 films in competition
Im Alter von Ellen
Mein Glück
Silent Souls
The Lips
The Reverse
The Tiger Factory