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Hamburg Film Festival Opens with Catherine Deneuve and The Brand-New Testament.
by Shelly Schoeneshoefer

The Hamburg Film Festival’s opening ceremony landed  exactly on my friend Sylvia’s birthday. I was dying to see the great French  diva, Catherine Deneuve, who was receiving the Douglas Sirk Award. So what  could I do? I had to buy two tickets. As usual the evening started out in a  hectic way, especially when we were trying to coordinate two different subway  schedules; the restaurant we chose went out of business and the one next door  already had a line going out the door. The dishes we ordered were sold out, so  salad and wine had to hit the spot.

As we raced over to the red carpet, I was relieved  that the stars and their entourage had not yet arrived. I was prepared and  ready for action with camera in hand, notebook and pen. What else could  possibly go wrong? I found the perfect spot to take photos but was quickly  reminded that we needed to find good seats and this evening was about the  birthday girl. As I followed my girlfriend in, my shoulders slumped because I  realized that I had done it to myself   again: mixing apples with oranges, and I would have to accept that I  wouldn’t get a great photo of Catherine Deneuve live on the red carpet. The man  took our tickets and pointed the way down the stairs to cinema 6. I was  stunned. What? We are not sitting in the main cinema?

So there we  were, all dressed up and sitting in our prime seats waiting and watching the  live-screen. Soon the screen began to move but the terribly shy camera-man in  charge of our viewing only caught glimpses of spectators and journalists. We  actually got a few shots of David Bennent’s ear and the back of Catherine  Deneuve’s hair. The man just couldn’t seem to get it right. We definitely got  some great shots of a few photographers positioning themselves as the great  diva made her way up the red carpet. After a while the members of the audience  began to throw out humorous jokes and we all ended up laughing in spite of  ourselves. Then came a long line of speeches which had also their mistakes  blearing out at us over the live-screen once again. With each speech we laughed  harder. The only person who managed to pull it all together and get it right  was Albert Wiederspiel himself.  I found  it interesting to note that back in 1979 Catherine Deneuve presented the Golden  Palm to director Volker Schlöndorff for The  Tin Drum which starred David Bennent and now Bennent was presenting the  Douglas Sirk award to Deneuve.

 What is the  Douglas Sirk Award?

The Douglas Sirk  Award was created in 1995 and is given to a personality who has made an  outstanding achievement in film culture and film industry. The award is  accredited to director Hans Detlef Sierck who was born in Hamburg to Danish  parents. He first did theater and in 1937 he and his Jewish wife fled to  Hollywood, where he earned a reputation with Melodramas series. Some of the  participants who have received this award are Fatih Akin, Clint Eastwood,  Gerald Depardieu, Tilda Swinton, and Atom Egoyan who also attended this year’s  festival with his newest film Remember.

And this year it  was Catherine Deneuve who walked elegantly across the stage to receive her  award. She made her debut with the film The  Twilight Girls at age fourteen and has made so far at least 88 films and,  since she is still working, who knows how far she will go. Besides talent she  has had unbelievable luck to work with several great directors such as Roman  Polanski with the film Repulsion,  Luis Bunuel’s Belle De Jour and Tristana, and Francois Truffaut’s The Last Metro. Films that I have seen  more recently were, for example, Regis Wargnier’s  Indochine,  Francois Ozon’s Eight Women, Tony  Scott’s The Hunger and Dancer in the Dark from Lars von Trier.  It is not a surprise that she has won numerous awards, but I was amazed to read  that she has never won an Oscar. Perhaps Hollywood is waiting for her to get  really old and then she will get the honorary Oscar, who knows?

But tonight in  the comedy The Brand-New Testament (Le tout Nouveau Testament) by Jaco Van  Dormael we had the opportunity to see Catherine Deneuve throw her husband out  while at the same time she falls deeply in love with a gorilla. This film has  been selected as the Belgian entry for the next Academy Awards. The film starts  off with a religious-shock experience where we find out that God is not living  in heaven but in the city of Brussels. We also learn that he is not a  benevolent God but one who is sadistically cruel both emotionally and  physically. He lives with his weak wife and his daughter Ea who, day after day,  watch how God abuses mankind by manipulating events in his computer room. Ea  grows tired of being abused and decides to enter the restricted computer room  to make some changes. Her brother Jesus gives her advice how to change the  course of the world and tells her she needs to find six additional disciples  who will help her achieve her goal. As the audience watched Ea’s plan take  form, we laughed even more than we had during the ceremony which took place beforehand.  The film is seen through the eyes of Ea and we immediately can sympathize with  her since in essence she is trying to save us.   It is funny because in the film we think of God more as the devil and  not the God that we all grew up with. Director Van Dormael plays with our sense  of values to the point that we are led into a fantasy world which seems to be  better than the real world that we currently live in. 

This year’s  theme, Refugees, could not be more appropriate as we watch people in overloaded  boats screaming for help as they head toward the European coast lines. Seeing  these horrific scenes makes us believe that there is a sadistic God out there  manipulating mankind to do unreasonable acts of insanity in order to better  their lives. Clearly our world is changing, not only demographically, but  culturally as well as emotionally. But maybe we all should take Ea as our  disciple and mentor and then brave the dangers by giving a helping hand to  those in need. The winter is coming and the days will be cold here in Hamburg.  We have nothing to lose but much to gain by making new friends. At least that  is what I need to learn from Eaand  from the message in The Brand-New  Testament. So, Happy Birthday Sylvia! And to Catherine Deneuve: I hope we  meet one day in person, but until then my hand is reaching out to help all  those who want a new friend.